Strawberry (Plains) Baptist Church

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Strawberry (Plains) Baptist Church

Built by Eben Davis of VA (cousin of Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy) on a 4000 acre plantation. Davis was one of the earliest settlers of Marshall County. He built a Methodist Church, which burned, and gave the land for Strawberry Church from his plantation. When the house was built it was the finest house in the country. The plantation was self-sufficient and had an ice house, flour mill, blacksmith, carriage house, cotton gin, stable, slave quarters and the school for Davis’ children and the slaves’ children. During the Civil War, Davis left for his other plantation in Alabama, and left his wife, Martha Greenlee to run Strawberry Plains. The home was burned during the Civil War with only the walls standing. Mrs. Davis and her children partially rebuilt the house. The Finley family has owned it since the late 1950s. Dr. John and Margaret Finley Shackelford began restoration of the home in 1968. Donated to the National Audubon Society by the late Mrs. Margaret Finley Shackelford and Ruth Finley.[The South Reporter, Apr 15 & Nov 4, 1999 and Nov 30, 2000]

In 1895, the church membership had grown to 105 members under the pastorate of the Rev. J. L. Harris. During that year, the following people joined the church. New brothers were Milage Tabor, Milton Oliver, Burley Malone and Lee Norman; new Sisters were Clarice Perkins, Margaret Lee Hunt, Mary Toliver and Lula Bell Oliver Greeman. To date, Sister Lula Bell Oliver Freeman is the oldest active member of Strawberry Baptist Church. In 1902, Brother Milage Tabor was elected Church Clerk and served in that capacity for more than 40 years. That next year, the church membership increased to 155 members.

During the year 1906, the church burned a second time. Two years later still under the pastorate of Rev. Harris the present wood frame structure was built and dedicated on June 9, 1907 the second Sunday.

Members of the building committee were Brothers A. B. Payne, W. M. Hunt, A. P. Perkins, Joe Oliver, Zick Steverson, Sr., Flavers Oliver and B. H. Hamilton.

Tribute should be paid to Rev. J. L. Harris who exemplified himself as a truly capable leader. At the end of his tenure, Rev. Harris had increased the membership roll to approximately 400 members.

In 1915, Rev. Crawford was elected for an interim period of two years when in 1917 the Rev. Armstard Williams was elected pastor. Under his leadership swinging lamp lights were bought and installed in the church. The same year Brothers Milage Tabor and Lee Norman were added to the Deacon Board.

1917 marked the beginning of the Church Missionary Society under the leadership of Sister Liza Norman. Sister Norman was later elected president and served for a number of years helping to emphasize the church concerns in the community. She was known for her diligent service and effective work.

In 1928, Rev. Wade T. Harris was elected pastor. During his four years, he proved himself quite capable to lead the flock at what was now called the Strawberry Missionary Baptist Church.

This was considered a great period of prosperity for the church.

The Usher Board was organized also during this period with Sister Lula Price being the first president.

With the coming of the depression, the church went through some frequent periods of turnover in leadership. In 1932, the Rev. Griffin of Memphis was elected pastor and served for three years. Following him in 1935 the Rev. Orner of Abbeville, Mississippi was elected and served three years. By 1938, the Rev. J. H. Greer of Memphis was elected pastor.

Near the end of 1938, the church membership had decreased to 185. Under Rev. Greer’s leadership, the church was remodeled. The door was moved from the front side to the present front center. A cistern (well) was constructed on the church premises. The church organizational leadership had witnessed changes too.

In 1944, Rev O. W. Hoyle of Jackson, Tennessee was elected pastor and served for three years.

In 1947, Rev. W. M. Franklin was elected. It was under his leadership that the ceiling was lowered and electric lights added.

In 1951, Rev. A. L. Richmond was elected pastor and served for four years.

It was in 1955 when Rev. C. I. Bullock was elected pastor. Under his leadership, a piano was purchased which helped in bringing about a definite reorganization in the choir. A Building Fund Committee was started to raise funds to build a new church. Rev. Bullock served for seven years and was called to another church. Both Brothers Russell Houston and Wesley Oliver Sr. were added to the Deacon Board during his tenure.

In 1962, Rev A. L. Williams of Covington, Tennessee was elected pastor. He held the interest of the church at heart. He expanded the physical structure by adding the choir stand, usher room, and the pastor’s study. Other parts of the building were repaired. The church membership had sturdily decreased to 109.

In 1964, the Rev J. C. Avant was elected pastor and served for seven years. During this period, the church was painted and roofed. James Howell, Larry Freeman and Robert Jones were added to the Deacon Board.

In 1971, Rev. Otis William of Memphis was elected pastor. Under his leadership, the church witnessed remarkable changes and improvements in the Strawberry Missionary Baptist Church both physically and spiritually. To name a few: meeting Sundays have been changed from one Sunday to two Sundays a month (2nd and 4th), the membership has increased to 350 and still rising; participation in church activities across the board has improved; deliberate efforts have been made to include young people in more active roles; and last but not least, he has lead the way for the construction of a new church building.

