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Sacred Ground

Mr. Bennie Brown stands in front of the signage of St. James Church, one of the founding churches that created the Swan Lake Association. He spent his childhood at the church and now ministers there. Started in 1870, St. James is a hush harbor church.

“During pre-Civil War America, a hush harbor (or hush arbor, brush harbor or brush arbor) was a place where enslaved people would gather in secret to practice religious traditions. Religion grew to become a highly respected part of slave life. It offered the enslaved hope and reassurance. Enslaved people were forced to organize and conduct these meetings in secret because the idea of enslaved people assembling without supervision left the owners in fear. The meetings were held after dark, once field and house chores were completed, and carried on late into the night.”

“St. James started in 1870 when the slaves no longer wanted to embrace the religion of the plantation, they came out to the brush harbor. It was mixed with liberation and African rhythms where they came and cried out for freedom, for liberation. Everybody knew where the secret gathering place was. They would use pots to cover the sounds. Someone stood watch while the others prayed. The prayers that went up were prayers for the future of their children. Praying for the right to be fully under the constitution. There was no building, just a gathering place. But at the end of slavery, this is where they built the building.“
- Pastor Bennie Brown

Buried on the land is Silas Kelly. Mr.Kelly was one of the founders of Delta Burial Corporation in Marks, MS in 1927. He also was integral in purchasing the land for what would become Swan Lake Association. Delta Burial was the first corporation in the state of MIssissippi that was solely owned by all black stockholders. “Delta Burial continues to provide burial, life insurance and pre-arrangements services for the deceased and their families.” - Delta Burial Corp

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