The Soapstone Preservation Endowment, a public charity created for the sole purpose of protecting and promoting the history and legacy of the Liberia Community and Soapstone Baptist Church in the mountains of Pickens County, has launched The Partnership Challenge.
The Partnership Challenge seeks at least 100 businesses, churches, individuals and families who provide a one-time $3,000 or greater tax-deductible gift, or $1,000 per year over three years, in support of the Endowment’s mission. The program is designed to help the organization amass a $500,000 perpetual endowment by December 2025.
“The story of Soapstone, founded by freed slaves almost 160 years ago, captured the attention and hearts of people from across the region and around the world when the great-granddaughter of the community founders used her cooking skills to keep the doors of the small mountain church open. Often referred to as the ’miracle of the fish fry,’ Mable Owens Clarke and her team of volunteers fed thousands of people for ten Saturdays each year, 22 years running as a means to generate funds,” said Carlton Owen, the chairman of the Endowment.
The church mortgage has been paid, the site is forever protected by a conservation easement held by Upstate Forever, but with Mable in her early eighties and a church membership of fewer than a dozen, the monthly fish fries are no longer a viable option. Thus, in June 2022, the Soapstone Preservation Endowment was chartered to fill the void by establishing a means to relieve the small congregation of the burden of protecting the historic site, which was once used by the Cherokees as a mine for materials to make cooking utensils, and then for more than 150 years as the center of a vibrant African American community, including a one-room school and church.
Long Branch Baptist Church, an African American church in nearby Greenville, was among the first to join The Partnership Challenge.
“Soapstone Baptist Church holds a part of all of our history…the good, the bad, the beautiful, and the stained,” said Pastor Sean Dogan. “Our support uplifts unity and hope for our future. This project gives us a reflection of the past, but also shines a great light to guide us into our tomorrow. It is our hope that others will join in this journey of helping to preserve, protect, and to continue to proclaim a story of faith, fellowship, and community.”
Burr & Forman, a large law firm with roots in the Upstate, also responded to the call.
“When we learned of Soapstone’s story, the decision to help protect it was an easy one,” said Mike Burns, a partner in the firm. “Supporting the communities in which we live, and work is at the core of our firm’s culture, and we are honored to be a partner to the Endowment.”
With the support of friends, foundations, and areas businesses, the Endowment already has amassed a total of nearly $150,000, 30% of its goal.
For more information go to www.soapstonepe.org.