Historic St. Phillip’s Baptist Church Has Collapsed

St. Phillip’s Baptist Church | Claiborne County, MS c. early 1900s

Here in this once bustling region of Mississippi, historic churches dot the maps along some of America’s most important historic routes. Most of them kept up and marked with a plaque, those churches have become poular spots for historic tourists and locals alike to visit to try and interpret these remnants of our past.

But only a few miles away from some of these prominent landmarks, another important place has been silently crumbling into obscurity for years.

The church bell has been stolen, the back and side wall are completely caved in, and the windows have all been broken. A few pews remain inside pinned under old clapboarding and legend has it, a piano still stands inside, although I couldn’t see one.

The locals I’ve spoken with can’t remember a time when congregants passed through these walls. No one can recall the church bell ever chiming. There wasn’t even a consensus about the name of this old church. But I was dying to know more of her story.

After over a year of digging around to see what I might find, the only clues came from Find A Grave and Google Maps, of all places. Once called St. Phillips Church, this building likely served a Baptist congregation of African American sharecroppers from the surrounding plantations in Wilsonville and Hermanville.

The locals I’ve spoken with can’t remember a time when congregants passed through these walls. No one can recall the church bell ever chiming. There wasn’t even a consensus about the name of this old church. But I was dying to know more of her story.

After over a year of digging around to see what I might find, the only clues came from Find A Grave and Google Maps, of all places. Once called St. Phillips Church, this building likely served a Baptist congregation of African American sharecroppers from the surrounding plantations in Wilsonville and Hermanville.

Adjacent to the building is a graveyard with more than 100 interments, with a handful of burials in every decade of the last century, starting with John Hardges who was buried here in 1910.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t tell us much about the congregation and when they started meeting, who led them in prayer, or when they closed the doors here for the final time. But reading through their names on Find A Grave has helped me to bring some humanity to this important, if largely forgotten, place.

As I recently reopened my file to see what else I could find on this church out in the woods, I came across an image of it on Instagram. Almost a year to the day from my visit to St. Phillips, the last supporting wall finally gave in and the church has now collapsed. Of course it was only a matter of time in the condition that had befallen her, but it’s still sad to know that most of her story was lost with her.

Luckily, the graveyard is well cared for and hopefully, more of the history will emerge someday so we can properly remember those who passed here before us.

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