Every third Saturday of the month, Soapstone Baptist Church in Pickens County holds a fish fry that brings in people from as far as Tennessee.
All the cooking is done by Mable Owens Clarke, one of the last living descendants of 600 free slaves who settled in “Little Liberia” in the late 1800s.
The graves of those free slaves are just a short walk from the church, marked by humble tombstones made of soapstone.
Clarke’s great grandfather built and founded the church, which became the anchor to a black community that found sanctuary in these hills.
In 1967 during the Civil Rights movement, it was burned down by members of the Klu Klux Klan.
“The burning of the church is just another example of forcing African Americans out of what by early 19th century was seen as primarily a white space,” says Mike Coggeshall, Clemson University Professor of Anthropology.
Coggeshall published a book last year on the history of Liberia, drawing from Clarke’s family history. It’s called Liberia, South Carolina: An African American Appalachian Community.
Clarke says her mother, a farmer, collected donations feverishly to rebuild after the church was burned. Block by block, her mother rebuilt the church within a year.
“At the age of 104, she called me to her bedside,” Mayble says. “She says, I want you to find some means to keep the doors of Soapstone Church open.”
That was the beginning of Mable’s “Fish Fry” ministry that she started to pay the bills at Soapstone ten years ago. She cooks dozens of dishes from scratch, but her signature dish is deep fried flounder. With a current membership of only 9, Clarke says without the fish fry, the church would close.
She is hopeful that the fish fry ministry will continue for years to come, and that the church will survive and remain an institution in Pickens County.
The fish fry at Soapstone Baptist Church is held every third Saturday from noon to 7pm.