History of Pleasant Green Missionary Baptist Church Introduction

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1 History of Pleasant Green Missionary Baptist Church Introduction The post Civil-War period in the United States witnessed the emergence and proliferation of religious and educational institutions in the African-American community. St. Louis Missouri was a city incorporated fifty years earlier-in the center of the country; at the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers. It was a famed fur trading center gateway to the west. The year 1866 was quite significant in that the Civil Rights Bill of 1866 had just passed. Lincoln University was being established a mere 120 miles away in Jefferson City when Pleasant Green Missionary Baptist Church was being established in St. Louis. Pleasant Green joined two other African-American Baptist churches. First was the Baptist church established in 1827 by the then infamous Rev. John Berry Meacham and Central Baptist Church. St. Paul AME had been established in 1840 and St. Elizabeth Catholic Church in The pre civil war churches served both slaves and free African-Americans. St. Louis' strategic location on the Mississippi River facilitated its growth and it soon became the 4th largest city in the United States. With the 3rd largest African-American population, its prominence in riverboat traffic brought many new citizens to this thriving port. 1

2 Thomas E. Napier Many African-American families from cities, counties and parishes in Mississippi and Louisiana came to St. Louis by boat, up the picturesque Mississippi River. They were seeking free land that had been promised in the states of Nebraska and Kansas. Among these migrants was Rev. Thomas E. Napier, a Baptist minister from Natchez, Mississippi. He had already organized a church in his home town named Pleasant Green. Rev. Napier soon organized a small group of Christians who began holding house to house prayer meetings. The number grew so rapidly, that they rented a place and named it Pleasant Green Baptist Church. The first address was a store front edifice at the corner of Main (now 1st Street and Mullanphy) near the waterfront. Rev. Napier was a powerful minister and leader adding many souls to the church. Unsatisfied with his work, Rev. Napier then went on to Kansas City, Kansas and organized a third Pleasant Green Baptist Church. He commuted between the three churches, giving each a portion of his time and service. It became necessary for each church to have an acting pastor in his absence. Rev. J. Calhoun was named Acting Pastor for the St. Louis congregation. After 20 years had passed, a small band of members discussed calling Rev. Calhoun to pastor, however, Pastor Napier was retained. The Calhoun followers rented a place and organized the Mount Olive Baptist Church where Rev. Calhoun was called to be their pastor. 2

3 Kelly Rucks In 1887 Rev. Napier resigned his pastorate. Rev. Kelly Rucks was called to lead the Pleasant Green Missionary Baptist Church (PGMBC) of St. Louis. Like Napier, Rev. Rucks came from Mississippi, being a native of Vicksburg. Rev. Rucks was well known and a powerful minister. His ambitions were high, his ability was great and he immediately requested the officers to seek a larger place. PGMBC relocated to 13th & Biddle where they increased numerically and financially. Under his leadership the church purchased their first property in It was sold the next year to purchase a site at 23rd & Dickson. In 1896, Pastor Rucks incorporated the church under the state s statue. The Sunday School was organized under his leadership in 1884 by Brother Charles W. Dixon. During his administration, the church occupied various facilities in the downtown area. After the turn of the century, Rev. J. K. Parker also from Mississippi (between Vicksburg and Natchez), united with this congregation. Rev. Rucks appointed Rev. Parker as Acting Pastor and in 1903, the church moved to 1403 Morgan (now Delmar). In the same year the church initiated its first free Thanksgiving dinner, which became a Church tradition. Following the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis, Rev. Rucks initiated a city wide soul saving campaign. During the event Rev. Rucks had to return to Vicksburg and Rev. Parker continued the campaign. The Lord used Rev. Parker for His own glory as his songs and sermons were discussed far and wide. Many souls were added to the congregation. It was at this time that the traditions of daily prayer meetings from 3-5 p.m. were initiated. These great meetings concluded with 60 people being baptized on Palm Sunday, in the Mississippi River in

