Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church Archives, 1871-2005
Organizational Note: Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church
Scope and Content: Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church Archives, 1871-2005
Pastors, Church History and Real Estate Records
Bible and Sunday Schools, Baptist Training Union and Woman’s Day
Music and The Reminder | State and National Baptist Churches
Audiovisual | Photographs | Memorabilia
|Provenance:||Donated by the Rev. Garry M. Cain, pastor of Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church, and Ms. Anne Duncan, church historian, March 2002|
|Size:||11 linear feet (12 archival boxes)|
|Repository:||Vivian G. Harsh Research Collection of Afro-American History and Literature, Carter G. Woodson Regional Library (Chicago Public Library), 9525 S. Halsted Street, Chicago, IL 60628|
|Citation:||When quoting material from this collection, the preferred citation is: Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church Archives (Box #, Folder #), Vivian G. Harsh Research Collection of Afro-American History and Literature, Chicago Public Library.|
|Processed by:||Traci Parker, Harsh Archival Processing Project|
|Supervised by:||Michael Flug, Senior Archivist, Harsh Archival Processing Project|
Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church was founded in June 1902 when a disagreement arose in Olivet Missionary Baptist Church, Chicago’s oldest African American Baptist church, over the purchase of property. The dispute split Olivet into two factions. One faction remained at Olivet. The other—a small, determined group of about 30 parishioners led by Olivet’s former pastor, the Rev. J.F. Thomas—left Olivet and established Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church. The name Ebenezer was suggested by church member Eliza Jackson. Ebenezer was first located in Arlington Hall at 31st Street and Indiana Avenue. After a year of worship, Arlington Hall became too small for the rapidly growing congregation. In 1903, Ebenezer purchased a building located at 35th and Dearborn streets for $11,500.
At the church’s founding, Rev. Thomas was already 59 years old and was hailed as “a strong advocate for the good of his race.” During his 18 years at Ebenezer, he also served as president of the Illinois State Baptist Convention and as chaplain of the famed 8th Regiment. Under Thomas’ leadership, the church prospered and membership continued to grow. With such growth, Ebenezer once again found itself faced with the need for a larger building. In 1920 Thomas and the Ebenezer Church met with Isaiah Temple, a Jewish synagogue, and finalized plans to purchase the synagogue at 45th Street and Vincennes Avenue. Per an agreement between these two parties, Ebenezer paid $65,000 with a down payment of $26,000. This building continues to be the home of Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church.
Thomas did not live to see the opening of the new church building. On August 26, 1920, a few days shy of his 78th birthday and one week after his 54th anniversary as a minister, Rev. Thomas died. Shortly after his death, the Rev. Charles Henry Clark from Nashville, Tenn., succeeded Thomas and became Ebenezer’s second pastor.
In October 1921, a year after Clark had been appointed pastor, Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church settled into its new home. Clark proved to be a strong financial leader. By 1928, Ebenezer paid off its mortgage. Two years later, however, Clark resigned as pastor of Ebenezer after much dissension among the members. The bitter clash between supporters and opponents of Rev. Clark even degenerated into a physical fight in the church.
Ebenezer then invited the Rev. James Howard Lorenzo Smith from Birmingham, Ala., to be the church’s third pastor beginning March 16, 1931. His arrival was celebrated with a full week of installation services, which climaxed with a huge banquet in the church dining room. According to Ebenezer’s 75th anniversary book, “the church was undergoing troublesome times and…through the prayers of the dedicated, the leadership of Dr. Smith and above all, through the grace of God, the church was finally restored to a period of peace. The church took on new life and many changes were made for the advancement of its program.”
During Rev. Smith’s 27-year tenure at Ebenezer, the church became known as “the birthplace of gospel.” Rev. Smith was not satisfied with the style of music he initially found at Ebenezer. On December 6, 1931, he preached to his congregation about a vision he had received. Rev. Smith’s vision was of a choir of Christian men and women sitting behind him singing what he called, “Good old-fashioned songs sung by our forefathers down in the southland.” In this sermon, Rev. Smith gave the call for the organization of the first gospel chorus.
