Thursday, March 13, 2008
Mallory tells story of Strawberry Church
By Linda Jones
“When I Can Read My Title Clear” is a hymn by Isaac Watts. One of the stalwart members of Strawberry Church for decades early in the 20th century was Milledge Tabor (1874-1944). Everyone who ever heard him remembers his powerful voice.
“When I Can Read My Title Clear” was his favorite hymn and became the hymn closely identified with him and with the church, according to Dr. Hubert McAlexander, noted Marshall County historian. McAlexander, a native of Marshall County, is a professor of English at the University of Georgia in Athens.
“The Strawberry Story - When I Can Read My Title Clear” by Willie Mallory tells the story of the Strawberry church and its families from the days of its beginning in the pre-Civil War era.
With strong oral histories and much research, Mallory has brought to life the struggle of a small group of ex-slaves to establish a church of their own.
““The Strawberry Story” is more than a story of a church. It is the story of a people, their survival and determination. Theirs was the world of slavery, Civil War, Reconstruction...” (Introduction).
“In 1840, Marshall County had 8,268 slaves... The land of Cavaliers and cotton fields called the Old South was changed by the Civil War. Negroes were free to establish their own institutions, such as churches, schools, etc. Eben Davis of Strawberry Plains Plantation, established a church at Strawberry Plains for his slaves. Following the War, Strawberry Plains was no longer in any condition to take on an effort like a church. The church closed and left a spiritual void in the community.”
“When the Emancipation Proclamation extended to them the freedom of religious choice, the Strawberry freedmen were free to organize the Strawberry Baptist Church. Aaron Jones, one of the county’s ex-slaves, said, “The Lard works in all things for the better -- I know He does.”
Milledge Tabor was a second generation member who strongly appreciated the freedmen’s efforts. Uncle Milledge had a gift for song, spirituality and leadership. He was known for his ability to “pitch a hymn.” He delighted in singing hymns reminiscent of the days of slavery. “When I Can Read My Title Clear” took the memories of some back to the days of slavery -- their titles were first read clear when they were set free from slavery.
(excerpts from The Strawberry Story)
Willie H. Mallory, the author of “The Strawberry Story,” is a native Marshall Countian who returned home after retirement about eight-10 years ago.
Mallory left in 1967 to attend college at Christian Brothers University and later Memphis State University.
After graduation, he helped organize and start up the Tillman-Binghampton Social Service Center and Health Care Clinic in Memphis, Tenn. Then, he left for Oakland, Calif.
“My best friend was transferred out there, so I just went too. I was an opportunist,” Mallory said laughing.
He stayed in Oakland for about three years, working in social service and then headed back closer to home in Atlanta, Ga.
“I was close to home. I could come home anytime I got ready,” he said.
Mallory stayed in Atlanta about 20 years, first working for Firestone Corporation and then PepBoys, an after market auto industry, which has grown into one of the industry giants.
When Mallory returned home, he became involved in researching.
“I joined Strawberry Church and started doing family and geneologic research. My mother’s side of the family is deeply rooted in Strawberry.
“I also started researching church history -- you can’t study one without the other.”
Mallory and the Audubon Society history program came together and this created a full-time interest in geneology and Marshall County history.
“There were so many good people who helped -- Dr. McAlexander and Chelius Carter with the Marshall County Preservation Society. I just love it!” Mallory said.
“The Strawberry Story” was printed by the church and Xlibris Publishing and the congregation loves the results.
“There were tears and laughter when the book was first read. They just loved it.
“It was hard to write something that would appeal to everyone in the church. I think I did that by being inclusive,” Mallory said.
“And Dr. McAlexander was an invaluable resource.
“When I first met Dr. McAlexander someone said ‘he’s a big shot and won’t answer you.’ He answered me the next day! And when he came here for a visit, we spent lots of time in the woods, visiting cemeteries,” he continued.
There will be a book signing at Strawberry Baptist Church on Saturday, March 22, at 2 p.m. to mark the official release of “The Strawberry Story.”
Mallory, along with the pastor, Willie E. Jeffries Jr. and the entire congregation, invite the community to come and celebrate history with them.
When I Can Read My Title Clear
McAlexander pays tribute to Mallory
Willie Hayes Mallory is a Marshall County treasure. Having spent a great part of his adult life outside the state and some outside the South, he has returned in retirement to the place where he feels deeply at home. And he has returned with a heightened sensitivity to our history. His own memory casts light upon important parts of our shared story, and his delving into records and the memories of his elders has made him a valuable repository of all sorts of information. The immediate result is the splendid history of the Strawberry Plains Missionary Baptist Church, which has been a landmark on the Mt. Pleasant road (Highway 311) since 1867.
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