SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – Those who have worshiped at Oakland Missionary Baptist Church their whole lives fear the future of their community as Rockingham Farms creeps closer.

“Don’t box us in, don’t destroy our history and sanctity of life on Buckhalter Road. Surely there are other more suitable properties in Chatham County more suitable for an industrial environment,” said Irene Gadson Hines, a retired educator and Buckhalter Road native.

She also works as the secretary and clerk at the church alongside her sister, Sheila Michael. Both have always been vocal about the church and the importance of the establishment in the community.

Oakland Missionary Baptist Church

Organized in 1796, the Oakland Missionary Baptist Church has a rich history of perseverance having multiple reconstructions in its 227 years of existence, making it the fourth oldest Baptist church in Savannah.

Before the church’s conception, many Black slaves who lived in the Ogeechee River area had to get passes from their owners and walk to First Baptist Church in Downtown Savannah. The land the church sits on was sold for $50, which slaves saved up to buy. It stood until the Civil War when General William T. Sherman burned it down, along with all the churches in the area.

After the rebuilding, the church burned down again in 1970 for unknown causes. Rebuilt for the third time, that same building stands today at 187 Buckhalter Road in Savannah.

Message to City Council

“My biggest concern is about our land ownership,” said Michael.

She wants to pass her land down to her children but she doesn’t know how this construction will change the environment and community going forward with the construction currently under phase one out of four.

“We know that our properties, even though they are not currently directly affected, will be affected later on because they wanna continue those phases,” said Michael.

She is also worried about property values decreasing and taxes increasing.

“The city has already annexed portions of Buckhalter Road for those residents that chose to sell their land,” said Michael. “If they do the same for other areas such as ours, and annex it into the city, then we’ll not only be paying Chatham County taxes but will be paying city taxes, water, sewage and everything else that goes along with it.”

As the construction continues, she worries about how close they will get to her relative’s property. She thinks about the children that will be growing up in this area in the future who won’t have the nature-filled childhood that she had.

Hines, who says her time to speak was cut short in the last Metropolitan Planning Commission meeting, wants answers from city officials. 

“What positive aspects will these changes bring to our small community on Buckhalter Road which will inevitably affect Oakland Missionary Baptist as well as the wonderful community we have here? I’m waiting on their answer.”