Crenshaw community reunites at Black Rock

Published 1:47 pm Tuesday, June 4, 2024

By: Kris Harrell

Hugs and handshakes were all around as community members shared stories, photographs, and connections in the Black Rock Primitive Baptist Church. 

The Crenshaw Reunion was a community-organized event, aiming to prompt rural residents to share their stories and lineage with others. The gathering was an effort to help preserve the history of Crenshaw county, and the heritage of the families within it. 

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Started by Pam Niswonder-Speed, the event was coordinated alongside the Crenshaw Historical Society in 2023 as part of the society’s “Let’s Talk History, Crenshaw” series.

“I thought [the reunion] was a good idea,” Speed said. “I wanted to learn more about the area and I needed to get in touch with some people who knew [about the area] and I have.”

Speed believed that the reunion was important to preserving the history of Crenshaw county and the surrounding area. 

During the gathering, Speed was able to make connections with someone who knew about the land her parents purchased in the 1970’s. 

“I’ll be able to collect my information that I’ve been wanting for years,” Speed said.  

Attendees gathered in the remodeled Black Rock Primitive Baptist Church in Rutledge. There, they shared their family lines and how they are connected to Black Rock and the area. 

After a quick prayer and hymn, attendees shared refreshments and discussed their lineage with others. 

While not the organizers for the event, the Crenshaw Historical Society was invited due to the nature of the event. 

“We’re doing this; we’re recording as much as we can, and we’re getting it in a central location where it’ll be there.” Oleta Owens, the president of the Crenshaw Historical Society, said. 

Inside the renovated Black Rock Primitive Baptist Church, photographs of the first Crenshaw reunion, held at the church May 21, 2023, are hung along the wall, with more to be added from this year. 

Many attendees came for the second time, bringing in physical photographs to share with others

One attendee, David Stallings, brought a binder containing decades-old photographs and information, with newspaper articles going as far back as the 1890’s.

“There’s a lot of history in Crenshaw [County], local history,” Speed said. “There’s a lot of connections to different counties and different areas in the county, not just here in Black Rock.”

With the Crenshaw Reunion, Speed hopes that community members will document their histories, so families will have something to trace back..

“I’m hoping that people will gather information, share the stories, [and] write it down,” Speed said. “Document photos with dates, and names so nobody will be forgotten, nobody will be lost.” 

Owens said finding time to record history from those who lived it can be difficult. 

“I know a lot of times when you’re young, you don’t have time,” Owens said. “You gotta wait until you’re older and retire. Then you start looking and then people start asking questions and sometimes it’s too late to ask.” 

The Crenshaw Historical Society would like to encourage others to visit their museum, including their genealogy branch. The society’s museum is open every third Saturday of the month from 10 p.m. to 2 p.m. 

The Crenshaw Historical Society’s next community event will be held June 23 at the Church of Christ on U.S. Highway 331 at 2 p.m.