4 John K. Parker The fame of Rev. Parker spread throughout the community and Rev. Rucks returned from Vicksburg in time for the baptismal service. Shortly thereafter, Rev. Kelly Rucks resigned as pastor and on June 5, 1905, Rev. J.K. Parker was called to the pastorate. This was the beginning of a dynamic period of growth in the history of Pleasant Green Missionary Baptist Church. This administration existed in excess of a quarter- century, establishing Pleasant Green as a viable force for Christ in the St. Louis area. Incidentally, the growth of Pleasant Green was compatible with the growth of St. Louis, which was now cast as a world class city immediately following the 1904 World's Fair. The migration of African-Americans to St. Louis provided fertile ground for Pleasant Green to cultivate. By 1906, over 300 new members had been added to the church under Rev. Parker's leadership. Needless to say, the number of members soon outgrew their place of worship. In 1907 a committee was appointed to seek larger quarters. In 1908, the church that had formerly been used by Union Memorial, located at Elliott and Wash (now Cole), was purchased for $10,000. Rev. Parker continued to attract members and the next year, 116 new members were baptized in the Mississippi River, a tradition that would last for almost 40 years. A dozen new auxiliaries were established, including the Baptist Training Union, Missionary Department, Senior Usher Board, Deaconess Sisters and the Bridegroom Prayer Band. PGMBC continued to grow and in 1913, nearly 200 members were added. The church honored Rev. Parker, by electing him Pastor-for-Life in 1914, recognizing his excellent leadership. The burning of the mortgage on the Elliott and Wash (Cole) property was the major highlight of The congregation was elated over this accomplishment. Two years later in (1920), Pastor Parker presented a plan to the congregation for purchasing two lots in the then, new Washington Park Cemetery for members who died without adequate burial funds. Eight years later in 1928, the church was declared unsafe and condemned. The St. Louis Argus Newspaper, then located on the north-east intersection of Jefferson and Market, allowed the church to use the 2nd floor of their building for services. PGMBC continued to meet there while the church underwent a complete renovation. In 1929, PGMBC returned to its renovated facility. In 1930, PGMBC held a gala celebrating the Pastor's 25th anniversary. Joy soon turned to gloom, as the impact of the 1929 stock market crash reached in the community. During the Great Depression thousands of people lost their jobs. The African-American community was particularly hard hit with unemployment, eliminating 40-80% of the workforce. People were hungry and homeless. Jordan Chambers, a popular local politician and Rev. Parker initiated the Bread Line" program at PGMBC to serve hot meals to the hungry. The Lord blessed this outreach program, and many souls were saved enlarging the membership. Pastor Parker was stricken with an illness, and passed away six months later on January 17,

5 John H. Davenport The torch was passed to Rev. John Henry Davenport on July 8, He became the 4th Pastor of the church to have Mississippi roots, having lived in Sago and Greenville, Mississippi. However, he was born near New Orleans in a small town called Providence, Louisiana. Rev. Davenport continued the renovation program of the Elliott and Wash edifice initiated by Rev. Parker. His short tenure was fraught with personal tragedies; his wife, daughter and son preceded him in death. In January 1938, Rev. Davenport suffered a brief illness and passed away four months later on May 6,

