Preserving history: Soapstone church founded by freed slaves, permanently protected
PICKENS, S.C. (FOX Carolina) - After more than two years of effort, a Pickens County church will now be permanently protected. Soapstone Baptist Church and its six-acres of land recently gained historical protection through a conservation easement.
From the start- Soapstone church leadership always played a big role in preserving not only the church grounds but the deep history.
“When you walk on the holy grounds, I promise you, you will leave differently than you came” said Mable Owens Clarke, a church deacon and Matriarch.
Soapstone is a small church on top of a hill, with a beautiful view and history that tells many stories. For Mable Owens Clarke this is where her story began. More than 150 years ago 600 freed slaves settled on Soapstone’s 6 acres. One of those freed men was Clarke’s great-great grandfather.
“My great, great grandfather started Soapstone church and named it soapstone for the rock [on the property]” she said.
The church had humble beginnings but blossomed into a thriving sanctuary by the time Clarke was born.
“Oh, the church was wonderful back then, because it was a lot of people here,” she said.
Clarke lived just a block away and attended the one room schoolhouse-- still standing on the property. After the original Soapstone was burned down by the Ku Klux Klan in 1967, Clarke’s mother, Lula Mae-- worked to rebuild it.
“On her dying bed, she had asked me ‘don’t let the doors of Soapstone church close, continue to carry out your great, great grandfather’s legacy’,” said Clarke about her mother.
Working along with church leaders and the organization Upstate Forever, in October, the church obtained a conservation easement to protect the grounds.
“All investors can go home and don’t have to come on this ground again and ask me can they buy the property,” Clarke said jokingly.
Not only does the easement protect the church grounds, it also protects the cemetery where dozens of freed slaves are buried.
“My heart was just burning to know that it has been protected. And once I’m gone home to glory I don’t have to worry about these grounds any longer” said Clarke.
Protecting not only her family legacy—but preserving the stories for years to come.
Soon, Mable Owens Clarke will be awarded the Order of the Palmetto award. That’s the highest award honor in the state of South Carolina. It’s awarded each year by the governor to a citizen who’s shown extraordinary lifetime achievements.
If you want to visit Soapstone—they have services every Sunday at 11am.
To learn more about the history click here.
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