LAKE WYLIE — Bishop Alfred Jackson and Pastor Peter Breeze have more in common than most men living half a world apart. Both love history, wish there were more to know of their ancestry and come across people regularly by the same names inscribed into a secluded set of Lake Wylie plots.
Jackson pastors at Tabernacle of Praise in York and partners with Breeze and others with Christ Missionary Assembly Church in Monrovia, Liberia. Last week Jackson hosted Liberians Joe Baysah and Breeze for a training conference. Afterward, the group couldn’t help but visit York’s Allison Creek Presbyterian Church and the old slave cemetery in a wooded area just behind the church’s main burial sites.
“I’m a history teacher,” said Breeze, who works with a school of 362 students back home. “When I heard about the names and that there were slaves attending service here, I was interested.”
Two centuries ago, a movement arose to relocate freed slaves or other free African Americans to Liberia, now a republic on the western shores of Africa. Key to that effort was a group known as the American Colonization Society. Many left looking for greater freedom in Africa, among them a good many from York County.
“Some of them came out of this area, and they are still names you hear around here today,” Jackson said.
Jackson began pastoral training and church planting in Liberia in 1988. At home and in that work he’s come across common names — Tolbert, Mason, Hill, Williams, Tate — that can be found at the Allison Creek site.
The cemetery includes surnames of members at Liberty Hill, New Home and Union Baptist AME Zion churches. Allison Creek member George Meyer recently worked to make the cemetery accessible and a group of Boy Scouts encircled it with a wooded trail. Still, only about a dozen of the more than 300 sites have definitive markings.
“This is so historical, and I was talking with some of our church members last night who had never heard of it,” Jackson said.
Some that are marked date back as far as 1850. For Jackson the site is a treasure, but also a frustration in showing why so many African Americans can’t trace their heritage back past the Civil War.
Yet for Breeze, even the faded stone markers are remarkable. In his country oral traditions are more reliable than grave sites, and what records there were often have been lost through civil war other events.
“It’s kind of difficult to trace it back to where they’re from,” Breeze said. “There’s some graves, you won’t see anything.”
Building a future
Numerous churches in both Carolinas partner with Christ Missionary Assembly. Soon, Allison Creek Presbyterian will be another. Three men there began a ministry almost two years ago refurbishing old computers and providing them to churches or children in need of them.
“We have an awful lot of computers getting thrown into landfills that still have a lot of life left in them,” said member David Riddle, a retired minister and clinical psychologist.
That group is now looking to send computers to the school where Breeze works. Sam McGregor, pastor of the church founded in 1854, believes the computer work could be a gateway into helping the Liberians that visited his church even without prior partnerships.
“That is about to change with sending the computers to Liberia which I anticipate will lead to other ministry opportunities together,” McGregor said.
As for the cemetery, Meyer is working with a county historian to get a state historical marker put at the site. It’s been a long process so far and one that’ll cost more than $2,000. But one he sees as valuable to the community.
“It’ll be a year before we actually get the marker,” Meyer said.
There is some sadness for Jackson as he looks over mostly marker-less grave sites within eyesight of much more stately headstones, some nearly as tall as the men visiting.
“It just shows that in that era, slaves were property,” Jackson said. “They weren’t considered human beings.”
Still, as a pastor might, Jackson sees something redemptive even among the stones.
“Yet,” he said, “on the backs of that property, America was built.”