Clemson professor writes history of little known Pickens County community

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CLEMSON — A group of Clemson University students and faculty tiptoed through a weed-filled plot of land in northern Pickens County as if they were trying to avoid disturbing the birds flying above them. They removed brush and debris from a cemetery some feared was forgotten.
That was more than seven years ago when members of Clemson’s anthropology club and faculty carefully cleaned and marked graves at a slave cemetery that belongs to Soapstone Baptist Church in Liberia, South Carolina.
Mable Owens Clarke inside Soapstone Baptist Church
Hundreds of freed slaves settled in the Upstate of South Carolina after the Civil War, said Mable Owens Clarke, Soapstone Baptist Church member and historian.
Clarke said the church dates back to about 1865 when her maternal great-grandfather founded the house of worship.
Clemson anthropology professor Mike Coggeshall read bits and pieces about the church and its cemetery while researching Upstate mountain culture. He later stumbled upon the small church high in the Blue Ridge foothills.
“That’s where I met Mable and her family,” Coggeshall said. “I learned they are among the remaining members of the small African-American community.”
Mike Coggeshall
For various reasons, the community was named after the African country Liberia.
Clarke said a couple of years before the students visited the community in 2011, a surveyor found graves while working on the church property. Clarke checked it out and determined it was a slave cemetery that included some of her ancestors.
Coggeshall recently released a new book, “Liberia, South Carolina: An African American Appalachian Community,” to shed light on the history of five generations of the Owens family, their friends and neighbors. All royalties for the book are returned to the community for historical preservation and presentation.
Coggleshall will sign copies of his book Saturday.
“I wanted to chronicle the struggles of Upstate blacks through slavery, Reconstruction, the Jim Crow era …

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