In the Footsteps of History

Gerald and Carolyn Meyers of Blythewood, center, and other members of the Bookert family carefully walk down the hill behind Sandy Level Baptist Church, their ancestral church, to view the historic outdoor baptismal pool. Their ancestors, who were slaves, were among the first African-American members of the congregation, dating back to 1854.

Family Traces Roots to Slavery

BLYTHEWOOD – About 40 members of the Bookert family visited Sandy Level Baptist Church July 12 as part of their annual family reunion weekend in Columbia. The Bookerts can trace their roots back to several early black members of the church, dating back to 1854-1859, who held all rights and privileges of church membership. Those members were among the 60 slaves owned by Dr. Samuel W. Bookhart who famed more than 2,000 acres in the area now known as Blythewood.

Current church members Bobby Loner and Hud McLean gave the Bookert family a short oral history of the church, then led them on a tour through parts of Sandy Level’s church cemetery where many headstones bear variations of the Bookhart and Bookert surnames, and then down a wooded path to the church’s historic outdoor baptismal pool. The visitors also toured the balcony seating that surrounds three sides of the sanctuary, which, according to published church history, was traditionally where the black members sat during worship services. Some of the visiting Bookerts climbed the steep stairs to the balcony and sat in the pews, retracing the same steps their ancestors made almost 160 years earlier.

According to Wendy Washington, one of the reunion organizers, about 170 family members of all ages gathered in Columbia last weekend for activities that included tours of family history sites, a banquet and church services. Washington helped coordinate the visit with members of Sandy Level Baptist Church and the Blythewood Historical Society.

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