In 1975, the church deacons were Emmitt Rankins, James Howell, Russell Houston, Wesley Oliver. Sr., Larry Freeman, Robert Jones and Wallace Freeman. Brother Emmitt Rankins is the oldest active deacon now serving.

The history would be incomplete if we did not mention here that Strawberry Missionary Baptist Church is not a money making organization, but a man-making organization. We are stretching our hands out to touch those who happen to have the right talents to help the other. We encourage and expect all of our members to continue to practice his or her Christian commitment to the highest.




While going through my AOL forum comments came across a comment of Linda McIntire Ball asking for descendants of my grandmother Ora Mae Perkins, this was the start of a relationship that has lasted to this day Here is the conversation as it was related to me:

My family has had an interest in our ancestry for as long as I can remember.  After I married and became pregnant with my twins I thought how nice it would be for my kids to have the genealogy of both their parents, so I set off to working on my husbands’ family, on my own. At the time I hadn’t a clue how difficult it was to be, searching for African-American roots. We are a bi-racial couple and my family has been in Michigan since the 1860’s. We also live in Michigan, making records that much easier for me to obtain. Now not only was I trying to find African-American roots, I was having to look for documentation in Mississippi. Naive as I was, I figured well how hard or different could it be ? My twins are now 18 years old and I am still searching for many specific documents that I would like to have, and trying to keep up to date with a humongous extended family.

One of the most helpful resources for me has been an annual family reunion held every year in July. Its a wonderful place to obtain oral stories, and meet the elders in the family and keeping up to date with current cousins. The reunion is in the name of Ross-Perkins, the surnames of the furthest back ancestors that current family members knew. My husband’s line is that of Louis Ross and his wife, Mollie Perkins, from Holly Springs, MS.

Louis and Mollie had a very large family, some of their children didn’t live to adulthood and others married and started their own families. The elders stated in the beginning that Louis and Mollie had between 18 and 21 children. Wow, you can imagine how many cousins are going to come from a family of that size !

Using and their census records I was quickly able to find Louis and Molly right where they were supposed to be in Holly Springs. I thought to myself, how great it would be if I could find their parents and be able to give our current family a whole new generation backward that no one knew about. Having both Louis and Mollie’s ages, and know they were born in Holly Springs, I worked backward trying to locate a Ross or a Perkins that would fit in their Louis or Mollie. I started with Louis and soon located an Elijah Ross with a wife named Emily and 6 children, one having the name of Louis, who matched in age to my Louis. I turned to an elder family member and asked did he ever hear of Louis having had any siblings. He remembered there was a Wesley Ross, sure enough, Elijah and Emily also had a son Wesley. So I had found them ! How great was this an entire list of new names to work on with limitless possibilities of more relatives.

Working back in the census to 1870, I found no matches. Strange, I thought, I knew they had to be there somewhere, why couldn’t I find a match ? A friend from a genealogy chat room asked me, when was Marshall County, MS created. (Marshall County being the county Holly Springs is located in) So a quick search told me Marshall County was established out of pieces of DeSoto County and Tate County, MS in 1836, however in 1873 it gave up portions of the county to create Tate County and Benton County, as well as receiving portions of DeSoto County to now be included as Marshall County. So this would mean in 1870 Elijah’s family may not have lived in Marshall County, they could have been living in DeSoto County, and really never moved, only the county border lines changed.

I began a search in DeSoto county, MS for Elijah with a wife Emily and the same 6 children to match. Low and behold I found them, but this was strange, they were listed with a last name of Burrows. This confused me. Time for me to go to the African-American chat room and get some help.

The wonderful hosts of the African-American genealogy chat jumped right in with their thoughts and theories. After emancipation, I was told, the former slaves choose their own surnames and while many used the name of their owners, some did not. They may have had more then one owner and preferred one over another. Elijah could have known someone in town or on the plantation named Ross who he respected and used his name for that reason. He may have known who owned either one of his parents and choose the use that name. The reason Elijah changed his last name from Burrows to Ross may not ever be known, but what mattered was Louis Ross was actually born Louis Burrows.

Wanting to find who owned Elijah’s family was what I really wanted to accomplish. Knowing that I am now searching in DeSoto County, and that I would be looking for Burrows made a big difference ! Sadly, I am still trying to find the owners of Elijah and his family, but I haven’t been able to locate what happened to some of Louis’s siblings. Two of them unfortunately were recorded with initials only, a J.S. Ross and a J.R. Ross, not knowing what the initials stand for, they are still waiting to be found.

It’s been a very long and interesting journey for me. I have learned more history and met some wonderful people along the way. I hope that of the binders I have put together for our family, has given back to them in some small way. Letting them know how proud I am to be the mother of a strong, close-knit and prolific family !

Later in my journey Linda collaborated with me on my ancestral journey, me adding my line information with what she already had, has documented our family up to 8 generations and counting. Who knew that that one forum inquiry showing up in my AOL forum was the beginning of this interesting journey. And so the “Journey” continues.

Lineage  of  Elija Burrow Ross