Originally created 01/17/04

Residents hope to preserve historically black Pearidge and Nineteen communities

CANTON, Ga. -- Pearidge and Nineteen, two of the oldest African-American communities in Cherokee County, began with a few freed slaves and several hundred acres of land when the Civil War ended.

The emancipated slaves eventually built a church, a school, businesses and a community. Seven generations later, their descendents still live in the neighborhoods, united around their churches, their family ties and their history.

Pearidge and Nineteen have about 50 homes, slightly more than another historically black community in Woodstock. That community was also created after the Civil War and grew up around the Allen Temple AME church.

Some residents and fear that Pearidge and Nineteen are in danger of being picked apart by encroaching commercial and residential development. Deborah Moore, a resident of Pearidge and a descendent of the original property owner, Philip Keith, wants to keep her neighborhood and its heritage together.

"It's going to change," said Moore, 50. "I'm afraid it's going to disappear and be forgotten."

The area has a history. Philip Keith and his uncle, Dave Keith, worked as slaves on a plantation in Keithsburg. After emancipation, their former owner gave them land to farm and to build on in the Pearidge area.

Philip Keith donated several acres to build the 131-year-old Hickory Log Missionary Baptist Church, which is open for worship to this day.

His family grew, and the land was parceled out to his children and grandchildren.

Otis Keith, 77, is the oldest living male Keith family member.

He grew up in Pearidge but lives in Canton on Crisler Street, which was the first street for African-American homes in Canton. Each year he attends a Keith family reunion and shares the family history with younger generations.

"I like to tell them how far we've come," said Otis Keith. "And how it came about that we got the land." Keith said Pearidge got its name because people would say "That land is so poor, you can't grow peas on it."

Now, the enclaves of homes and small stores are engulfed by development. Great Sky, a 2,200-home community, a reservoir and a new megafacility for First Baptist Church of Canton have been built along Pearidge's boundaries.

Moore has met with neighbors and hopes to meet soon with Canton city officials. She plans to form a homeowners association this year to educate property owners on land values and the value of a rooted neighborhood.

Grants and low-interest loans could be another solution. She and her father, Jack Moore, have bought four homes and two commercial buildings in Pearidge to preserve the neighborhood. They rent the homes and hope to have new businesses open up soon.

Moore believes it is inevitable that the area will be taken over by development. She hopes if the inevitable happens, homeowners will get the right price for their land.


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