Church of God (Cleveland, Tenn.) Colored Work collection
Scope and Contents
The Church of God Colored Work Collection consists of minutes from the Annual Assembly, Evangel articles related to the Colored Work, periodicals, Assembly programs, and other materials relevant the ministry of the Church of God Colored Work.
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Biographical / Historical
In May 1909, Edmond Barr a Bahamian minister and his American-born wife Rebecca attended a camp meeting at the Pleasant Grove Campground in Durant, Florida. There they met and fellowshipped with Church of God General Overseer A. J. Tomlinson who encouraged the development and inclusion of black members in the Church of God. On May 31, the Barrs were credentialed as evangelists and became the first known black members and ministers in the Church of God.
The Barrs likely established a congregation in Miami. One of their companions, Sampson Ellis Everett, is believed to have returned to his home in Jacksonville and ministered to his family there. The Barrs returned from the Bahamas to Florida in 1911 and settled in Miami. Most of the early growth of the Church of God among people of color was likely among Bahamians. By the end of 1912, there were also black congregations in Coconut Grove and Webster.
On June 4, 1912, Tomlinson recorded in his journal: “Held a conference meeting yesterday to consider the question of ordaining Edmond Barr (colored) and setting the colored people off to work among themselves on account of the race prejudice in the South.” Ordination allowed Barr to establish churches and grant ministerial credentials. In 1915, Tomlinson appointed Barr as overseer of black churches in Florida. The next two years’ black churches increased from seven to thirteen churches and from 111 to 200 members.
While black members were welcome at the Church of God General Assemblies, civil law required them to sit in sections designated for “colored” attendees. Conversely, when whites attended the Black Assemblies in Florida, seats were designated for them as well. These laws and customs often made it more practical for blacks to be part of predominantly black denominations and frequently they left denominations that attempted integration. C. F. Bright, who later served as general secretary-treasurer for the “Church of God Colored Work,” left in 1919 claiming, “the colored would never be recognized with the whites.” Yet, after a brief time in the Church of God In Christ, Bright came back into the Church of God believing it was God’s church. Like many who stayed, his love for the Church of God and the theological belief that they were restoring God’s church led him, and many others to remain committed to the movement.
From 1917 to 1922, black churches served under the same jurisdiction as white churches. Yet, because interracial meetings proved difficult, black members requested a separate overseer and structure. Tomlinson acknowledged the request at the 1922 General Assembly.
"…The time has come that some mention should be made about our colored people. There is a problem confronting us that is yet to be solved. South of the Mason and Dixon line it is difficult to show them all the courtesy that we would like to. It is our purpose to make them feel at home with us and they do in a sense, but on account of conditions that seem to be unalterable a number of them are going away from us each year. They are joining with an organization of colored people. They say they love the Church of God and would love to remain, but under the circumstances they feel better to be in a church to themselves where they can be perfectly free in every respect.”
In an attempt to make it easier for black members to remain in the Church of God, the General Assembly agreed to appoint a black overseer over all the black churches. The Executive Committee then appointed Thomas J. Richardson as overseer of black churches. By this time there were black churches in Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia.
Challenges remained for black advancement in the Church of God, however. In 1926, the black ministers made a recommendation for the Assembly to find a way to “better take care of our affairs among the colored work.” In response, the General Assembly agreed “that the colored people be allowed to have a colored Assembly and they still are and shall be recognized as the Church of God, and that we all belong to the body of Jesus (the Church of God). Neither shall it be construed that they are a body separate and apart from the General Annual Assembly of the Churches of God, therefore the General Secretary and Treasurer shall have charge of their tithes to be used exclusively for them.”
Over the next four decades, black churches developed a separate structure referred to as the “Church of God Colored Work.” These congregations created a national office in Jacksonville, Florida; built an auditorium in Jacksonville for annual assemblies; and appointed black overseers of states with black churches.
The Jacksonville Auditorium served black ministries from its construction until 1978. Erected in the middle of the Great Depression, the building was constructed for $18,000 and valued at $25,000. C.F. Bright, who served as both the local pastor and state overseer of the black churches in Georgia and North Carolina, oversaw the construction. Women’s groups were recruited to help raise construction money.
In 1926, the Black Assembly purchased property in Eustis, Florida, for an industrial school and orphanage. Women were placed in administration over the Industrial School and Orphanage in 1927. Jessie L. Hayward served as the general president of the Industrial School and Orphanage from 1929 to 1938 and raised funds by visiting black congregations. The first two-story building served as the girl’s dormitory and a classroom. Later a second building was built to house the dining room and kitchen. The boys’ dormitory was constructed under Melissa Marcelle’s administration (1940-1946), and included an auditorium on the first floor. Mrs. Shirley Wallace organized the National Black Ladies Ministries in 1952 and served as teacher and principal of the Industrial School and Orphanage.
Beginning in 1958, the Church of God appointed white overseers to supervise the Church of God Colored Work. J.T. Roberts served as national overseer from 1958 to 1965 and David Lemons served from 1965 to 1966. Roberts had construction experience and was able to secure loans and build several new church buildings. Yet, many viewed the appointments of Roberts and Lemons as steps backward, and black ministers called for change. The response of the Church of God was integration. The General Assembly passed a resolution on Human Rights in 1964 and dissolved the separate “Church of God Colored Work” in 1966. Because of the large number of black churches in Florida, ministers there asked the Executive Committee to appoint a black overseer for black churches in Florida — in effect returning to the days of Edmond Barr with both white and black overseers. Until 1970, the Executive Committee also continued to appoint a black overseer for black churches in Mississippi.
In an effort to increase communication, in 1966, the Executive Committee established a black liaison office and appointed H.G. Poitier to fill the post. Then in 1978, they appointed Wallace Sibley Sr. to the newly created office of Southeastern Regional Evangelism Director. Sibley’s responsibilities included emphasizing evangelism among blacks in the states of Mississippi, Alabama, North Carolina, North Georgia, South Georgia, and Tennessee. In 1983, the position was expanded to include national responsibilities. C.C. Pratt served in this office until 1992, when with the appointment of Joseph Jackson the position was changed to Director of Black Ministries. Since Jackson’s tenure, Asbury R. Sellers (1998-2006), Jimmy C. Campbell (2006-2010), and Dr. Kenneth L. Hill (2010-Present) have coordinated the Office of Black Ministries. The theme of the 2014 General Assembly “One: One Faith, One Lord, One Mission” further united the diverse denomination and the Office of Black Ministries was dissolved. There currently remains a Black Ministries Coordinator under the Evangelism Department’s Multi-Cultural Ministries.
Colored Work Overseers:
1922–1923 Thomas J. Richardson 1923–1928 David LaFleur 1928–1939 J. H. Curry 1939–1946 N. S. Marcelle 1946–1950 W. L. Ford 1950–1954 George A. Wallace 1954–1958 W. L. Ford 1958–1965 J. T. Roberts 1965–1966 David Lemons
SOURCES: Dr. David Roebuck Church of God Colored Work Annual Assembly Minutes Church of God General Assembly Minutes A.J. Tomlinson Diary
2.25 Linear Feet (5 containers)
Language of Materials
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- License: This record is made available under an Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Creative Commons license.
School and Orphanage, Girls Dormitory photo separated to General Photograph Collection
- Church of God (Cleveland, Tenn.) Colored Work collection
- Melissa Hope
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