In 1863 our nation was divided. As I write this, I’m looking forward to visiting the famed “Gettysburg” where, in early July of that year, 170,000 Americans tried to kill one another, and where, in November, President Lincoln spoke those immortal words called the Gettysburg Address in the dedication of the cemetery where many of the fallen soldiers lay buried.
While battles raged not only in Pennsylvania but in other states, Georgia’s fate would be met the next year. But forces of a different nature were at work in the little settlement of Woodstock, Ga.
Far removed from the bustling city of Atlanta … Sherman’s target … homes and farms in Woodstock were few and far between. Few slaveholders are listed in census records of the time, yet even today some black Woodstock families still carry the names of their ancestral owners.
Some families are named on maps of the day … Paden, McAfee, Fowler, Perkinson, Haney. And we know that William Hiram Dean lived in a log house near the intersection of today’s Elm and Main Streets. There was not yet a railroad, nor a depot.
If there were stores, their history has not been revealed. There were a few churches, the nearest being at Enon, about a mile north of today’s town. Slaves in the area sometimes joined existing white churches, but more often they managed to worship together with each other, usually in the shelter of a brush arbor. In 1863, a group of them meeting at an arbor on what is today Arnold Mill Road, a short distance from Main Street, organized and called themselves Allen Temple African Methodist Episcopal Church. The first trustees were Miles McAfee, Giles Haney, James Fowler, Dr. William Dean (pastor of Enon Baptist Church) and Sister Benson.
By 1909, the congregation had progressed to the need for a new building and a small, wooden frame structure became their church home. The church shared its property with Woodstock’s first black school which remained in operation into the 1940s.
As Woodstock’s population increased and “modern technology” entered the picture, the congregation built a new sanctuary in 1977, holding its first service there on June 12 of that year. Other major additions and renovations followed, and phenomenal growth spurred plans to relocate. By 2004, when they moved less than a mile away, they had grown to 1,500 members.
There are way too many names of faithful and devoted members of Allen Temple to discuss here, so I have picked only one.
Soon after we moved to Woodstock in 1965, we met Lillie Mae Brownlee. We saw her often. Seems like she was everywhere.
I have chosen to talk about her here because to me, she was Allen Temple. I knew other members, all good people, but Lillie Mae and her family were somehow special. As I recall, on a cold December Sunday afternoon, probably around 1969, Lillie Mae and her husband Dude hosted a party at their home (very near Allen Temple) in celebration of their 25th wedding anniversary.
I think everybody in town was invited. The date was also on or near her birthday, and the event became a tradition that lasted for at least three decades. It came to be called the Brownlee Tea, and it became the one time every year that folks would have opportunity to make donations to the church’s building fund.
One year funds were collected for a new roof. Other years the focus was on different additions or repairs. The party was festive, always, with delicious homemade goodies, and Christmas carols, and lots and lots of people.
Lillie Mae and Dude were two-of-a-kind. She wouldn’t take no for an answer, and Dude was, without a doubt, the most patient man I have ever known.
My husband, the MOTH, was asked to speak at the memorial service for Dude. He told a story worth repeating. As Dude sat at the breakfast table one morning, Lillie Mae brought him his sweater.
He looked up at her and asked, “Am I going somewhere, or am I cold?”
What a guy! And we miss Lillie Mae since she moved away.
Methinks Lillie Mae trained some folks to follow in her footsteps. The church is thriving. Its people make Woodstock proud.
Happy Anniversary, Allen Temple, with sincere wishes for continued blessings for at least another 150 years.
Juanita Hughes is Woodstock’s official historian and former director of the Woodstock Public Library.