COLUMBIA — With gospel music as food for the soul and a meal of soul food for the body, members of St. Luke United Methodist Church celebrated their heritage and the history of the black community Sunday in Columbia.
The Dynamic Silver Wings, a group of gospel singers dressed in matching maroon suits, sang at the front of the chapel, while posters detailing the history of music in the black community leaned against the back wall.
The celebration commemorated Black History Month and marked the 15th year that the church has hosted Gospel Explosion, a foot-stomping, hand-clapping night of rejoicing.
“We’re remembering and celebrating at the same time,” said gospel singer Robert Wilson, 59.
For black people in Columbia, music has played a central role, both spiritually and culturally, Wilson said.
“Back in slavery, a lot was taken away from blacks — freedom, their right to education and to vote — but not their voices, their music. There was God, what they had to depend on,” Wilson said. “Music and voices play a big role because gospel goes back and back.”
Columbia’s black community has a rich heritage, said Bill Thompson, who educates local students about black history in Columbia.
During slavery, Eli Bass, the owner of a 15,000-acre plantation, left a plot of his land to his slaves, who then built a lean-to church known as “Log Providence Baptist Missionary Church,” Thompson said.
In order to protect the congregation from night riders, men would stand watch at points around the church. The women would soak quilts in water and lay them over the roof of the lean-to so members could rejoice freely in a soundproof environment.
The congregation rejoiced freely Sunday as it joined the choir, singing gospel favorites like “We’re Waiting on You, Lord” and “God Bless America.”
As the energy among the congregation increased, fans were handed out to cool down those overwhelmed by the heat and activity.
State Rep. Judy Baker, D-Columbia, Third Ward Councilman Karl Skala and First Ward Councilwoman Almeta Crayton attended the event, which honored the past and embraced the future.
“We celebrate because we want people to be proud of their heritage,” Thompson said. “It’s not just an African-American holiday, it’s an American holiday when we recognize a group of people within the culture and their contributions.”
One thing is for sure: There is no lack of rejoicing at St. Luke United Methodist Church.
“When the praises go up, the blessings come down,” the congregation chanted joyfully.