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The Spiritual Community

The church has long been a pillar of strength in the African American community. Even before the Civil War, black Houstonians formed their own churches.

Accordingly, from the birth of Independent Heights, a multitude of churches sprang up and shaped the community’s culture. Although the community only had about 400 members in 1914, only three years later, at least four churches had been formed or were planned.

_____ Vivian Seals explained that she could not recall a time in her life when she had not gone to church. “It was very important for me [to go to church]. I have been in church all of my life. There has never been a time in my life when I have not been in church . . .” Independence Heights residents since the 1950s, Jonas and Arlecie Bolton also stressed the need to belong to the church while growing up. “It was just very important,” said Mrs. Bolton. “Because it’s the way you learn what life’s about–going to church and reading and learning [about] what you’re supposed to be doing in life.”

_____ Thanks to the efforts of many families and individuals, Independence Heights was filled with community churches. Lota Charles’ father was one of these influential church founders. Her father helped organize two churches in Independence Heights–first, Concord Baptist Church and later, Salem Baptist Church. Mrs. Charles recollects that her father was both “a great talker and organizer.”

_____ The churches were not only the spiritual centers of Independence Heights, but they were also social gathering spots where children could be involved in different activities. Vivian Seals vividly remembers the dramas and plays that her childhood church, New Hope Baptist, would host. These events would attract many community members. Neighborhood children also found entertainment by joining the church’s Starlight Band—an organization for local children. She still can recall the songs she sang growing up as a child in the church.

_____ New Hope Baptist Church, which was formed in 1912, has the distinction of being one of Independence Heights’ first churches. The church’s congregation first met in Ella Davis’ home and then under a tent on her lawn. When a fire destroyed the tent, church members constructed a new meeting place from dry senna bean stalks, which they dubbed “Brush Arbor.”

_____ Several years later, the church secured permission to meet in the Independence Heights School building. At last, in 1919, the Wright Land Company granted New Hope Baptist Church a lot on the 600 block of East 37th Street. Later, in 1927, the church moved to its current location on the corner of 38th and North Main Streets. Archie and Richard Thompson, two skilled contractors who lived in Independence Heights, directed the construction of the new church. In 1989, the New Hope Baptist Church became the location of the Independence Heights State of Texas Historical Marker.

_____ Like New Hope, Concord Baptist Church also began in the home of an Independence Heights resident. Mr. Arthur McCullough (later the city’s last mayor), began Concord Baptist in 1917 with the help of the Fourth Ward’s Antioch Baptist Church. The Concord Baptist congregation met in the McCullough home for three months, and then moved to Independence Heights City Hall, which they rented. Reverend Louis Green Alexander served as the first pastor.

_____ When Concord’s congregation expanded to thirty-five members, the church purchased a plot of land on the corner of North Main and East 35th Street. The land cost the church just $75, and the Purdy Lumber Company built the new church building for $3,500. In 1951, Concord Baptist replaced its original building with a new one that cost $100,000 to complete.

_____ In 1911, a small frame church building housing the first African Methodist Episcopal church in the Independence Heights area was organized and built at 618 East 34th Street on land donated by the Wright Land Company. The church was named after its first pastor, Reverend Richard Green.

_____ Ebenezer Methodist-Episcopalian Church started serving the Independence Heights community in 1916. The early members met in Allen’s Hall until 1922 when the church was able to save enough money to purchase a building at North Main Street and East 33rd Street.

_____ Around 1916 the Wright Land Company granted property to Independence Heights to build a C.M.E. church in the 700 block of E. 37th Street. With the help of Bishop H.B. Porter and Elder W.Q. Hunter the building was completed in 1916. This church used to be known as “Aunt Sue Book’s church” because she did everything for the church except serve as pastor. Today the church is known as Sheeler Memorial Church and is on E. 33rd Street at Columbia.

_____ In 1926 Rev. I. Brown joined forces with other influential community members to form a new church. This group of people bought land and built their new church at 7206 North Main Street. Although the original structure has been rebuilt, the church is still in the same location.

_____ Though it was not a church founded during the time of incorporation, Salem Baptist church serves as a good example of how the neighborhood community members combined forces to create a new church. After serving as Independence Heights’ final mayor, Mayor McCullough founded the Salem Baptist church in 1934.

_____ The church was organized in Cummings Hall, and the congregation worshipped there for one year until a member of the church, Dora Porter, offered the church a small plot of land on 33rd Street that she had purchased for $12. Another church member, resident carpenter, John Whitfield, along with Rev. McCullough and Deacon Howard, together built the original church. Before his death in 1974, Rev. McCullough began the funding drive for the new church by personally making the first 100-dollar donation.

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