Rev. Smith put together a team of music innovators to direct the chorus. He called upon professor Theodore Frye as director and professor Thomas A. Dorsey as pianist. In January 1932, after only a month of rehearsals, the Ebenezer gospel chorus made its debut in a church filled to capacity. The 100-member chorus wowed the congregation with their soulful Southern-influenced spiritual sound. Six weeks after the chorus made its initial public appearance, Dorsey left Ebenezer to direct a new gospel chorus at Pilgrim Baptist Church. In spite of this loss, Ebenezer Gospel Chorus continued to prosper under Frye’s leadership. Ebenezer Gospel Chorus historian Asalein Lowery wrote that “each of our subsequent appearances added to our growth and strength, and before long we had become quite famous.”
Roberta Martin was chosen to replace Dorsey as pianist. While at Ebenezer, she organized the Roberta Martin Singers, originally six young men from the choruses at Ebenezer and Pilgrim. Each of the members of the group went on to great renown as gospel soloists. In 1938, Frye resigned as director to become the music director for the National Baptist Convention’s annual meetings and to further his own music publishing business. Rev. Smith summoned professor John E. Rogers, Jr. to be the new director of the gospel chorus. Pianist Martin left to start the Roberta Martin Singers after that. She was replaced by Willa Saunders Jones, and later by B. Maye Whalum Brewer. In 1935, Ebenezer’s musical program expanded to include a senior choir, a junior church choir, and a junior gospel chorus. Ebenezer’s celebrated music department has helped shaped musical greats such as Dinah Washington, Edward Colvin, Willie Brown, Willa Mae Ford Smith, Robert Anderson, Milt Hinton, Willie Webb, Delois Barrett, Billie Mae Barrett, the Norfleet Brothers, Theodore Charles Stone, Sallie Martin and Ethelynde Armstrong Engram.
Rev. Smith helped Ebenezer flourish in other capacities. In the 1930s and 1940s, the church’s membership grew to more than 3,000 people (many of whom were Southern migrants) and became politically active in civil rights struggles. The church raised money for the defense of Ethiopia, supported the March on Washington of 1941 and aided the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. Smith instituted a new budget system, which helped to wipe out the church’s debt. He established the posts of assistant pastor and church historian. He organized a host of state clubs, bringing a new sense of “fellowship” to the congregation. A library was created, beginning with “more than 200 volumes on Christian Education and Negro History.” A nursery was established to care for babies from birth to 6 years when their mothers were in church. Ebenezer’s pipe organ was restored and expanded, becoming one of the finest in Chicago.
In 1959, the Rev. Frank Kentworth Sims succeeded Rev. Smith. He served the church for 30 years and was much loved at Ebenezer. The annual Pastor’s Anniversary Celebrations were magnificent affairs, with many prominent religious and political speakers. Among the speakers at the anniversaries were Congressman Adam Clayton Powell and Dr. Archibald Carey, Jr. Other attendees included Mahalia Jackson and Illinois Governor Otto Kerner. The seventh anniversary, in May 1966, was highlighted by a banquet held at McCormick Place, where the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave a speech entitled, “A Knock At Midnight” before 2,000 people.
During Rev. Sims’ 30 years of service, the neighborhood surrounding the church witnessed major demographic changes. Many of the church’s middle-class members moved away. Nevertheless, Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church continued to prosper, remaining a major political force in the civil rights movement and maintaining one of the city’s most notable musical programs. In 1964 Ebenezer hosted the Sunday School Congress and Baptist Training Union, and in 1967, Rev. Sims presided at dedication ceremonies for Ebenezer’s new $450,000 Education and Fellowship Hall. He retired as church pastor in 1989.
