Rock Hill Alderman Ed Johnson, Ward 1, and his wife Kate recently distributed a brief history on the Rock Hill Presbyterian Church and a plea to save the historic church from demolition.
See previous article: Group Still Seeking Donations to Save Historic Church
They emailed the information to several individuals and organizations in hopes of drumming up financial support to to save the church, which was built in 1845. Here is what they wrote:
At the crossroads of Manchester Road and McKnight Road, in the northeast corner of Rock Hill sits the Rock Hill Presbyterian Church. The church is at the crossroads of its life and a cradle of the Civil Rights Movement.
A decision has been made to save the Fairfax House, a house built by James C. Marshall. However, the church is still scheduled for demolition. The church is at the crossroads of its life; will it be saved or will it be demolished?
The Rock Hill church can be called a cradle of the Civil Rights Movement because of the work of some great men in the Rock Hill, Webster Groves and St. Louis areas. They include: James C. Marshall; Artemus Bullard; Elijah Lovejoy; Dred Scott; John Berry Meacham; and Emmanuel Cartwright.
In 1832, James C. Marshall along with his brother, sisters and family slaves came to the Rock Hill area from Virginia. In 1845, Marshall donated the land and built the Rock Hill Presbyterian Church. The roof for the church was built by the Marshall slaves on Sunday as their contribution to the church. This is a church where white and blacks worshiped together and were buried together in the same church cemetery.
In the 1840s, Arthemus Bullard helped organize the Rock Hill Presbyterian Church. He also organized and started the Webster College for Boys, which is now called Edgewood Children’s Center. During the Civil War, the Edgewood Children’s Center was said to be part of the Underground Railroad.
Elijah Lovejoy was a Presbyterian preacher. The Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy was named after Elijah Lovejoy. He was also an anti-slavery journalist, a newspaper editor and a martyr. He was killed in 1837 in Alton, IL, because of his protest against slavery.
Dred Scott was a Missouri African-American slave who sued for his freedom and the freedom of his wife. Scott was taken from Missouri to Illinois and Wisconsin in the 1830s. He first sued for his freedom in 1847, and the case was taken all the way to the United Supreme Court in 1857. Scott lost the case because he was declared property and did not have the rights to sue. Even today, it is considered one of the major landmarks of American judicial history.
In 1866, after the Civil War ended, three new churches were started in Webster Groves from the Rock Hill Presbyterian Church. They include: First Congregational Church of Webster Groves; Webster Groves Presbyterian Church; and First Baptist Church of Webster Groves. The First Baptist Church of Webster Groves was started at the Old Community Baptist Church site. One of the early preachers of the First Baptist Church of Webster Groves was Emmanuel Cartwright.
The Rev. John Berry Meacham was the first pastor of the First African Church of St. Louis, now called the First Baptist Church of St. Louis. In 1847, it became illegal to teach blacks to read and write in Missouri. The story is that Meacham built the steamboat freedom school to teach blacks after the authority closed his school in the basement of his church.
In 1854, Emmanuel Cartwright ran the steamboat freedom school after Meacham died. Cartwright also started the Rose Hill Baptist Church in Kirkwood. In 1866, the first school for blacks in the Webster Groves School District met in the basement of First Baptist Church of Webster Groves. Cartwright was the second pastor of First Baptist Church and worked with James Milton Turner, the assistant state superintendent in charge of post-war Negro schools.
The first high school for blacks in Missouri was established in 1866 at the Lincoln Institute, now Lincoln University, by the Buffalo Soldiers. The first high school for blacks in the St. Louis area was established in 1875 at Sumner High School. The first principal of Sumner High School lived in Webster Groves.
Over 100 years before Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. lead the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. There were men and women in the Rock Hill, Webster Groves and St. Louis area creating a cradle for the civil rights movement, and these are not the only ones.
King gave a speech on breaking the silence of injustice. If we allow the Rock Hill Presbyterian Church to be destroyed, it truly will be an injustice. Letting the church be destroyed will be an injustice to the Rock Hill, Webster Groves and St. Louis communities, the state of Missouri and the United States of America.
Will you help save the Rock Hill church, a church that is at the crossroad of life and a cradle of the Civil Rights Movement? The Rock Hill church has a big place in history for a small stone church. This is a living monument of before, during and after the American Civil War, the fight from property to citizenship, the fight for education, the fight for civil rights, the fight of the right to vote and still today, a fight for racial and social justice.
If you can not support this, because it is not the politically correct thing to do, then can you support this because it is personally the right thing to do? Please do not sit in silence and let this injustice happen. Be willing to stand and say, “Not on my watch!"
- A History of Rock Hill by Celeste Wagner Blann (1976)
- North Webster A Photographic History of a Black Community by Ann Morris and Henrietta Ambrose. (1993).
- First Baptist Church of Webster Groves 125th Anniversary, Sunday, November 17, 1991, by Grace Ford, Chairman
- First Congregational Church of Webster Groves Alive, A History, 125th Anniversary, written by Dana Spitzer, The Centennial History by Sylvia Schmid. (1991).
- Place in History for a Small Stone Church by Robert W. Tabscott. (March 2010).
You can mail your tax deductible contribution to the Save the Church Fund, c/o City of Rock Hill, 320 W. Thornton Ave., Rock Hill, MO 63119. For more information, visit the Save the Rock Hill Church website.