Moore’s Church Bell Story

We reopen a ‘cold case’ based on the article in italics below by Si Cantwell for the Wilmington Star News Online on Jan. 19, 2010.

We are looking for a compelling story that includes investigation, mystery, suspense, intrigue and in a real-world setting.  This “who done it” story begins in the late 1990s as reported in the below news article.  The Moore’s Chapel is an active church in Brunswick County.  They have a congregation. Reverend Annette Clemmons is the church pastor and Mr. Reggie Ballard is one of the Trustees.

Unfortunately, after more than two decades, the church bell is still missing without any leads on its whereabouts. It is important to point out that there is an old slavery-era cemetery about 1,000 feet from the chapel that is not currently listed on the State cemetery registries that were examined.  The cemetery is in desperate need of repair. There are headstones there dating back at least 90 years. Ironically, this church is in the path of what would have been the Cape Fear Skyway; the Contractors report states there were no areas of historical value in that report.

We need a compelling story that would make this a national news event.

Want to join us in an effort to locate the bell?
Teen Scene, Inc and the Gullah Geechee Greenway Blueway Heritage Trail Board of Directors are teaming up to offer a $500 reward for any actionable, documented information that leads to locating the bell. Some basic research, emails and phone calls may produce valuable information. If we do get a compelling story the person(s) who provided the most reliable information will be interviewed for the article.

Si Cantwell [email protected]

Published 10:39 a.m. ET Jan. 19, 2010

 As caretaker of Moore’s Chapel AME Zion Church, Marvin Graham wants to know where the church bell went. The Rev. Aaron Moore also wonders where it is.

 Graham thinks a movie company made off with the bell in the late 1990s.

 The church, off N.C. 133 a few miles south of Belville, was founded in 1874 by Moore’s grandfather.

 Today, the white wooden church stands silent. It hasn’t been used since the 1980s. The choir section behind the altar has collapsed. There’s a gaping hole in the middle of the floor, with burn marks evident on the supporting timbers underneath.

 At one time the church formed the heart of a black community called Old Town. Moore, 91, remembers when families gathered there on Sundays.

 Graham and Moore are descended from slaves. Graham said his ancestors came in 1664 from Barbados. They’d been rice planters in west Africa. Plantation owners valued their knowledge.

 Graham said many area residents still identify with the plantations where their ancestors labored: Clarendon, Pleasant Oaks, Old Town.

 “We’re proud people,” he said. “We might be poor, but we’re proud people.”

 He said blacks stayed in the area when many of the white residents left in 1667, driven off by Indians and a fierce hurricane.

 “This was the frontier, and our forefathers were the pioneers,” he said, looking up at the old church. “When Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves, we’d been here 200 years.”

 Graham, 54, operates Sapona Organic Farm. He lives near the old church and looks after it. He said sheriff’s deputies are good about chasing off trespassers.

 Musette Steck, vice president of the Southport Historical Society, said Graham knows his stuff.

 “Marvin knows more about his family than just about anybody in this county,” she said.

 Graham said a company filming a movie or TV pilot called “Glory Glory” built a new bell tower atop the church, then took the church’s bell when it was finished filming.

 Steck said she suspects the historic bell is lying in a warehouse of movie props somewhere.

 In 2008, the Historic Wilmington Foundation designated Moore’s Chapel AME Zion Church one of this area’s most endangered historic sites.

 Graham wants to see the church building protected. He suggests it be used as a Gullah/Geechee museum. In 2006, Congress established a Gullah/Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor from Wilmington to Jacksonville, Fla.

 But right now, Graham wants to know where the bell is. If anybody knows, contact me and we’ll get it back where it belongs.