Watoga Trail Report

The Pleasant Green Church on Seebert Lane was an important part of black life in Pocahontas County.
The cornerstone of the Pleasant Green Church built in 1888.

Ken Springer
Watoga Park Foundation

The Pleasant Green Methodist Episcopal Church
An introduction to its past, present and future
Part One

“A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.”
~ Marcus Garvey

Ruth Taylor has lived a literal stone’s throw from the Pleasant Green Methodist Episcopal Church for 25 years.

This Gothic Revival church on Seebert Lane was built in 1888, and remained a vital part of the Seebert area’s black community until approximately 1962.

Had Ruth been living that close to the church back then, she would have heard many a sweet song coming through those stained glass windows. She would have seen parishioners in their Sunday-best walking past patches of daffodils on their way to Easter Service.

Some of the scenes through Ruth’s window would have been more somber, as loved ones were eulogized then laid to rest mere yards from their beloved church. The age-old rituals of commemorating the passing of family, friends and neighbors, is still observed today.

Community meetings convened there, perhaps to discuss voting rights or the potentials of desegregation. The role of the church in African American communities cannot be overstated, particularly in earlier decades.

Jim Crow laws creating a “separate but equal” society still predominated for much of the church’s lifespan. Activities at Pleasant Green had waned considerably by 1962. It would be two more years before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was enacted, ending forced racial segregation.

Back then, black folks still relied on the Green Book, first published by Victor Hugo Green in 1937, to travel America’s highways as safely as possible. This travel guide advised African Americans about the motels and restaurants that would welcome them along their way.

Many, though, would travel straight through to their destinations, stopping only for fuel and bathrooms breaks. They had heard the horror stories about black travelers getting lost, running out of fuel, or ending up in the wrong neighborhood.

Life for African Americans has always been difficult at best in this country, yet, it is also true that unparalleled harmony existed between races here in Pocahontas County. By all accounts, it was as though the residents of our county lived in a solitary bubble of tolerance, cooperation and friendship among blacks and whites.

That said, slavery existed here in our county until the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. Some of the recently uncovered gravestones provide mute testa- ment to this fact – which will be discussed further in the next Watoga Trail Report.

Ruth has lived beside the Pleasant Green Church long enough to see the ravages of time and weather; forces bent on bringing the wood and stone back down to the earth from which it arose. 

The bell that called worshipers to service has been stone silent for many years. The aisle has not been walked down by a new bride since the Kennedy Administration.

The last funeral held at Pleasant Green Church was in 1984, and it had to be one of the most memorable in its history because of who the decedent was – none other than Ms. Eddie Washington.

If you’ve not heard of Ms. Eddie, then you have missed out on the anecdotes of an incredible character whose story, when told, is always followed by joyous laughter. A future Watoga Trail Report will feature Ms. Eddie, who is often associated with the still-missed restaurant at Watoga State Park.

The Pleasant Green Church and its graveyard, along with the schoolhouse just down the road at State Route 219, are an integral part of the history of Pocahontas County. This church and other black churches in the county represent several African American groups who lived, loved, worked, worshipped and contributed to the richness of our diverse past.

How much Pocahontas County values its history is broadly demonstrated in word and deed.

Think of Bill McNeel and the books and articles he has written so that we, and future generations, have access to the history of the railroads that immeasurably shaped this county’s future right up to the present.

Just take a look around – this county is so full of historical sites – Droop Mountain Battlefield State Park, Mill Point Prison where the famous novel, Spartacus, was written. Many of the structures and trails of Watoga State Park are tangible reminders of the Civilian Conservation Corps’ legacy. 

Consider former residents of Pocahontas County, such as Pearl Buck, the prolific writer from Hillsboro whose books opened up new and exotic worlds to readers. Think of the poetry, essays and history of Appalachia that may not have existed had Louise McNeill not been born here in Pocahontas County. We would be much the poorer for it.

The Pocahontas Times delivers history to us every week in the form of columns such as Fifty-Years Ago, Seventy-Five Years Ago, 100 Years Ago, and Preserving Pocahontas, complete with black and white photographs from a bygone era.

We place a high value on history here because we can see its impact and legacy every day. Family stories passed down from generation to generation enrich our lives and engender a more profound respect for those who came before us.

And though the numbers of African Americans living in Pocahontas County have dwindled to double digits in recent decades, we must honor and preserve that extraordinary set of circumstances that once existed here. That goal is attainable by collecting the stories of our former black citizens while we can.

Work is already underway to restore the Pleasant Green Church and its graveyard. Ours is a shared history that includes Native Americans, African Americans and European Americans. It is our duty to preserve these diverse histories that made Pocahontas County the place we are so proud of and strive to share with others.

The next edition of the Watoga Trail Report will introduce the individuals who made it their mission to keep the black history of Pocahontas County alive. We will also meet the volunteers and organizations who have come forth to lend their labor and expertise to this worthwhile and necessary effort.

And, by the way, did you know that there is a technical difference between a graveyard and a cemetery? It was brought to my attention just last week that a graveyard is associated with and adjacent to a church whereas a cemetery is solely a place of burials.

From the tranquil shores of Watoga Lake,
Ken Springer
Ken1949bongo@gmail.com

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