What the Praise House means to black history

By Dawn Baker - bio | email

RICEBORO,GA (WTOC) - How many times have you driven past an old rundown building and wondered what happened there? In Liberty County in Riceboro off Retreat Road, you'll find a rundown house built back in the 1700's.

The house served as the focal point for the slaves living on the plantations. Even after the slaves were free, praise houses remained very significant to people in the community. Hundreds of years ago, the praise house in Riceboro was the center of the African community.

It might not be much now, but many years ago, the building was a place of worship and so much more. Everyone was equal here. Even the children had a say in what happened. "In the 1800's and 1900's this is where we dictate the moral compass of our community if I caused you a wrong then guess what? You can now come to the praise house and bring it out and everyone is now going to hear it and everyone now can have some input to get you to basically no longer wrong me," explained Coastal Empire and Low Country Historian, Jamal Toure.

The praise house brought a sense of community. "You would see the ring shout dance going on and the fellowship. People would also share their stories," said Toure'.

Part of the experience that started here as early as the late 1700's, a tradition known as "seeking in the wilderness". It is best described as a rite of passage. "Before you could become a part of the church, you had to go out in the wilderness and have a dream. In the seeking , you would have a dream about someone and that would become your spiritual parent. Women would mentor the young girls and men would guide the boys.

The way that everyone knew about those people who were seeking in the wilderness, they would have a white cloth around their heads. All of that is a part of the tradition that goes back to societies out of West Africa," added Toure'.

Long after the Africans were free, the praise house remained at the center of the African community. Today there are efforts to move this one to the Geechee Kunda Center just up the road to restore it.

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