Everyone knows a picture is worth a thousand words. Sam McGregor wants one worth 150 years.
On May 6-7, a new festival comes to Lake Wylie. Called “Let the Land Say...Amen” the festival celebrates the histories of the Allison Creek and Clay Hill communities. There will be guided tours, music, historical interpretations, games and discussions.
There will be photographs.
York County high school students have until April 1 to submit black and white or color photographs of the 20 acres surrounding Allison Creek Presbyterian Church. Winners will be announced and prizes given at the May event. The contest is part of an ongoing, growing awareness of the historical significance of the property.
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“What we have here is one of, if not the greatest story, of African-American liberation that’s never been told,” said McGregor, pastor at the church.
Allison Creek was built in 1854. The church cemetery includes Confederate soldiers and other white church members from as far back. A separate Clay Hill cemetery sits nearby in a wooded area. Former slaves and freed blacks are buried there from as far back as 1859.
“Clay Hill was what this area was originally called, prior to Allison Creek,” McGregor said.
In recent years Allison Creek has worked to clean up the area they call Common Ground, which includes both cemeteries. There are trails, a small chapel, stops along the way for prayer and meditation. For remembering folks like Rev. Elias Hill.
Hill, who had polio or some similar condition along with dwarfism, was a 40-acre landowner and advocate for equal rights in the Clay Hill community following the Civil War. The upcoming festival takes place on the 146th anniversary of an attack by the Ku Klux Klan on former slaves and freed blacks in the area, including Hill.
"They terrorized Elias Hill and other African-Americans in this area,” McGregor said. “Because of the rise of the KKK in this area, President Ulysses Grant declared marshal law.”
The festival doesn’t celebrate the attacks, but instead the aftermath. Hill and others testified against the Klan after federal troops took over a hotel in York. McGregor said his group studying the historical events isn’t aware of similar ones, where Klan members were successfully prosecuted on the testimony of area blacks.
Part of the upcoming festival is a new historical marker. It will be the first in York County to mention the reconstruction era events. It will be the first in the state to mention the KKK.
Hill later would lead 167 people who left for Liberia, early settlers of a colonization movement there. Liberian ties still run deep at Allison Creek. In recent years the church hosted visitors matching names on gravestones here with known families there. The church is taking a mission trip to Liberia in March.
“What we’re doing for this festival is to be retelling that story, and retelling the stories that have been lost and ignored,” McGregor said.
Part of that story involves pictures. Alicia Wrenn, who takes pictures for the church, will accept entries to be judged by a professional photographer and Winthrop University fine arts teacher.
“It’s open to any high school students who want to take advantage of the contest, and that includes homeschool, private school,” Wrenn said. “We have only one requirement – that it can’t be of anything inside.”
Photographs will be exhibited at the church during the festival and a bluegrass event around the same time, but the contest isn’t looking for interior shots. There are plenty of opportunities along the trails, along the Common Ground where so much history happened.
“Those are something that I find very interesting,” Wrenn said. “There's that type of thing. There’s the prayer stations. Outside is what we’re focusing on, just the feel of the area.”
For more information on the contest, including how to enter, or for the festival itself, visit letthelandsay.com.