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Freedom Days 2008
Stringfellow Bell Modern Day Abolitionist Award
by Samuel Collins, III
Thursday, June 26, 2008

A few months ago Doris and I announced that we would award the first Stringfellow Bell Modern Day Abolitionist award.  The award would recognize those individuals or businesses that helped individuals break free from bondage.  The first award went to Tim & Elizabeth Beeton for their philanthorpic contributions to one of the oldest African American churches on the island, St. Paul UMC.  Without the support of couples like the Beeton's St. Paul would not survive. 

Many families have supported St. Paul over the years, but as the congregation has aged and the membership fallen, the Beeton's support has become more vital to the survival of the church.  Not only have they given to the church, but they are members and have been for many years.  The 11am hour on Sunday morning is the most segregated times in America.  It is refreshing to see a couple like the Beeton's think outside the box and join a predominately African American church.  It was surprising to me, how long they have been actual members of the church.

Abolitionists of course helped slaves break free from slavery.  After slavery there were men and women that helped recently freed slaves break free from other forms of bondage.  The Stringfellow family was one of those families that helped the African American community.  They were paying 30 black men one dollar a day when the going rate was fifty cents per day.  The Stringfellow family was accused of driving up wages and encouraged to reduce those wages, but the Stringfellows did not. 

The 1880's and 1890's was a period of great oppression in the south for blacks after reconstruction.  Employment at Stringfellow Orchards made not only a difference in the lives of the men working there, but also for many generations of those families.  One of those families, the Bell Family was a benefactor of Mr. Stringfellow's fairness.  I say fairness and not generosity because Mr. Stringfellow paid what he thought was fair and these men worked for their wages.  The 30 black men were not looking for handouts, they were only looking to be paid an honest day's pay for an honest day's work.  Mr. Stringfellow also had the most successful orchard in the area, once considered "The Showplace of the Gulf Coast" in the early 1890's.  Mr. Stringfellow thought enough of one of his workers Frank Bell Sr. to mention him by name in his book "The New Horticulture" written in 1896.

Samuel Collins, III

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