Coinciding with Black History Month, a series of three black history programs titled “Sundays with Memories” began this past week at True Vine Church of God in Christ.
The event, sponsored by the Rose Nolen Black History Library and the Sedalia-Pettis County NAACP, is being presented by Rhonda Chalfant, Ph.D., a local history specialist and Democrat columnist. The series is exploring the history of black churches in Pettis County.
“A couple years ago we did a series of three programs about the black schools in Pettis County,” Chalfant said. “We talked about the rural schools, the Lincoln-Hubbard School, and the George R. Smith College.
“This series is about the churches in Pettis County,” she added. “Not only in Sedalia, but also in the small towns in the county, most of which had one or two black churches. Usually a Methodist and a Baptist. We know that they were there because they were marked on the 1896 plat map.”
The first in the series, “Gonna Sing When the Spirit Says Sing,” was presented last Sunday and covered the history of black churches during the 19th century. The second, “We’ve Come this Far by Faith,” will delve into the first half of the 20th century. It will be hosted March 13. The third in the series, “We’ll Understand it Better By and By,” will talk about black churches from the late 20th century to current times. It will be presented April 3.
“During the late 19th century, there were six or seven (black churches) in Sedalia,” Chalfant said. “Dresden had one and La Monte had two …”
She added that black churches were in most of the small surrounding towns including Hughesville, Smithton and Houstonia. Longwood possibly had a black church also.
“It doesn’t show up on the map, but Longwood had a black school,” Chalfant noted. “So, they almost certainly would have had a black church as well.
“Anywhere there was a small group of black families there was a church, including one at 20th Street and Ohio Avenue, in Sedalia,” she added. “There was a little black community there. They had a Baptist church there that from time to time was used as a meeting place for the school.”
Chalfant said with the next two presentations she will also have photographs to use as illustration for the program.
“There just aren’t photographs available, or that I’ve been able to find, of the 19th century churches,” she said. “The 20th century churches, we’ve got photographs of them and histories that the people have written.”
The number of black churches in Pettis County began to decline by the middle of the 20th century. Chalfant said by that time, blacks were moving out of the smaller towns to look for better job opportunities.
“Either in Sedalia or further north, that period encompasses the vast migration to the north,” she added. “During the 1920s and ’30s there was a massive migration of blacks from the Southern states, and that would include Missouri, to the north where there were factories and factory jobs.”
She added that when World War II began and blacks “were allowed” to work in the defense factories, the migration increased.
“So as Sedalia’s and the county’s black population began to decline the number of churches also declined,” she noted.
Black churches still having services in Sedalia are Ward Memorial Missionary Baptist, Burns Chapel Freewill Baptist, Taylor Chapel United Methodist and True Vine Church of God in Christ.
“One of the black churches in this area closed about three years ago, Quinn Chapel AME,” Chalfant added. “Their congregation simply declined.”
She added that the current black churches are concerned about the “lack” of younger congregation members, although Burns Chapel does have a large youth group and a praise/dance team made-up of young people.
Chalfant said it’s disappointing that young people aren’t more more knowledgeable about local and national history.
“… our young people know so little of our nation, our state, our community’s history,” she noted. “It doesn’t matter if they are black children or white children. There’s an immense lack of knowledge of history and of how the Constitutional system works. I find it very bothersome that they don’t know … I fall back to the ole cliché, ‘The person who doesn’t remember the past is condemned to repeat it.’”
Chalfant added that she plans to have another series next winter, highlighting the history of Pettis County black service clubs.
“Club work was very important in the early part of the 20th century,” Chalfant said. “It was a very important factor in the black community.”
“We’ve Come This Far by Faith” will be presented at 3 p.m. Sunday, March 13; “We’ll Understand it Better By and By” will be presented at 3 p.m. April 3. Both presentations, part of the “Sundays with Memories” black history program, will be hosted at True Vine Church of God in Christ, 600 N. Moniteau Ave. The building is handicap accessible.
There will be refreshments and trivia questions. The presentations are free and open to the public.
Faith Bemiss can be reached at 530-0289 or @flbemiss.