What can YOU say in six sentences?
There are no flowers, real or faded plastic, within the small untended graveyard off Louisiana's Hwy. 135 between Rayville and Alto. No sign marks the turnoff onto the shotgun lot, and no fence encircles the few hand-chiseled headstones.
The graves occupy one corner of the property where the Poplar Chapel A.M.E. Church stood for more than 100 years. The old building's spine snapped about two weeks after I photographed it, and the heart pine and cypress bones have since been scavenged.
One of the graves belongs to the Rev. W.L. Landum -- born Dec. 16, 1852; died July 5, 1907. Below his particulars is this message:
THE LORD GIVE IT
AND THE LORD
TAKE IT. BLESSIT
BE THE NAME OF
And then there was one
If there is a written history of the church, it's probably recorded on jaundiced pages inside a Bible, tattered by now and very likely not in Louisiana.
Though hardly ornate by today's standards, houses of worship built by black sharecroppers were like palaces compared to their homes. Many of the structures fell to ruin when machinery devoured the 50-cent-a-week jobs as efficiently as it ate cotton, soybeans and corn.
The congregations simply moved north, where steel-making required strong backs and sweat.
Most churches that survived were eventually bricked over or knocked down and replaced. Prior to its demise, Poplar Chapel was one of only two Pre-World War I rural black churches standing in Louisiana.
My friend, Cecil, knew I'd burn at least one roll of film when he showed me the swaybacked church not far from his home. As there hadn't been a sign during the many years he'd lived nearby, he couldn't tell me its name.
I went digging tonight.
I found a couple of deeply buried photographs and a reference to the "Popular" Chapel Church's being added to the National Register of Historical Places in 1989, when it was 86 years old. One account claims the entire building was turned to face the new blacktop when it was laid in 1926.
Whoever built it followed no blueprint; it was patched together like a quilt, or Johnny Cash's pilfered Cadillac -- one piece at a time, using elements of many architectural styles.