Birney Imes: Higher ground

June 27, 2009

Birney Imes - [email protected]


Back in high school I had a couple of friends who found the sound of an ambulance siren irresistible. They loved the thrill of the chase and the sight of carnage. Morbid, I know. Not surprisingly, they both ended up working for funeral homes. 


I think about those boys when someone calls about a colony of honeybees who have congregated in an inconvenient spot. The siren call of wayward honeybees is for me, like car wrecks were for my high school pals, irresistible. It''s a mini adventure. You meet new people, impress them with your bravery and expertise and, most importantly, prevent the extermination of an essential natural resource. 


One caveat: If you have bees in your walls or attic, you have a more complex set of problems. Carpentry, usually extensive, is involved, and it''s more than most beekeepers want to fool with. There is a bee vacuum made for this purpose, but that''s another ball of beeswax. 


Deacon Carl Bankhead of Shiloh Full Gospel M.B. Church phoned last week about some honeybees. Brother Carl''s church owns an empty building, a duplex and two dilapidated houses on Military Road between Fourth and Fifth Avenue North. 


A colony of bees has set up camp in each of the two houses, one of which is soon going to be burned for a Fire Department training exercise. Like most who have seen news reports about the disappearance of bees, Brother Carl wants to save them if possible. 


The church boarded up its house that fronts on Military after a homeless man was discovered living in it. In one of its north-facing windows, in the space between the particle board and the window it covers, a colony of bees has set up shop. At the upper right corner of the window on the exterior wall of the house, a telltale cluster can be seen day and night. 


According to a couple who walks in that neighborhood and who until recently had a canine companion named Peabody, the bees have been congregating there for years. 


When Brother Carl and I went into the house; the only light we had was a small penlight on my key chain. We went into a completely dark bedroom, pulled back the curtains and shined our flicker of light on what was a glass wall of honeybees. It''s a stunning sight. I felt like Howard Carter first gazing on the tomb of Tutankhamun. "Yes, I see wonderful things," Carter is to have said. 


Two days later, for the benefit of a beekeeping friend who may help in the removal, we met another Shiloh deacon, Roger Allen, at the house. The friend brought a stronger light. He and Deacon Allen were duly impressed by what it revealed. What we''ll do remains to be seen. 


During that visit Friday afternoon, Brother Roger provided a short printed history of the church, which was established about 180 years ago "under a brush arbor by a few determined and devoted Christian slaves." 


According to that history, the church was chartered in 1821, making it the oldest black church in Columbus. Around 1886 a new building was erected on Second Avenue North in a low part of Burns Bottom, a block from the site of the Farmers'' Market. 


In 1942 the building was remodeled and because of "continuous floods" was elevated in 1953. After a succession of pastors and three floods in as many months, the church in February 1991 abandoned Burns Bottom for the higher ground of Military Road. 


Under the leadership of Pastor Freddie Edwards, the church in 2004 moved to its present location on College and Short Main, into the former homes of First Freewill Baptist and East End Baptist, which built a new facility on Highway 50 after a tornado removed its steeple. Brother Carl says a replacement steeple will cost $56,000 plus crane fees. He joked that his congregation would be happy if The Commercial Dispatch (or presumably anyone else) would fund such. 


The building and duplex on Military Road are for sale. I bet for less than the cost of a steeple, they would throw in a couple of houses, each with its own colony of bees. 




Write or phone Birney Imes at The Commercial Dispatch, 516 Main St., Columbus, MS 39701, 328-2424, or e-mail him at [email protected]

Birney Imes III is the immediate past publisher of The Dispatch.