Cohutta works to preserve its African-American civic district | Local News

Sixty years ago, when racial segregation was the law, Red Clay Road was the black section of the town of Cohutta.

“It was a thriving, relatively middle-class community,” said City Attorney Todd Johnson. “There were teachers who lived here, lawyers.”

And at the center of the community was Andrews Chapel, home to an African Methodist Episcopal Church congregation dating back to the 1870s, and a one-room schoolhouse that educated black children in grades one through six.

“This church was one of the main gathering places for black families in this area,” Aaron Prater said.

Prater’s family has been involved in the church for four generations. He started attending church in the early 1970s after his father, who had been in the military, moved his family back to Cohutta. He said at that time the church changed its affiliation to The United Methodist Church.

“We used to have carols there,” he said. “Choirs came from Chattanooga. We used to have dinners for the pastor every month.

He said that at that time the church was served by a pastor who also ministered to churches in Calhoun and Fairmount. The congregation and the congregation of Pleasant Valley Baptist Church, another black church across the street, met on the first and third Sundays of each month, alternating in which church they met.

“I worked on this church for almost 40 years, trying to make this church work,” he said. “When we moved in 1973, there was still no indoor plumbing. With the help of Varnell United Methodist Church, we installed the bathroom and rewired the church. It was a huge blessing. My father supported the church.

Over the years, as legal segregation ended, many residents of Red Clay Road left for other locations and the church congregation dwindled.

“At the end, we had maybe five or six members,” Prater said. “I had moved to Marietta by then and was driving on Sundays.”

He said parishioners made the decision to close the church after the preacher who served it left.

The church was closed for about thirty years before the municipality acquired the building and the school a few years ago.

Today, city officials strive to preserve the buildings and the history they represent.

Moving from Tennessee

Nearly 100 years ago, the Andrews Chapel congregation moved the church nearly four miles from Red Clay, Tennessee, to Cohutta using only labor and cattle.

“It’s really amazing to think about what they did and the technology they used to do it,” Cohutta Mayor Ron Shinnick said.

Prater said the congregation did not own the land the church sat on in Red Clay.

“Someone donated the land to Cohutta, so they moved it there,” he said.

Six years ago, the Methodist Church, which owns the building, donated it to the city. When city officials received the title, they found that it included half ownership of the school building used by black students before integration. The school building had been used as a communion hall by the Andrews Chapel congregation and the Pleasant Valley Baptist Church.

“The kids didn’t understand why they were going to another school,” Shinnick said. “I’ve talked to people who were kids at the time, black and white, and they said they played baseball together, hung out together when they weren’t in school.”

The city acquired the other half ownership of the school building, and now officials hope to develop the two buildings into a cultural center, called the African-American Civic District of Cohutta, that will preserve the black history of the city. town and will also bring art to the region.

“My aunt, Mattie Prater, taught school for many years,” Prater said. “She taught all the black kids in Cohutta.”

The Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation named the African-American Civic District of Cohutta, which also includes Pleasant Valley Baptist Church, as one of its 2021 Places at Risk.

“Andrews Chapel, with an organized congregation in the 1870s, was built in 1902 and moved to its present location (from Red Clay, Tennessee) in 1923,” according to the Georgia Trust. “The Old Colored School was built in 1930, after a long history of education in the community, and remained open until 1953, when it merged with another school…The building of the school also served as a communion hall for church congregations.”

Projects for the futureThe church building has retained the bell that accompanied it when it was moved.

Officials say they plan to use the church building as a meeting place and area for art exhibitions, and the old school as a place where classes and smaller gatherings can take place.

“Maybe we can have weddings here and things like that,” Shinnick said of the church building.

“The building is actually in pretty good shape, especially considering its age,” Shinnick said. “The only thing that’s really deteriorated is the back. They added a bathroom at some point, and the roof is leaking.

Shinnick said the district’s name on the Georgia Trust’s endangered places list was actually a good thing because it brought attention to the site and helped the city secure grants to help preserve the buildings.

“This funding helped complete building condition assessments, undertake a community assessment to determine if the region could support the rehabilitation of historic properties into an event venue and community space, and contact a marketing to provide in-depth analysis. to determine the financial feasibility of the project,” the Georgia Trust said in a press release. “This study has been returned with positive results, encouraging next steps to ensure the future preservation of the civic district.”

Prater said he was happy to see the city taking action to preserve the church and school and their history.

“It’s something that’s highly valued in the black community,” he said. “There aren’t many families left up there. But we are looking forward to it. »