The United Presbyterian Church was widely known in South Carolina as the “Northern Presbyterian Church” to distinguish it from the Presbyterian Church in the United States (PCUS), which was known as the “Southern Presbyterian Church.” Long-established black congregations in South Carolina, primarily in the lowcountry, were part of the United Presbyterian Church.

The denomination was formed in 1958 with the union of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America and the United Presbyterian Church of North America. The United Presbyterian Church was widely known in South Carolina as the “Northern Presbyterian Church” to distinguish it from the Presbyterian Church in the United States (PCUS), which was known as the “Southern Presbyterian Church.” Long-established black congregations in South Carolina, primarily in the lowcountry, were part of the United Presbyterian Church.

In 1861 southern Presbyterians broke with the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America and formed a Southern Presbyterian Church. After 1865 African American members of congregations dominated by whites withdrew and organized separate congregations that were part of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America. They took with them an African American Presbyterian tradition that reached back to the colonial period. With the help of northern missionaries and money, local black church leaders organized an extensive school system built around their congregations. By 1917 they had a network of forty-seven Presbyterian schools in South Carolina, such as Larimer High School on Edisto Island and boarding schools in Aiken, Cheraw, Chester, and Irmo. Many graduates went to Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte. The schools nurtured a tight, well-educated community that contributed significant leadership to the social and political life of the state. In 1983 the “Northern” and “Southern” churches united to form the Presbyterian Church (USA).

Clarke, Erskine. Our Southern Zion: A History of Calvinism in the South Carolina Low Country, 1690–1990. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1996.

Leith, John. An Introduction to the Reformed Tradition: A Way of Being the Christian Community. Rev. ed. Atlanta: John Knox, 1981.

Parker, Inez Moore. The Rise and Decline of the Program of Education for Black Presbyterians of the United Presbyterian Church, U. S. A., 1865–1970. San Antonio, Tex.: Trinity University Press, 1977.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A.
  • Author Erskine Clarke
  • Website Name South Carolina Encyclopedia
  • URL http://www.scencyclopedia.org/sce/entries/united-presbyterian-church-in-the-u-s-a/
  • Access Date March 31, 2020
  • Publisher University of South Carolina, Institute for Southern Studies
  • Original Published Date June 28, 2016
  • Date of Last Update October 21, 2016