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Rev. Isaac McCormick: Building a strong legacy
Bulloch County Black History Month 2018
W Rev. Isaac McCormick
Rev. Isaac McCormick

“John Dominy or John of Domingo came to the United States in the days of slavery with the (white) Ball family from Santo Domingo and Haiti, West Indies, bringing with him, his two sons, Abraham and Thomas Dominy. After reaching the slavery states of America, they were compelled to use the name Ball. John Dominy continued the Domininy surname, but his sons used the name Ball, going by Abraham and Thomas Ball. 

Abraham and Thomas served the Ball family as servants (not slaves).  Mr. Ball’s daughter married an Irishman by the name of Pat McCormick. Abraham Dominy Ball became her servant and his surname was changed from Ball to McCormick. At the end of the Civil War, when every colored man was at liberty to change his name, Abraham Dominy McCormick choose to keep the McCormick name …”

These words, the introduction to his family history, are treasured nuggets preserved on pages of a spiral bound book.The front cover notation, “Material in this book was written by Rev. Isaac McCormick Sr. to the best of his knowledge” launches a significant historical account, entitled, "And it is Written: The Genealogy of Rev. Isaac McCormick; The McCormicks' Beginning in America." The first few pages are copies of 10 handwritten pages prepared over an extended period of time by Rev. Isaac McCormick Sr., put on a CD and printed in book form by his children in 2001. 

Recorded with surprising clarity for a man with little more than a fourth grade education, the self-published ancestry narrative is punctuated with copies of priceless photos — some of which date as far back as the early 1900s.  

 

Humble beginnings

Readers learn about his humble beginnings in 1908: Wilcox County; Abbeville,Georgia; dirt-floored kitchen; four older brothers; midwife, Lizzie Mallard; intermittent education; The McCormick School; turpentine production work by age 15, leaving home at the age of 16, “traveling West to look for work and a better life;” Jacksonville, Miami; “...where I worked on the railroad for six weeks;” Fort Lauderdale; Tampa; and finally, Statesboro.                        

McCormick’s recollections can be confirmed by sources. A 2016 Atlanta Journal-Constitution article, "Family puts Georgia back into the turpentine business” states,“by 1890, Georgia was No. 1 in turpentine production. Much of the success, though, was built on the backs of African-American slaves, freemen, convicts and sharecroppers who did the hot, dirty, dangerous work of cutting the trees, gathering the tar, building the barrels and distilling the gum” (Chapman). McCormick, a free man of course, documents his specific skill.

 “I began ‘coopering’ (making turpentine barrels) at the age of 15,” he said. 

The AJC article may also explain his pilgrimages to various parts of Florida. “As Georgia’s forests dwindled, black workers moved on to Florida, Alabama or Mississippi.” McCormick notes time spent in Jacksonville, Miami, Ft. Lauderdale and Tampa.

While finding his way, McCormick did not neglect his spiritual needs. He writes about membership at Cooks Chapel AME under Elder B.J. Phillips, and travels to “Fort Lauderdale, Florida — there I started my career.” He adds that he, “joined Mount Hermon AME in Ft. Lauderdale under Elder Fred Douglas Hall, Usher Board #2 and the Sunshine Lodge #102 K of P.” 

According to one of his surviving daughters, Frances McCormick Bismillah, McCormick’s work on the railroad is what brought him to Statesboro. 

“I remember meeting Judge Nevils years ago. When he realized I was Isaac McCormick’s daughter, he reminisced about having worked his first job with daddy on the railroad.  He said daddy was one of the best men he’d ever known in his life. Judge Nevils and his wife attended both mama and daddy’s funeral. People who knew daddy, loved daddy.” 

By 1935, McCormick had married Clara Baldwin.Ten children filled the house during their 53-year marriage.They are: Willie (Kack) Henry Baldwin (deceased), Elois (deceased), Abraham (deceased), Patricia (deceased), Isaac Jr.(deceased), Frances, Mildred (deceased), Linda (deceased) and Patty Faye.  

Before his passing in 1995, Rev. Isaac McCormick Sr. pastored Benton Grove Church at Rocky Ford, Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Statesboro, Mount Pisgah in Portal, Mount Zion AME in Statesboro, and the Independence Methodist Church in Metter. 

 

Building for the future

One of the spiral-bound pages projects a hazy, color photo of a red and white  brick building. A reddish-brown cross hangs above the one doors.The page’s heading reads, “Mount Pisgah — Portal, GA.” The caption below the photo: “Daddy built this church from the ground up. Can you find him in this picture?” The site appears abandoned, but peering closely, I unearth a stooped image in what looks like a white shirt and dark trousers.The figure is partially hidden by a patch of shrubs and piles of indistinguishable materials.

Tony Joyner, a Mount Pisgah member since childhood comments, “Rev.McCormick was the man who designed the church to the members’ specifications.A few church stewards helped with construction, and he’d contract a brick mason, but everyone knew Rev. McCormick was in charge of the job. It was his project.”  

The next page features another red brick structure. A smaller, white frame house sits to the left of it. This larger edifice is adorned with four white columns and a steeple. Its title: “Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church.” The caption:“Daddy built this church also. Can you find him in this picture?” I strain to discover the likeness of a dark-skinned figure sitting in front of one of the columns on the church’s concrete stairs.

 Marsha Brown-Twiggs, long-time member of Bethel AME, remembers Rev.McCormick as a righteous man.

"He was a builder, a leader, and a confidante. Most of all, he was caring and soft-spoken person whose character was never tarnished.  What he preached from the pulpit is what he stood for.  He was always doing something to improve the church. He was our pastor for 25 years. We all loved him,” she said.

The picture on the following page is identified as “Hodges Grove Baptist Church” and reflects a whitewashed wooden building in front of which sits a white 1965 Ford Galaxie 500. Below the picture, this caption: “Daddy built the steeple on this church and much more. This is my mother’s church and my first school. Pat is in this picture. Can you find her?” The blurred likeness of an image stands near the car’s front door. Further investigation finds that this quote could belong to several of the McCormick’s older offspring, Kack, Elois, Abraham and Isaac Jr., who all attended the church’s school before entering public school. 

Pat (or Patty Faye) Hendrix, McCormick’s youngest, recalls lyrics to a hymn to which her father often referred: “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine. Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine …”

The final picture in the genealogy captures McCormick’s last earthly home located in the cul de sac of President Circle. The McCormick property has been gifted to Bethel AME Church and may one day accommodate housing for seniors, children or battered women.Grandaddy’s home is no longer standing, but his generous and industrious spirit emits a light that will shine for years to come. 


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