Collecting Family Fables – Mount Carmel Campgrounds

This weekend my sister, cousin, two aunts and I returned to my father’s people’s home in Lancaster County, South Carolina. In total, I’ve only visited his hometown four times, but one of my favorite to visit is always the Mount Carmel AME Zion Campground. For all those unfamiliar, camp meeting is pretty much an all day/weekend/week outdoor revival that black churches would have. 

Mount Carmel campground was formed by slaves in 1866 (probably really before then, but that’s what that road marker says) and is a National historic site. Each year around Labor Day, thousands of families would gather on these grounds for a week long church service. 

When I first visited in 2011, I was fascinated with the homes that lined the perimeter of the arbor. The homes have a rustic charm to them. To the naked eye they appeared to be old, outdated shacks. But inside they were mansions, filled with the stories of my family. These homes were fortresses keeping the magical secrets of my family for generations pasts, protecting my history to share with generations in the future.

Here’s an excerpt from the Historic District Application that captures the history and design:

Mount Carmel A.M.E. Zion Church and Campground is one of the earliest sites in South Carolina associated with the establishment of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church. Founded ca. 1866, Mt. Carmel A.M.E. Zion Church and Campground was part of the widespread growth of independent black churches that occurred in the South during the post-Civil War era. 

Mount Carmel A.M.E. Zion Campground consists of a complex of structures located in the general form of a rectangle. A line of approximately fifty-five small “cabins” or “tents” and a brick church lie along the outer edge of the rectangle, creating a large open area in the center.

Courtesy of the South Carolina Department of Archives and History

I have never attended Camp Meeting, so I guess it should be added to my things to do in 2016. Check out this video posted by Jerry McCain that helps you capture the experience.

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