Juneteenth luncheon shows link between St. Philips and WSSU

Photo by Timothy Ramsey- It was a full crowd assembled for the Juneteenth Luncheon at the Old Salem Visitors Center.

Juneteenth luncheon shows link between St. Philips and WSSU
June 22
00:05 2017

This year’s Juneteenth luncheon featured a deep history lesson on St. Philips Moravian Church in Old Salem and Winston-Salem State University (WSSU).

During the event, several members of the congregation recounted stories of their time spent at St. Philips along with the influence former pastors Dr. George Hall and Dr. Cedric S. Rodney had on their lives and the entire church family. Rodney also taught at WSSU, which is 125 years old.

The moderator for the discussion of St. Philips, which is 195 years old, was Dr. Michele Gillespie, Dean of the College at Wake Forest University.  She gave a historical synopsis of the church and its connection to Slater Industrial Academy, now Winston-Salem State University.  She also discussed the way Hall and Rodney impacted the church and how the founder of Slater, Simon Atkins, worked with St. Philips’ leaders.

“This is an event that brings together people from all across the city and the state,” Gillespie said after the luncheon.  “It’s an opportunity for us to be inclusive with each other, to share our concerns, to share our thoughts and to celebrate community and think how we can be more collaborative going forward. 

“I don’t think we can do this once. I think we have to do this again and again and again, but we have to do it in different ways,” she continued.  “The spirit in the room today of community, disconnectedness and hope was pretty powerful.”

Gillespie said St. Philips, which has been in existence since 1823, has been a staple of the African-American community for nearly two centuries.  She says the sense of community in and around the church has been there since the 19th century all the way to today.

“I think that the church [St. Philips], its leadership and its members have encouraged the kind of community inclusion,” Gillespie said when asked about the church.  “They have continually encouraged higher education because they felt it was very important and was a way to create opportunity.  I don’t think you can ever underestimate the importance of St. Philips just as much today as the last 195 years.”

Dorothy Pettus, a member of the St. Philips Board of Elders, was one of the individuals on the podium speaking about her time at St. Philips.  She said after the luncheon that events such as this are important because much of the African-American history around the country has been suppressed.  She thinks it gives those who are longing for knowledge, whether black or white, a chance to learn.

“Today’s event allows all of us to know the contributions and sacrifices our forefathers have made,” said Pettus. “Rev. Rodney was a great historian and he instilled in us the importance of carrying on our history.  St. Philips has been a pillar of Winston-Salem for years.  A lot of educators and professionals of the city came out of St. Philips.”

Pettus says that when she left college after two years to get married, Rev. Rodney constantly stayed on her to go back to finish school.  She said Rodney made education very important to the members of the congregation.  She joked that the young children in the generation after her dared not to go to college because it was so important to Rodney.

A former member of St. Philips, Beverly Funches Williams, said after the luncheon, “The importance of today was to share the history of St. Philips and growing up in Happy Hill as a Moravian.  Dr. Hall and Rev. Rodney were both dedicated to change, and I think they both came from humble beginnings and grew to such dynamic heights.  That impacted me more than anything else.”

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Timothy Ramsey

Timothy Ramsey

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