Historical Greenwood neighborhood seeks a renewed promise of a healthy, thriving community

Greenwood County is home to one of our nation’s most influential civil rights leaders — Benjamin Mays, one of Martin Luther King Jr.’s mentors. If you look deep into the historical records of this rural county, you will find other interesting facts that have shaped the lives of community members today.

Let’s take Promised Land Association, Inc. It’s a historic neighborhood just outside of the City of Greenwood that represents the promise of a better life. Promised Land is an African American community created by former slaves in the aftermath of the Civil War in 1870. For over 150 years, the people who call Promised Land home have endured unspeakable challenges and hardships, yet they remained strong with a steadfast eye on keeping their community safe and the people healthy and thriving.

Wholespire learned about Promised Land during the 2022 Healthy Eating and Active Living (HEAL) Mini-Grant call for applications, and even more so during a recent site visit. “It’s such a remarkable and inspiring story to hear. This community is determined to give their neighbors the resources they need to lead healthier lives,” said Kelsey Sanders, MPH, CHES, community relations manager at Wholespire. “We feel honored to play a small role in the history of this neighborhood.”

Before taking her walk, Promised Land community member and organizer Jeanette Austin met Wholespire staff at the project site and provided an overview of the walking trail project and future plans.

For the Promised Land Association, things have fallen into place for them over the years. In 2016, Greenwood County voters approved $66,326 for the construction of a pedestrian trail in the Promised Land community as part of the Capital Project Sales Tax initiative. The pedestrian trail was constructed on a large tract of land owned by the Association where the Promised Land ballfield and the old school are located in Bradley, SC. 

“Previously having to walk on the roads with the traffic, I wouldn’t hear the cars until they were right up on me. So, my husband got concerned about my safety and wasn’t comfortable with me walking by myself,” said Jeanette Austin, Promise Land community member and organizer. “The walking track is so beneficial for the people living here and especially for the seniors. A walking trail helps those of us with our health. You can come on out and walk.”

She says the Association saw a need for a few basic amenities to keep the area attractive to new people. They turned to the Upper Savannah Council of Governments for assistance with writing their HEAL mini-grant application. The application was accepted and the community received funding for a picnic table, two swings, and a trash can.

“There’s a small core group that keeps the Association going and we don’t have the interest yet within the community but we’re working on doing some things,” says Austin. “We’re pleased with our progress and we’re looking forward to great things here in Promised Land!”

The Promised Land Association wants to turn the old school into a community center.

What kinds of great things are they looking forward to? They want to eventually transform the paved trail into a rubberized surface. Also, there’s an old school adjacent to the walking track and ballfield. They want to preserve the history of the building by turning it into a community center. It’s an ambitious goal but given the history and resilience of Promised Land and its people, it will be a celebrated accomplishment when they cross the finish line.