6 George H. Pruitt During the illness of Rev. Davenport, Rev. George H. Pruitt, a member of PGMBC since 1912, was named as Interim Pastor. He was installed as Pastor on January 19, Like his predecessors, though not born in Mississippi, was raised in a community near the Mississippi River, called Helena, Arkansas. Pastor Pruitt continued the Spring Revival baptismal pool and in 1940 conducted regular baptismal services on the first Sunday of every month. The year 1941 saw the nation be-come embroiled in World War II. Many of the young men of the Church were drafted or enlisted in the Armed Services. However, those left behind continued to serve the Church faithfully. Similar to Rev. Parker, Pastor Pruitt was used by the Lord to lead many to Christ and to the Church's membership. Pleasant Green soon outgrew the facility that had been purchased in A Building Fund Committee was established and a "Building Fund Pledge System" was initiated. On January 20, 1944, the Pastor and officers were empowered by the Church to proceed with negotiations to purchase a site at Page and West End (now Pruitt Place). The purchase price of the building was $78,000. The members collected and paid $40,000 down on the edifice. Within two years, the Lord blessed the congregation with the ability to burn the mortgage, thus astounding the financial community with that remarkable feat. The purchase of this marvelous facility was not only a milestone for the church, but for the entire religious and African-American communities in St. Louis. The Officers serving at the time were Deacons: James J. Morgan, Chairman; Charles Worth, Albert F. Walton, Jerry E. Dement, William Joplin, James Munson, Fennie Wrice, Spencer Patrick, William Hawkins, William Sanders, Carl Fowler, Robert French, A. E. Belue, Paul Jones, Charles Keys, A. C. Strokes, Charles H. Harris, Needham Whittaker, Charles Brooks Sr., Wesley Rogers, Sylvester Johnson, Roy Knox and Schneider Hughes. Trustees: Calvin S. Royster, President: Charles Clayton, William Tennell, James H. Williams, Charles Keys, Jerry E. Dement, A. F. Walton, Charles Irions, and Carl Hendricks. Attorney David M. Grant was legal advisor. Taylor Avenue had been somewhat of an imaginary westward boundary for African- Americans. The relocation of Pleasant Green to this site, through the able leadership of Rev. Pruitt, spurred the movement of African- Americans westward beyond Taylor Avenue. The latter part of the 40's found the Church adjusting to new surroundings. Veterans were returning from war-time service and began to pursue their own interests. Many members, who had been living, "downtown", began to move near the Church on Newberry Terrace, Evans, etc. We witnessed the presidency of our native Missourian, Harry S. Truman and cheered Jackie Robinson breaking into professional baseball. The 50's began with the U.S. involved in a conflict with Korea, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower became President. More importantly, we applauded the 1954 Supreme Court decision that allowed for the integration of schools. By 1955, we were ready to celebrate our 10th Anniversary in our new edifice. The next year we initiated a $50,000 drive to purchase and install central air-conditioning in the sanctuary. The final cost of this project was $34,000 and it was paid-in-full by mid Concurrently, as we were growing and enjoying our new building, 6

7 we were inspired by the boycotts in Montgomery, Alabama and the emergence of a new African-American leader, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The later part of the 50's found us concentrating on youth activities, organization of the Youth Council, Drum and Bugle Corps, Youth Choir; Basketball Team, Nursery Committee and the reorganization of the Girl Scout Troop. Rev. George H. Pruitt had become a household name and enjoyed a national reputation for the great work he was doing at PGMBC. Membership continued to soar at this location. Other African-American churches began to follow our lead and move west (of Taylor Avenue). In 1960, Pastor Pruitt led us in a fund-raising campaign to purchase and install central airconditioning in the Educational Building. In 1961, the original Brotherhood became the Bible Class; a Food Bank was organized to feed the hungry; and new chairs were purchased for the Assembly Hall of the Educational Building. By this time, we had witnessed John F. Kennedy become President; as well as sit-ins and freedom rides throughout the South. In 1962, the Correspondence Club was organized and the first Church Library was started. That same year, we hosted the National Convention of Gospel Choirs and Chorus, Inc. In 1963, we renovated the sanctuary. The Civil Rights struggle continued and we supported the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) by purchasing a life membership. In November, a Junior Nurses Unit was organized and we experienced the appalling assassination of President Kennedy. In 1964, a Revival Crusade was organized and a door-to-door campaign was instituted in the neighborhood to win souls for Christ. Being aware of our civic duties, we sent $500 to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), to aid in the Civil Rights struggle in By 1966, PGMBC had reached a significant and important milestone; a century of serving the St. Louis community. We observed our Centennial celebration, but our euphonies were curtailed by what was happening nationally; the Vietnam conflict. There were also riots in our cities and the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The 70's found Rev. Pruitt in the latter days of his administration. By this time, he had surpassed the tenure of any prior pastor of PGMBC. He was instrumental in acquiring the property on the north side of Page Boulevard to be used as a parking lot, and leading us in a fund raising campaign to construct another parking lot on the east side of the sanctuary. In 1975, thirty years after moving to this site, the Church celebrated 109 years of continuous service to the St. Louis community. This became the last major project led by Rev. George H. Pruitt. His health began to fail and on June 18, 1978, he went home to be with the Lord and receive his reward for, "A job well done." 7

