Roswell church founded by enslaved people celebrates 175 years

Credit: ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM

Credit: ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM

Members of a historically Black church in Roswell that was founded by enslaved people will celebrate its 175th anniversary on Sunday.

Pleasant Hill Church was started in 1847 by two brothers, Burl and Alex Hembree, who were enslaved by the Hembree family.

The congregation of about 650 feels its rich history, said Pastor Sabin Strickland. He grew up across the street from the church’s current location and began ministering there in 1996.

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The church will celebrate the 175th anniversary during a special Sunday service that will draw Roswell officials, including Mayor Kurt Wilson, and reflect on its founding in sermon and songs, Strickland said.

“Our mayor is going to come and read a proclamation,” Strickland said. “We’ll have some remarks and greetings from others in Roswell. It’s going to be a good time in worship.”

The public is invited to the 10:45 a.m. service, which will be followed by “food and fellowship.”

Pleasant Hill was born out of Lebanon Baptist Church. Lebanon church co-founded in 1836 by Amariah Hembree, who moved to Georgia after the state’s land lotteries and the forced removal of Cherokee Indians.

Burl, Alex and other enslaved people of the congregants worshiped together for years, according to Pleasant Hill and the Roswell Historical Society. The Black worshippers observed service from the balcony.

Burl was ordained to preach and Alex was ordained as a deacon and in 1847 they founded Pleasant Hill without a building to house its own congregation.

“They were probably just worshipping outside,” Strickland said.

Plantation owner Archibald Smith donated land for the church’s first location and cemetery on Old Roswell Place. A log cabin structure was built in 1855 to serve as the church building.

The church moved to its current location at 725 Pleasant Hill Street in 1922. The historic cemetery which holds the burial site of formerly enslaved people is still visited and maintained today.

“It’s certainly something to be a part of a ministry that goes back so far,” Strickland said of the church. “It’s an honor to be able to follow in these folks’ footsteps and just carrying on the history, and legacy to be honest ... It’s almost something that words can’t express.”