Poplar Chapel A.M.E. Church in Rayville, constructed ca. 1901

This church was destroyed within the last twenty-five years, but it’s history was and still is a cherished one. It was placed on the National Register of Historic places back in 1989. According to research provided by the Richland Beacon News and their former staff writer, Jennie Joe Siscoe, she provided the following in a 1988 column.

Poplar Grove, A.M.E. was the first of its kind in Northeast Louisiana. In the late 1980’s, Dr. Arthur B. Hayes, his wife, Mrs. Gloria Carter-Hayes and a committee of persons from the church and community, have been working on the history in order to qualify for the National Registry.

The front view of Poplar Chapel A.M.E. is original (without major architectural changes). The shingles just over the entrance are made of cypress wood and were hand carved. The twin towers were most common on churches during the nineteenth century. Only one tower contains the bell which is found on the lefthand side of the photograph. Researching the history of the church has been both rewarding and enlightening to all who have been involved.”

Old church records have been located, dating back as far as 1886, the year established as Poplar Grove. The records show the church was given the present two acres of land by Wiley E. Landers, (originally of Calhoun County Alabama. A true record of the assignment was filed in Alabama. The first recorded pastor was Reverend William Landrum, born September 16, 1852, 13 years before slavery was legally abolished.

The Richland Beacon-News22 Nov 1988, TuePage 1

In the application submitted for historical preservation, the following was noted. Churches of this ilk were undoubtedly the grandest architectural manifestations of rural black life and culture during the period. Expressing the highest aspirations of each community, they were far more pretentious than sharecropper’s cabins, cotton houses and plantation stores. This pretension could be seen at Poplar Chapel in its relatively monumental facade with its twin pyramidal towers and its imbricated shingle ornamentation.

Churches like Poplar Chapel have not survived in great numbers in northeastern Louisiana. Many were abandoned by rural black populations as they immigrated to the cities. Others, where the congregation survived, were either replaced or were bricked over to give them a new look. As far as the State Historic Preservation Office is aware, Poplar Chapel was one of only two Pre-World War I rural black churches that were in existence in the region in 1989 with any degree of integrity.

Landrum was the pastor of the church from 1903 until his death in 1907. Many records were lost in the flood of 1912. The church’s graveyard, located on the grounds, is a final resting place for ex-slaves. One can find tombstones dating back to the years of 1810 and 1837, 55 years before the Civil War.

There is one gravesite bordered by an interesting fence made of undetermined metal. The small tombstone was also made of the metal. Another gravesite of Mrs. Martha Harris, Jones, born September 23, 1879, died January 8, 1898. The tombstone was inscribed with: “Weep not for me my loved ones dear, I am not dead, but sleeping here, I was not yours but God’s alone, He loved me best and took me home.” There are many familiar names in the church records. Slaves took on the names of their owners sometimes with a variation in spelling. The Ex-Slaves who built this church could write surprisingly well. Words were spelled differently but the writing is legible and the records show such information as how much was collected on a given date, the attendance, and the weather. In 1912, there was a school at Poplar with Mrs. Chaney Powe, teacher and one other unidentified male teacher. Through the years the Powe family has changed the spelling to POE.

There was a wedding in 1927 of Archie Littleton, who over the years has been Superintendent of Sunday School and a very active member of the church. He has contributed much to the preservation of this historical landmark. Other historical contributions came from Sister Helen King, Sister Johnnie D. Little, Brother Jesse Holdiness, and Bro. Bedney Humphrey. Serving on the planning committee for history preservation were Rev. C.C. Chatman, pastor; Rev. N.R. West, presiding elder; Sister Geraldine Chisley; Bro. Roosevelt Chisley; Sister Carolyn Chisley; Sister Alice Chisley; Sister Clara Chatman; Sister E.R. Perkins; Sister Corrine Scott; Sister Alice Joseph; Bro. William D. Chisley; and Dr. and Mrs. Hayes.

 The Richland Beacon-News22 Nov 1988, TuePage 3

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