Born into slavery in Jackson County, the Rev. Green Hunter’s life started with little to no opportunity.
But for Hunter, life was destined to have more.
During his life the Civil War ended, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation and former slaves were free to marry, bear children, work and worship God.
So Hunter — who was born around 1853 — decided to take the opportunities he was given and make a better life for himself.
“There was no animosity, he wasn’t bitter about anything,” said A.F. Marshall, Hunter’s great-great-grandson who also wrote a narrative on Hunter’s life called “Slavery to Segregation: The Life of Reverend Green Hunter, Missionary Baptist Minister,” which was released in 2005. “He just understood that was the period, the era that he was living in, and he did everything within his will and his power to make a better life for himself, his family and his community and nation as a whole.”
The book by Marshall, son of Robert and Bernice Marshall, stemmed from the day when he received a copy of Hunter’s autobiography, “Life and Times of Reverend Green Hunter: Beginning of His Early Christian Life,” which Marshall plans to re-release this summer.
“I wanted to tie in what he had wrote in his autobiography,” said Marshall, a Gainesville native. “Basically what happened was it was almost like a spiritual awakening because what my great-great-grandfather’s book was saying to me was just don’t write about me, learn about the time as well. So, I had to take what he wrote and actually go back to that particular era and do some extensive research about what was going on about that time, based on what he was saying.
“The book is about his life and at the same time what was going on in the country.”
At age 6, Hunter witnessed his mother, Mary Polly, and baby sister sold to different slave owners in Jackson County.
According to Marshall’s book, when Mary Polly realized her 4-year-old daughter was being sold off to another slave owner, “Baby Sister cried out with fear, her small arms reached out to her mother ... Baby Sister fell down as she was being carried away ... she pressed both her heels of her tiny feet deep into the cold hard dirt; skid marks were carved into the dirt from the pressure of her heels.”
Hunter would never see his baby sister again, but was reunited with his mother 10 years after their separation.
But through all these hardships Hunter found God and was determined to preach the gospel. Hunter was baptized at age 19, married Lottie Moon and had 12 children. He then put all of his efforts toward preaching in Jackson County and all over Georgia.
When his mother died, Hunter took his family and his religion to Hall County in 1874 to share the gospel.
During his life in Gainesville, Hunter helped start numerous churches in the area, like Flowery Branch’s Mt. Zion, started in 1889, but he directly started five churches in Hall County.
Many of them still exist today.
Hunter’s first church was Pleasant Hill in Hall County, where he stayed for nine years. He then founded and preached at Cross Plain Baptist Church for the next 12 years; Timber Ridge Baptist Church, where he stayed for nine years; St. John Baptist, where he preached for 13 years; and then went on to found Wahoo and Rock Hill churches.
“When you read his story ... you ask yourself, how did he accomplish all this?” Marshall said. “We have all this available to us and a lot of us don’t even accomplish a third of what he did and given all the things that he had to deal with.”
It was a matter of perseverance, he added.
“He could have easily just folded up and withered away but he didn’t, he sought out a profession he did something that he loved, had a large family, he was very devoted to his family, wife and children.”
Hunter had stints at other churches in Toccoa, Banks County, Dahlonega and South Carolina.
After his travels around Georgia, Hunter settled down and began the Northwestern Baptist Association, where he served as moderator in 1877.
According to Northwestern Baptist Association documents, at the time Hunter began that organization he was working in the Stone Mountain Association and the eight churches he helped to start agreed to withdraw from the Stone Mountain Association. They banded together and became known as the Northwestern Baptist Association.
The association was created to fill all the needs of the community, from fellowship to providing food, helping with jobs and education. Hunter, Marshall wrote in his book, began thinking a school needed to be built.
So, 33 years later, Hunter quit as moderator of the association he founded to focus on building one.
The Northwestern School, the first private school for black children in Hall County, was built for $1,200 and opened in 1911. The school was located where the current First Baptist Church sits on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive in Gainesville.
Hunter’s sons Robert Hunter and James Hunter worked at worked at the school; Robert was the treasurer and James was the principal and carpenter.
According to the book “Hall County, Georgia,” part of the Black America Series by Linda Rucker Hutchens and Ella J. Wilmont Smith, the school was leased by the city of Gainesville in the mid-1950s to house African-American students until construction of Fair Street School was completed.
And even though the school has since closed and Hunter passed away in 1956, the Northwestern Baptist Association continues to provide support for 28 churches in Walton, Barrow, Jackson and Hall Counties.
Through the years there have been seven moderators for the association; the current moderator is the Rev. L C Teasley Sr. Under his leadership, the group has become the Northwestern Baptist Association of Georgia.
“Right now we are offering scholarship for children and we are trying to build a multipurpose building for activities for children near the association’s central office (in Winder),” said Teasley, pastor at New Life Baptist Church on Harrison Square in Gainesville and at Greater Timber Ridge Baptist Church, which is one of the churches that Hunter helped start in the late 1800s.
Hunter’s legacy remains all over the Hall County area, from churches to schools and apartment buildings named in his honor.
Marshall said there is one thing everyone can take from his great-great-grandfather’s life story.
“I think I could use one word: Believe,” he said. “Believe in something. Believe in yourself.”