Life on the West End: The preacher wore white ducks
By Bill Shepard
This is a story that never should have happened, but since it did, here it is, just as I remember it.
The setting is in the mid-1930s. After a long time, our part of the old Mill Village finally got a small church. I have written about this church before, but in case there are new readers I will give a little more detail.
This church was built on Phillip Street, the place where the traveling evangelists always pitched their tents when they came to Darlington to hold a camp-meeting-style revival. My sister says they came to do mission work on the Mill Village.
The folk of the Village looked for their coming each year and especially the children! It may be hard for the children of this age to understand that, but the children of today have so much more for entertainment than children had in the 1930s.
Getting a church building erected during that harsh period was a real challenge to the small group that had been organized, but they were determined to have a church. Most all the labor was free and much of the material used was donated, too. So the building went up! It was not elaborate, just four walls with windows and a front and back door. Ah, what meetings were held inside those walls!
I was just a boy at that time and can recall many times sitting inside the little church and seeing and hearing many things that I did not understand then, but I would in the years ahead.
The first pastor to come to the little church was a young preacher who lived in South Georgia. I am not certain of the town or community. I would learn more about him in the years to come. He was a handsome young man with black wavy hair and a friendly disposition. He had a beautiful young wife and their first child was born during the time of their stay in Darlington.
The preacher’s name was Riley W. Coward. All the Village folk loved the Coward family, both those who attended the church and those who did not. The preacher’s favorite dress-up outfit was white ducks, a white shirt, white shoes and a wide colorful necktie with a picture of an animal of a sort on it; remember those? Remember the white ducks? I do!
I had to make certain about the white ducks, so I went to the usual source and there it was – duck –a kind of heavy cotton fabric used for making pants or clothing. I believe I saw it when I was a boy and worked in the cloth room at the Darlington Mill. The preacher was a handsome fellow when he came to church, dressed in his white ducks and matching attire.
Several boys went to the church but not all went inside. They would stand outside and carry on in their playful ways. Sometimes, they could be loud in their playful activities. It happened quite often, and some grown-up would come outside and ask for quietness.
It was in the summertime and on a Sunday night. The doors and the windows of the little church were open wide. There were no fans or air-conditioning in those days. The preacher had his usual congregation (inside and outside) and was dressed in his usual white outfit. Yours truly was present in the outside congregation. The outside congregation was at the back door, looking in.
The preacher was walking back and forth across the platform, as he expounded the Word! I noticed that the preacher seemed to get a little close to the open door with each crossing of the rostrum. Being convinced of what I thought was about to happen, I moved away and into the shadows and just in time. The preacher made a quick exit out the back door and the group of playful youngsters scattered. The preacher got one in his sight and ran after him.
The folk who lived next door to the church had just ploughed their field, and it was ready for planting. Across the area, a wire had been stretched where clothing was hung on washday for drying. This was common practice in those days. The boy being chased ran safely under the wire, but the preacher was not that lucky. He was tripped and went sprawling into the freshly ploughed earth.
Later, some jokingly said they thought the preacher had gone up in the “rapture” when he suddenly dived through the open door. I did not see the preacher when he returned from his chase, but he must have looked a sight! White ducks could be washed and ironed, and shoes polished white, so the next time his appearance showed no signs of ever having been dragged through the dirt.
The next day, the preacher made a visit throughout the Village and asked the parents to accompany their children to church or admonish them to go inside the church.
The preacher stayed on for another year or two and then moved to Greenville, where he lived and continued preaching for as long as he lived.
The little church outlived itself on Phillip Street and the decision was made to move to a new location and to build a new church building. The new church was built on Smith Avenue, where it is still in operation today. It has a long and beautiful history. I am glad to be a part of that history.