Faith and Labor

Welcome to a sneak peek of Teachers, Artisans, and Entrepreneurs: Black Work in a Southern Town. Come step into the sanctuary of St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church, and listen to stories from neighbors about the significance of the Black church.

To navigate, click and hold a spot on the screen below to rotate your view. You can click on arrows that will move you around St. Paul AME Church and information symbols (the letter "i" in a circle) that open up text panels that contain audio, pictures, and text about the relationship between faith and labor. On the exhibit screen, click the words "Click Here to Begin" to start. Once you are in the sanctuary, make sure to spin all the way around to see everything!

If the exhibit below is not loading, or if you are viewing on a tablet or phone, you can click here to open a webpage to take you to the exhibit.

An accessible version of the exhibit is available if you scroll down past the virtual exhibit screen.

Special thanks to St. Paul AME Church, Rev. Dr. Michael A. Cousin, Sr., and Burnice Hackney for helping us photograph inside and outside the church.

Faith Leaders Are Community Workers

“They [pastors] were really a part of your family because one of the tenants of the early church—and by the early church I mean like the first Christian communities—was community, was the importance of community.”

- Christian Foushee-Green

Acting not only as spiritual leaders within the church, but also as care workers in the community, clergy help those in and out of their congregations. Faith leaders bring together people of different backgrounds to work towards common goals.

Below, listen to Minister Robert Campbell of Faith Tabernacle Oasis of Love International Church talk about the role of pastors as leaders in the community.

Faith Labor Supports Everyday Life in Black Communities

“And you can see from what we’ve said, what we came through, you can see the significance of the Black church in the Black community. We went to church on Sunday. It was no option.”

- Reverend Albert Williams

Pillars of support for many in need of childcare, professional aid, and emotional support, churches have been places of encouragement and mutual aid for generations. Many churches arose in the area to meet congregants’ spiritual needs, but also to provide them with a community of support. Churches were safe spaces where kids could have fun and parents wouldn’t need to worry about them. It was a constant for many children in Chapel Hill and Carrboro’s Black neighborhoods that Sundays were spent in church. Churches were one of the main gathering spots in Chapel Hill for Black kids. Clergy and church members had a huge influence on local children, shaping their morals and modeling how to be a good neighbor.

Below, listen to Ms. Esphur and Mr. Harold Foster talk about what makes a neighborhood a real community. The Foster siblings grew up in Orange County. As one of the Chapel Hill Nine, a group of 9 Black high school students from Lincoln High School who staged the first sit-in at Colonial Drug, Harold Foster was a leader in the civil rights movement in Chapel Hill.

Below, listen to Ms. Velma Perry talk about her ancestor’s participation in the 1864 founding of St. Paul AME church, a space that allowed free people of color to safely worship and build community separate from oppressive white institutions. Ms. Velma tirelessly fought to sustain and improve her neighborhood, seeing it through demographic changes and defying “market forces” and gentrification to stay in her home for all 98 years of her life.

Faith Works Outside of the Four Walls

“I grew up in the church but St. Joseph's was the first place that showed me that loving God and walking in his light meant way more than Sunday services and tithes and offering. You had to work!”

- Excerpt from Poem on Northside by Jasmine (Juice) Farmer

Reaching beyond the four walls of the church, clergy and congregants provide sustenance to their families and neighbors. Through organizations and activities like Heavenly Groceries and the Inter-Faith Council, people in and around Chapel Hill have been able to meet their needs through the support of the local church community. Heavenly Groceries, a food bank and ministry of St. Joseph CME Church, allows patrons to select their own food, honoring their preferences and dignity. The Inter-Faith Council, formed in 1963, works to address the causes of and find solutions to the effects of poverty in Chapel Hill. Acts of caregiving, like providing food, clothes, and housing, help neighbors thrive.</p

Below, isten to Mrs. Patricia “Pat” Jackson talk about how St. Joseph CME has expanded her understanding of ministry over the years.

Rooted in Faith

“I guess what I'm thinking of... if there's faith, if there's a spiritual base there, there's not a question about it won't work out — things will work out.”

- Judy Nunn-Ellison Snipes

Faith is fundamental to community work. Faith inspires art, like that of the Weaver Gospel Singers, which had a weekly radio program based out of Durham. The group was led by Susie Weaver, who, along with her husband Bynum Weaver, ran Chapel Hill’s Black funeral home. Faith also gives people strength for dealing with difficult situations, like Judy Nunn Ellison Snipes, whose faith fueled her commitment to environmental justice in the Rogers Road neighborhood. As a pillar of community, churches are a foundational institution for many, and their faith has influenced every aspect of their lives, from their personal relationships to their career. Reliance not only on their faith, but on their faith community, sustains members during times of struggle and makes times of joy even brighter.

Listen to NC Senator Valerie Foushee, a lifelong member of First Baptist Church, talk about the influence of faith on her life and career.

Want to learn more?

“What has sustained this community has been faith.
Faith in a God that never fails —
Faith in a God who will always see his people through —
Faith in a God who will always stand by the oppressed
And the downtrodden
That’s what has sustained this community.”

- Reverend Troy Harrison, St. Joseph CME Church

For many in the Northside, Tin Top, Pine Knolls, Lloyd/Broad, Pottersfield, Sunset, Windy Hill, Councilville, Rangewood, and Rogers Road-Eubanks neighborhoods, church was not only a place for spiritual sustenance, but also a place to come together in community and solidarity.

Throughout the exhibit, you’ve listened to community members talk about the importance of faith in their personal lives and in the Black communities in southern Orange County. Do you want to hear more from the faith workers featured in this exhibit? Click on the links below to listen to the full oral histories on From the Rock Wall: Living Histories of Black Chapel Hill/Carrboro. This dynamic oral history site brings together neighbors and friends in dialogue and debate about Black life—past, present, and future—in southern Orange County, North Carolina. Do you have a story to tell about faith and labor that needs to be heard? Use the "Respond" button on From the Rock Wall to tell your piece! Type in a story. Upload photos or recordings. Make suggestions, ask questions, and get connected.

Albert Simms Williams - On his life, family, community, and faith

Christian Foushee-Green - On the role of church and the future of Northside

Esphur and Harold Foster - On her mother, education, and impact of the Civil Rights Movement

Judy Nunn-Ellison Snipes - On family, faith, and the importance of heritage and land

Patricia "Pat" Jackson - On school integration and the significance of churches

Poem on Northside by Jasmine (Juice) Farmer

Robert Lee Campbell - Speaking on his childhood, faith, and environmental justice

Valerie P. Foushee - Speaking about her faith, church, and family

Velma Perry - On the history and future of Northside