Moose Littlejohn and the Mulberry Chapel Methodist Church
In Charleston, it takes an act of God and the approval of a committee to remove a dead tree. The same holds true for a handful of our state’s larger cities. But in South Carolina's rural counties, there are no sentries to protect the past because there is limited discretionary money.
Many of those who had the wherewithal to say, “Hey, wait, this place is important,” left depressed communities for more prosperous areas, leaving behind a whole bunch of people who wish they could move and too many unprotected historic landmarks.
I recently came across a person in one of those forgotten towns who can’t stand the thought of such a loss. His name is Larry “Moose” Littlejohn, and he wishes to preserve the historically black Mulberry Chapel Methodist Church.
On a blazing hot afternoon, I left my Greenville, South Carolina, home and drove toward Pacolet, a once-prosperous mill town in an area that was quite literally “The Textile Capital of the World.” We still have many folks who remember what life was like “back in the day” when the mill owners provided housing, jobs, and places of worship.
Mulberry Church, located on the outskirts of Pacolet, hasn’t been used for regular service since the 1940s. It is there that I met Larry "Moose" Littlejohn.
“Even if you were a black slave you had a place to worship and live,” Moose tells me with a small smile. His ancestors were slaves. His surname is the same as the family who owned his ancestors. For sixty some years, the "Littlejohns" have held their annual reunions on the grounds of this church.
We walked around the chapel, my long pants and knee high socks offering little protection from the bugs waiting to pounce from the ankle-deep weeds. A friend of mine, Bill Segars, who had met us at the church, crawled under the leaning structure to examine its foundation. A builder by trade, he later told me it would cost at least $10,000 to stop the church from its immediate risk of collapsing and another $100,000 to restore it to its original condition. Folks in Pacolet don’t have that kind of money.
Moose points to the direction of the highway. “Do you see the historic marker in front of the church? It cost us $1,700. Took us some time to raise that money, but we did it. A friend of mine, Carl West, made a very generous contribution. Our local congressman Harold Mitchell helped is through the process. All of us believe that a sign is a good start.”
From the National Register of Historic Places:
“Mulberry Chapel Methodist Church, built circa 1880, is significant for its association with African-American heritage in the South Carolina upcountry during Reconstruction and for its architectural significance as an intact example of a vernacular form of Gothic Revival ecclesiastical architecture. Mulberry Chapel Methodist Church is a local example of one of the most significant social changes precipitated by black freedom—the establishment of independent black churches and denominations. It was part of a large social pattern, which resulted from two pressures: blacks’ desire to exercise their hard-won freedom from slavery and to avoid white antagonism… Mulberry Chapel Methodist Church is one of only a few extant African-American churches in South Carolina dating from the first twenty-five years after the Civil War and is a rare example in the South Carolina upcountry.”
Assuming Segars is correct, well over $100,000 will be needed to save the church, not to mention the amount of effort and knowledge it takes to form and then run the non-profit organization. Is it worth it?
“This church is very important both to my family and to the community. It helps remind us of the past,” Moose said.
I eased my car out of the field and back onto pavement. A mile or so down the road sits the well-maintained Nuckolls-Jeffries plantation house. Now in private hands, it too is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Seems like if we have one, we should have the other. That’s what I think.