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Making History

Erica Addison

People come to all sorts of realizations in houses of worship.

For Fannie Simmons, a former business education teacher of 30 years and a congregant at Mt. Olive Baptist Church in Mullins, South Carolina, it was the structure itself that inspired her quest to have it listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Simmons’s in-depth research into the now 127-year-old church’s history revealed that its architect and founders were all slaves or the sons and daughters of former slaves.

Future generations should understand the struggles their ancestors had, she says, and the church’s history embodies that struggle. “Young children . . . may have never realized that the church was built with hands and little else.”

“You just have to wonder how they built such an edifice with the tools and education they had at the time,” Simmons says.

Unsure of her next step, Simmons attended a historical meeting where she met a representative from the South Carolina Department of Archives and History who gave her the necessary resources and contacts.

After ensuring that the church had not been renovated since its sanctuary was finished in 1926, Simmons took on the “very, very detailed” application, assisted only by a photographer who provided all the necessary photographic documentation.

“I did it all—historiographer, scribe, researcher, cartographer, examiner, interviewer, correspondent, publicist, and editor,” Simmons says.

Thanks to Simmons, Mt. Olive Baptist Church was entered into the National Register of Historic Places in 2000 and the South Carolina Department of Archives and History’s bulletin of historic Black sites, and the architect was listed in an anthology of African-American architects.

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