The woman who has led the campaign to save a historic Black church in Pickens County was awarded the Order of the Palmetto.
The honor — the highest awarded by the state to its citizens — was presented to Mable Owens Clarke on Nov. 17.
“Having been born and raised in rural Pickens County on land purchased by my ancestors who had lived as slaves, it is humbling and amazing that my home state would recognize me with such an honor as the Order of the Palmetto,” Clarke said in a news release. “My work to serve and protect Soapstone Church has been a labor of love and honor to my parents and our God. I'm almost speechless — that's saying something for a woman who is rarely without words."
AnchorFormer governor and education secretary Dick Riley and former ambassador to Canada and state house speaker David Wilkins, along with Chandra Dillard presented the award to Clarke at the Furman University Younts Center.
Clarke is the sixth-generation steward and matriarch of Soapstone Baptist Church. In 1999, after her mother died, Clarke made her promise never to let the historically Black church in the Liberia community of Pickens County close. In the past few months, groups including the South Carolina Conservation Bank, Upstate Forever, and the Upstate Land Conservation Fund, created a conservation easement that ensures the property will never be used for development such as residential subdivisions or commercial operations.