Soldiers Memorial AME Zion: ‘Marching in the footsteps of those who’ve gone before’

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 31, 2019

SALISBURY — William Goler, the second president of Livingstone College, is given credit for naming Soldiers Memorial AME Zion Church, which recently celebrated its 155th anniversary.

While the congregation had tried several names from its beginnings in 1864 — such as Zion Society, Zion Chapel, Salisbury Society, Salisbury Station and Mount Zion — Goler suggested Soldiers Memorial as a way to honor African-American soldiers who had fought in the Civil War.

The name would never change again for this church, located at 306 N. Church St.

As a way of celebrating the 155th anniversary, the Soldiers Memorial congregation turned over the space in the Family Enrichment Center to just that — families.

Display tables were set up, and they were filled with photographs, awards, plaques, newspaper articles and other mementos reflecting the histories of many Soldiers Memorial families.

But special honors and tribute went to four current members who are all more than 90 years old — Creola McClain, Clara Richardson, Vietta Roberts and Allie Gilmore.

Yvonne A. Tracey and church historian Raemi Evans did much of the work to assemble all the contributions from various families. Tracey’s skills proved to be especially valuable from her days putting up ethnic exhibits for Kraft Foods.

Tracey said she simply executed the vision Evans had for the exhibit.

“This was a labor of love,” Tracey said Wednesday, walking among the tables.

She said celebrating all the generations who came before fit nicely with the Rev. Dr. Derrick Anderson’s theme of the many miracles Soldiers Memorial has seen in its first 155 years and the many shoulders from the past that members are standing on today.

Anderson said the church’s story is one of commitment and sacrifice, and the committee handling the 155th anniversary celebration came up with the theme “Our Miracle Story.”

The May 19 Sunday service marked the formal recognition of the 155th birthday, and Salisbury Mayor Al Heggins was guest speaker.

The committee received permission from family members to keep up the Enrichment Center’s displays through the end of this week before all the cherished  items go back to the homes where they belong.

Church history and artifacts also were on display, including a 1912 Book of Discipline and a 150th anniversary book of the AME Zion Church overall. Member Penny Knox contributed those books.

Here are a few more nuggets of history on Soldiers Memorial provided by Evans:

• The present church building — after several name changes and destruction of former buildings — was constructed between 1904 and 1908. The property cost $350.

“These are the same pews, and the large stained-glass window cost $1,500,” Evans writes.

• Livingstone College’s first president, Joseph Charles Price, used Soldiers Memorial as his office and required students to walk from campus to the church for Sunday services.

• The church’s next-door parsonage, the Glenn Manse, was named for the Glenn family, who gave a large donation for the home in 1922.

• The longest-serving president of Livingstone College, William Trent, belonged to Soldiers Memorial. Seven buildings on the Livingstone campus are named for former Soldiers Memorial members.

• Soldiers Memorial is the only African-American church remaining in downtown Salisbury.

• Soldiers Memorial has had relationships with St. John’s Lutheran and St. Luke’s Episcopal churches, which are nearby. St. Luke’s received a grant to assist in the renovation of the Glenn Manse.

• Some of the church renovations through the years have included removal of wooden spires and the installation of copping stones on the towers, refurbishing the pews and stained glass, new carpet, lighting, painting, heating and air conditioning and a communion table designed by member M.H. Perkins.

• Anderson, the current pastor of three years, is the son of the late Bishop and Mrs. Herman L. Anderson, former pastor and first lady of Soldiers Memorial from 1962-72. Anderson also is grandson of the late Bishop Felix S. Anderson, the 64th bishop of the AME Zion Church, serving from 1960-72.

Anderson’s wife, the Rev. Margaret R. Anderson, is the church’s assisting minister.

• Grant Harrison Jr. and his wife, Joanne K. Harrison, are members. Grant Harrison was pastor of Soldiers Memorial from 2006 to 2015, and Joanne Harrison was minister of music.

Grant Harrison is currently the presiding elder of The Sensational Salisbury District.

• For the 150th anniversary five years ago, Grant Harrison wrote the words and music for the church’s sesquicentennial hymn. This is the chorus of the hymn:

“We are a band of soldiers, as in the days of yore,
marching in the footsteps of those who’ve gone before.
With Jesus as our captain, the road to heaven is clear.
So come along and join us,
O friends both far and near.”

Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263.