The history of an African American church that traces its beginnings to Reconstruction-era Jacksonville will be presented in a talk at the Public Library of Anniston and Calhoun County this Saturday afternoon.
The St. Paul Christian Methodist Episcopal Church celebrated its 150th anniversary last year and a longtime member of the congregation, Mary Ann Burnett, will speak to a meeting of the AlaBenton Genealogical Society at the library. She has traced the church’s history to its founding in 1867.
“There is a deed that shows that the land the church now sits on was sold to three former slaves for $40 for just under one acre of land,” she said. “We’re proud of St. Paul and through the years we’ve all been determined to keep the church and the history going.”
The owner of the land before the sale, she said, was a man named Jacob Forney. He sold the land to Alexander Forney, Lewis McKenzie and Ephraim Forney, according to Burnett.
“I’m thinking that Alexander and Ephraim could have been slaves formerly owned by Jacob and got his last name,” she said. “Initially they had been under the Methodist Episcopal Church South before and during the war.”
Burnett said the founders set up their own church under the Episcopal discipline and eventually separated from the Episcopal church.
The current congregation has around 50 active members, which Burnett says is much smaller than the church’s regular attendance number while she was growing up.
“When I was growing up we had over 200 to 250 members in the church, but it has dwindled,” she said. “It’s really changed.”
AlaBenton Genealogical Society organizer Tom Mullins said Burnett’s presentation at 1 p.m. Saturday should help other members in their research.
“It’s been a stable structure and guiding light for us to know that we’ve got something that goes back that far,” she said.