8 Henry W. Berry Rev. Henry Berry, an Associate Minister, filled in during Pastor Pruitt s latter days. It was not difficult for the Church to select Rev. Berry, to succeed Rev. Pruitt as the sixth Pastor of PGMBC. He was elected on December 10, Pastor Berry's ultimate goal from his installation to retirement was to create, by the guidance of the Holy Spirit, a church family image at PGMBC. Pastor Berry's knowledge and expertise in carpentry and the building trade provided great help to PGMBC. Benches, cabinets, display cases, a memorial display case and the petitioned walkway around our Mid Week Service Room were some of the results of his labor of love. Two major physical improvements that occurred during his administration were the padding of the sanctuary pews in April 1981, and the initiation of our Transportation Ministry in This Ministry enables people of all ages to attend Sunday School, Morning Worship, Revival Services, field trips, funerals, burials, and other Church related activities. The first pictorial Church Directory, under the leadership of the Usher President in 1982, (Mrs. Mattyle C. Hampton), was done during Pastor Berry's administration. Realizing the importance of reaching out and touching others, Pastor Berry initiated the friendship hand clasp at the close of worship service; and directed the Deacons to face the pulpit during sermons which added Spiritual support to the preacher. The Poor Saints Committee was renamed The Benevolent Committee, and in 1983, a "Mission Fund" was added to make annual contributions to various organizations. Thanks to a vision by our late Trustee Board President, Frederick Moore, a 40 year Site Anniversary Celebration was initiated. On Sunday, June 16, 1985, the Educational Building was dedicated and renamed the Rev. George H. Pruitt Educational Building. On Sunday, July 21, 1985 a Memorial Service was held recognizing deceased members from On Sunday, August 18, 1985, a Dedication Service was held renaming West End Avenue, Rev. G. H. Pruitt Place". Our member of longest standing was Sister Nellie N. Weakley, 1911, who was a member since 1911 and an honorary Usher. Three other long standing members were Mother Elsie Hunt, 1912; Sister Mildred V. Parks, 1913 and Mother Cornlia G. Campbell, PGMBC published its first cookbook in Many recipes came from our church family and the project was sponsored by the Pastor's Aid Association. A Food Pantry was organized to assist in feeding those in need through the Network of Christian Social Concern. Sister Georgia Harper was the first Director, and it was started in An elevator Fund was started in 1986 to make provisions for the installation of an elevator. Kitchen and Dining Room Supervisors were appointed in 1984 to aid in the maintenance and upkeep of these areas and to assist with receptions and dinners. Rev. Henry W. Berry Jr. retired from his pastoral duties on November 5,

9 Julius C. Bonner, IV Present October 17, 1989, we elected our seventh Pastor, Rev. Dr. Julius Caesar Bonner, IV. He was installed February 25, Under his administration, the Children s Church was organized, a New Members Class was initiated, and our Baptizing time changed to 10:00 a.m. The Dechomai, Single's, Youth, and Evangelism Ministry were established. New Member Orientation Class, Saturday morning Bible Class, Wednesday Evening Bible Classes, Praise In the Park, Christmas Eve Dinner for the Homeless was initiated, the 55 Plus Wisdom Group, Youth Revival and an evening Vacation Bible School and the installation of the handicap accessible ramp in August As technology affected our daily lives the church adapted. Three major technology changes are the computer system, PGMBC web site and the elevator system. Pastor Bonner ministers to the community through the Substance Abuse Ministry, Outdoor Sunset Services. He also hosted a weekly radio broadcast. For several years Pastor Bonners other community ministries and affiliations include: the Ministerial Union of Greater St. Louis, Clergy Ministry Conference, Baptist Ministry Conference, Antioch District Leadership Congress (Instructor), Vice Moderator of Antioch District, Instructor at the State Congress, Treasurer of the Evangelism Board of Missouri, President of the Baptist Ministers Union of St. Louis Vicinity, and a Honorary Doctorate Degree from Glad-Tidings Bible College. Pastor Bonner also serves as the Antioch District Program Chairman (Women s Division) and an active member of the Missouri State Convention. 9

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