Group raising money to restore Promise Land church in Dickson County

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Posted at 6:10 AM, Feb 03, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-03 08:55:00-05

DICKSON COUNTY, Tenn. (WTVF) — The Promise Land Heritage Association is hoping to raise thousands of dollars to repair and restore the historic church in the 150-year-old community.

The Promise Land community was established by African Americans in the 1860s and was made up of recently-freed slaves.

"It was one of the first places that was set aside for African Americans in Tennessee to settle," Serina Gilbert said. Gilbert can trace her family tree back to the Dickson County community. "My mother's grandparents lived right next door to this building."

Gilbert said the community, and the church that was built at the center of it, was a sign of hope for her ancestors.

"They came out of slavery and settled here, so this was a whole new world and new opportunity for them," she said.

At its peak, the Promise Land community had dozens of families, at a time when African Americans weren't allowed to hold prominent roles in many parts of Tennessee.

"They had their own stores, they had their own churches... it allowed them the opportunity to be self-sustaining," Gilbert said.

But through the 20th century, the community shrank. Now the area and the community's school building are preserved as an educational experience, teaching students and other visitors about Reconstruction-era Tennessee and the hardships of African Americans in the early 1900s.

But now, the nearly 100-year-old church building's foundation is sinking, its walls are tilting and historic pieces of the building are in desperate need of repair.

"Structurally yes, there are several things both exterior and interior that need to be looked at," Cate Hamilton, a board member for the Promise Land Heritage Association, said.

Now the group is holding a fundraiser to keep the piece of Tennessee history standing.

"In order to renovate, restore the promise land church we need to at a minimum raise $75,000," Hamilton said.

It's money that Gilbert says can help the community continue to inspire hope.

"It still offers promise. Not just for me, but the future, as well."