Black Fork oldest black church in Ohio at 188

Published 12:00 am Sunday, October 14, 2007

The oldest active African-American Baptist church in Ohio will be celebrating its 188th anniversary next week.

On Oct. 21, the congregation of Union Baptist in Black Fork will celebrate its 188th year as an active, ongoing church. The public is invited to attend services on Sundays at 10:45 a.m. and 2 p.m. and Thursdays at 6 p.m. Rev. Keith Fulton is the pastor.

The church homecoming will be between the morning and the afternoon services.

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Wayne Keels, the chairman of the church’s trustees board and church treasurer, said he is expecting around 250 to 300 to attend.

“There’s a gap of about two hours, it just gives everybody a chance to talk with family members that they may not have seen in years,” Keel said. “We have a big dinner and people come from as far away as Texas, Florida, and Washington, D.C. They come from all over the nation.”

Keels said he thinks the reason the church has lasted so long is because of its upbringing.

“We were brought up in church and we brought our children up in church,” he said. “It’s something to be proud of, 188 years is a long time.”

He added that although the congregation is only around 45 people, it is donations from those who used to attend that keep it going.

“We have great-great-grandchildren who contribute to the church,” he said.

The church was established in the early 1800s in a place called Pokepatch by 20 freed slaves who settled in what would become southeastern Ohio.

According to the U.S. Forest Service’s Web site, Pokepatch’s “sole purpose may have been to harbor escaping slaves on their flight north between 1820 and 1870. These communities were not ‘towns’ per se, but rather a loosely knit system of farmsteads spread over the rural landscape within a 5-mile radius. As such, farmstead occupants were able to secretly aid fugitive slaves on their dangerous journey northward to freedom.”

The area known as Pokepatch is now mainly owned by the Forest Service except the church and cemetery.

The slaves started by meeting in homes and as the number of followers grew, they built a church on the Dicky Jones farm and in 1819 it was chartered.

In 1879, a new log church was built on a ridge near Keels Road. Forty years later, they built a wooden frame church that still stands on Niner Hill Road. While additions have been built on, the original bell tower still stands.