Following Sims’ retirement, the Rev. Derwood O. Hunter became the church’s pastor in 1991. In his five years at Ebenezer, Rev. Hunter emphasized work with youth. He established a new youth choir, and a youth movement ministry. Hunter resigned as pastor in October 1996. He was replaced by the Rev. Lacy Edward Simpson, Jr. in 1998. Rev. Simpson stayed at Ebenezer for only a year, resigning as pastor in 1999.
On May 24, 2000, Ebenezer Baptist Church called the Rev. Garry M. Cain to be its seventh pastor. Installation services were held in August 2000. The theme for his installation services was “New Leadership for a New Millennium.” Dr. Wallace Hartsfield, second vice president of the National Baptist Convention, gave the “Charge of the Church,” while Dr. Stephen J. Thurston, president of the Illinois National Baptist State Convention, gave the “Charge to the Pastor.” During his time at Ebenezer, Rev. Cain demonstrated a keen appreciation of the church’s legacy. In 2002, important historical church documents and photographs were discovered in a closet in the basement of Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church. Assisted by church historian Anne Duncan, Rev. Cain donated these irreplaceable materials to the Chicago Public Library’s Vivian G. Harsh Research Collection of Afro-American History and Literature in March 2002.
Throughout its history, Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church has maintained numerous organization and clubs. These activities have been the threads in the church’s fabric. The oldest clubs are Ebenezer Sunday School, Mothers Union of Ebenezer and Senior Missionary Society. Sunday School and Senior Missionary Society were founded in 1902, while Mothers Union was established in 1901 as an auxiliary within Olivet Baptist Church and moved to Ebenezer in 1902. Twenty years later, under the Rev. Charles H. Clark, Ebenezer’s clubs expanded significantly. Its clubs included the Home and Foreign Missionary Circle, Baptist Young People’s Union, Jr., Unity Circle, Star Literary Society, Ebenezer Men’s Circle, Usher Board, Willing Workers, Tennessee Circle and the Music Department.
In the 1930s, the church added other clubs to meet the spiritual and material needs of its congregation, doubling its church organizations to 40 auxiliaries and circles. Ebenezer formed the Social Service Department, a PTA, the Storming and Charity Club, First Aid Department and Art Literary Club. Another addition was state clubs. The great migration of African Americans from the South to Chicago had an impact on the organization of Ebenezer (and other black churches). Many of the new migrants sought ties to the families, friends and communities they knew in the South. Ebenezer responded with a profusion of state clubs. Where Ebenezer had only a single “Tennessee Circle” in 1922, by the 1930s there were state clubs for church members from Alabama, Mississippi (the largest of the state clubs), Georgia, Louisiana, Arkansas, Kentucky and Tennessee, and a joint club for Oklahoma and Texas.
In addition to these organizations and clubs, the church has published a newsletter, The Ebenezer Baptist Reminder (or The Reminder as it is often called), for more than 80 years. It is unclear as to when The Reminder first began; the earliest issue available is dated May 28, 1922. During its lengthy history, The Reminder has served as the official organ of Ebenezer, publishing news and notices, poetry and music lyrics, prayers and appeals, and advertisements from local businesses.
In 2011 the Rev. Marcel Kerr was inaugurated as the church’s eighth pastor. Today he leads Ebenezer Baptist Church and continues its long traditions of community works, church organizations, spiritual outreach and material support.
- Best, Wallace D. Passionately Human, No Less Divine: Religion and Culture in Black Chicago, 1915-1952. Princeton University Press, 2005.
- Boyer, Horace C. How Sweet the Sound: The Golden Age of Gospel. University of Illinois Press, 1995.
- Knupfer, Anne Meis. The Chicago Black Renaissance and Women’s Activism. University of Illinois Press, 2006.
- Lane, George and Algimantas Kezys. Chicago Churches and Synagogues: An Architectural Pilgrimage. Loyola University Press, 1981.
- Reagon, Bernice Johnson, ed. We’ll Understand It Better By and By. Smithsonian Institution Press, 1992.
The Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church (EMBC) Archives documents the history of Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church. This collection has been arranged in seven series: Pastors, Church History and Real Estate Records; Bible and Sunday schools, Baptist Training Union and Woman’s Day; Music and The Reminder; State and National Baptist Churches; Audiovisual; Photographs; and Memorabilia.
Related papers at the Vivian G. Harsh Research Collection include the Abbott-Sengstacke Family Papers, Etta Moten Barnett Papers, Sydonia Brooks Papers, Coalition to Save the “Met” Archives, Lucy Collier Smith Papers, Illinois Writers Project/“Negro in Illinois” Papers, Floyd D. Johnson and Sweet C. Papers/Zion Temple Missionary Baptist Church Papers, Willa Saunders Jones Papers, Arthur Logan Papers, Martin & Morris Music, Inc. Archives, William McBride Papers, Loudella Evans Reid Papers, Theodore Charles Stone Papers and Melva Williams Papers.
Series 1: Pastors, Church History and Real Estate Records, 1871-2005
The pastor and church history records contain manuscripts, newspaper clippings, and pastor installation and anniversary programs. These records chronicle the work and career of EMBC’s pastors, including the Revs. J.F. Thomas, J.H. Lorenzo Smith, Frank Kentworth Sims, Derwood O. Hunter, Lacy Edward Simpson and Garry M. Cain. Also included are manuscripts and programs detailing EMBC’s organizational history from 1902 to 2002. Of particular interest is the program for the Seventh Anniversary Appreciation Banquet Honoring Dr. Frank Kentworth Sims and featuring guest speaker the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., with guest vocalist Mahalia Jackson, as well as church historian Asalein Ethlyn Lowery’s history of EMBC.
The real estate records consists of deeds, mortgages and payment receipts from EMBC’s rental and/or purchase of its 1902 location at 31st Street and Indiana Avenue, its 1903-1919 location at 35th and Dearborn streets, and its location since 1920 at 45th Street and Vincennes Avenue. These records also contain the earlier deeds and mortgages from First German Evangelical Emanuel Church and Isaiah Temple, the places of worship from which the last two locations were purchased.
Series 2: Bible and Sunday Schools, Baptist Training Union and Woman’s Day, 1938-1992
This series consists of newsletters, programs and calendars of the EMBC’s Bible and Sunday schools, Baptist Training Union and Woman’s Day. Also included are the Chicago Baptist Institute Yearbook of 1961, The Sunday School Informer newsletter from 1949 to 1954 and funeral programs of church members who were actively involved in Sunday School.
Series 3: Music and The Reminder, 1922-1999
This series contains sheet music and programs related to the church’s music performances and events, and copies of The Ebenezer Baptist Reminder newsletter (or The Reminder as it is often called).
Series 4: State and National Baptist Churches, 1952-1981
The State and National Baptist Churches series includes programs from state and national Baptist Church events and conventions. Of particular interest are programs from National Baptist Convention of America, the National Baptist Sunday School and Baptist Union Training Congress Annual Sessions, and Go Preach, the National Baptist Foreign Mission Board newsletter.
Series 5: Audiovisual, 1970
The audiovisual series contains audiotape recordings (converted to DVD) of “Obsequies for Dr. J.H. Lorenzo Smith.” This remarkable service featured many of Chicago’s leading pastors and gospel singers. This sound recording is likely the only surviving record of the event.
Series 6: Photographs, 1910-2003
One of the largest series in the collection, the photographs series provides visual documentation of the church’s expansive history. Of particular interest are photographs of Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church pastors and clergymen, members and groups, architecture and events.
Series 7: Memorabilia, 1961
Memorabilia consists of a plaque dedicated to Dean S.E. Heard, 1961 yearbook of Ebenezer’s vacation Bible school, recording cover of the Griffin Singers, a certificate of merit presented to Dr. Frank Kentworth Sims and an Abundant Living Bookmark (Combined Men and Women’s Day Program).