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Parker's Chapel

Parker’s Chapel is an African American community that was established in Sumner County shortly after the Civil War by ex-slaves. Originally known as “Taylor’s Old Field” or simply “Old Field,” the area attracted Sam and Lucinda Coakley from neighboring Robertson County. Other former slaves to settle in the area included the Perdue family from Virginia and the Dye, Hobdy, and Gibbs families. By around 1870, the growing community had constructed a log church building that also served as the community’s first school.

The church, and later the community, came to be known as Parker’s Chapel in honor of the first pastor, Reverend James Parker. In 1906 Parker’s Chapel Baptist Church hosted the East Fork Missionary Baptist Association. The present church building, constructed in 1956-57 and bricked in 1970, is the third building on this site. The church cemetery adjoins it. According to local tradition, the first homecoming celebrations started in July 1884. Generations of family and friends have come home to Parker’s Chapel to enjoy a picnic, ballgame, and music, and to worship together.

A second community landmark was the Parker’s Chapel School, no longer extant. This two-room Rosenwald plan school served grades 1-8. The citizens of Parker’s Chapel raised six hundred dollars, and the county supplied the land. With a gift of twelve hundred dollars from the Julius Rosenwald Fund, the school was built in 1923 and used until 1960. After that and until 1965, when the Portland school desegregated, the African American children of Parker’s Chapel were bused to Gallatin, the county seat.

Parker’s Chapel was a farming community where most of the residents owned their own land. These families, like others along the Highland Rim, made a living growing dark-fired tobacco and, in the early twentieth century, raising strawberries. Besides having a school, church, and cemetery, the community also had a blacksmith shop and a grocery store. In the mid-1940s, local women organized a flower and garden club and a community improvement club. Though Parker’s Chapel is now included within the city limits of Portland, the church, cemetery, and a road maintain the “Parker’s Chapel” name. Further recognition was bestowed on the community on September 27, 1997, when the State of Tennessee placed a historical marker at the intersection of Highway 52 E and Airport Road to identify and honor this historic African American settlement.

Published » January 05, 2010