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Church Leaders Want Recognition for Oconee’s Black Community

The Rev. Joseph Nunnally, senior pastor of Rock Hill Baptist Church in Greene County. Screencap by Lee Becker

Three leaders of African-American churches in Oconee County called for greater involvement of African-Americans in the county’s future at a meeting of the Oconee County Democrat Party earlier this month.

They also called for a greater appreciation of the contribution of African Americans to the county’s past. The goal of that increased involvement, the Rev. Joseph Nunnally told Oconee Democrats, is “to make Oconee County one community” sensitive to the views of all its members.

Nunnally, an Oconee County native, was joined by his cousin Marvin Nunnally, chair of the Board of Bethel Baptist Church in downtown Watkinsville, and the Rev. J. Ricardo Smith, pastor at Browns Chapel Baptist Church outside Bishop, at the virtual meeting.

Party Co-Chair Eric Gisler introduced the three speakers at the meeting and said he wanted a “conversation” to learn more about the three and their work in the area.

Smith told the Democrats that Browns Chapel was celebrating its 123rd anniversary this month, emphasizing the deep roots of the church in the community.

That puts the founding of the church at a time when African Americans made up about half of the population of the county. The 1890 Census listed the population as 49.7% African-American, and that figure increased to 51.3% in 1900 before decreasing during the period of the great Northern migration of African Americans. The percentage has declined steadily to the 5% in the last Census in 2010, an analysis of Census data shows.

“Having grown up here, I’ve seen so many changes,” Joseph Nunnally said at the May 20 Democratic Party meeting. “I wonder, how do we truly work to make Oconee County one community where everyone is taken into consideration regardless of social economic status, regardless of political affiliation?”

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