February 19, 2019—The C. Benton Kline, Jr., Special Collections and Archives and the John Bulow Campbell Library invite you to the library’s first floor reading room to view the current exhibit, “Tireless Energy and Enviable Service.” The exhibit highlights the work of Ella Mae Phelps, a lifelong member of the historically African American Grace Presbyterian Church in Winston-Salem, NC. Her archival papers document three decades as church secretary and director of Christian education and detail her leadership and witness within the Presbyterian Church.
Despite being in the south, Grace Presbyterian was a part of a unique geographic synod overseen by the “northern” branch of the Presbyterian Church, the Presbyterian Church (USA). The church was a member of Yadkin Presbytery, founded in 1877 as a part of Catawba Synod, which included African American churches in North and South Carolina. Phelps served as the permanent clerk of Yadkin Presbytery, and when she was hired at Grace Presbyterian in 1956, she was the only full-time director of Christian education in Catawba Synod. She often proudly said, “I have children all over the United States.” Ordained as an elder in the early 1970s, she moderated Grace’s worship committee and chaired the Presbyterian Women’s committee on mission.
One scrapbook in the collection documents Phelps’s time as the only female counselor at a 1964 interracial work camp sponsored by the National Board of Christian Education. Located in Seaton, IL, the camp, which was a brain child of the 1958 Presbyterian National Youth Council, hosted twenty-one young people for two weeks to live and work together to improve the camp grounds. When interviewed by The Galesburg Register Mail of Galesburg, IL, one participant from Oklahoma City explained that “This camp may seem small in the midst of the racial situation in the United States, but it is by no means unimportant.”
Some of the profound changes Phelps witnessed in her life include those within the Presbyterian Church. Catawba Synod was absorbed by Piedmont Synod in the 1970s, and the Piedmont Synod was dissolved entirely in the late 1980s after the reunion of the northern and southern branches of the Presbyterian Church. Throughout, Phelps attended General Assembly (GA) as early as 1971 and continued to attend until 1992, just two years before her death on February 22, 1994. In 1988 she was recognized at the bicentennial GA. Her archival collection includes buttons and pins that she collected during these trips, many of which are on exhibit.
Other items on display include photos documenting Phelps’s time at camp, personal scrapbooks, and bulletins from Grace Presbyterian. The exhibit is on display through the end of March, while the rest of Phelps’s papers are available immediately for research in the archives. To arrange a visit to use archival material, please contact the archives via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or telephone (404-687-4628).