Around the corner from SAHC’s Community Farm and other conserved farms in Alexander, community members are working to preserve an historic African-American church and cemetery. In conjunction with our “It’s Your Backyard” event in April, outdoor recreation ambassador Daniel White (The Blackalachian) led a bike ride from the Community Farm to the church, raising awareness about the significance of the site in local African American history.
Cyclists gathered at our Community Farm to enjoy the road bike ride through the Alexander community, learning about SAHC’s farmland conservation work and African-American history in the area. Annette Coleman gathered a group of people to meet the cyclists at the Alexander Chapel Baptist Church and share their knowledge about local history.
Annette was born in the Leicester area and attended the prestigious Stephens-Lee High School, becoming a member of the Asheville Student Committee on Racial Equality (ASCORE) in the 1960s. She remembers visiting the church when she was younger and now is helping lead preservation efforts. Members of her family are buried there.
“I am connected to the history, people, and land,” Annette says. “All of it is a part of me.”
Established in the late 1800s and rebuilt in the 1940s, the Alexander Chapel Baptist Church is located on Short Sluder Branch Road. In the early 1900s, there was also a school for African-American children at the site. The chapel was renovated in 1988 but closed in 1996 due to lack of members. Over the years, church homecoming gatherings have been and continue to be held there. Displaying photos on the remnants of large wooden tables where potluck community dinners once spread, Annette described the history of the site and spoke about the need for support for efforts to preserve and restore it.
“This place needs to be preserved because the dead are our responsibility, too,” she says. “They are our history.”
On the return trip, cyclists stopped by the recently protected Ridgeview Farm, to see how SAHC continues conserving farmland in Alexander.
We are very grateful to Annette and friends for taking time to share memories and some of the history of the African-American community in the Leicester/Alexander area.
The bike ride and church visit were organized as part of SAHC’s “It’s Your Backyard” project, which is supported by the Conservation Trust for North Carolina, and is made possible with funding from the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation. CTNC, in partnership with local land trusts, seeks to build deeper connections with communities to ensure all North Carolinians enjoy the benefits provided by land and water conservation.