History in Peril
Published 8:12 am Thursday, May 24, 2012
By Fred Guarino
The Lowndes Signal
“If you are looking for people with name recognition, you won’t find many of them here. But there were a lot of unsung heroes… foot soldiers.”
Those are the words of Dr. Aaron D. McCall, senior pastor of the historic, civil rights-era First Missionary Baptist Church in Hayneville, which is included on the 2012 list of Alabama’s Places in Peril.
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The church, which is in need of funding for repair and restoration, was placed on the list this May in observation of National Historic Preservation Month by the Alabama Historical Commission and the Alabama Trust for Historic Preservation.
“Places in Peril is a valuable tool for directing public attention to some of the many historic places in Alabama that are threatened by neglect or demolition,” said Frank White, executive director of the AHC.
David Schneider, senior director of Preservation Services at ATHP, said, “This list reminds us that much remains to be done to help Alabamians recognize that our historic places are essential assets for community revitalization.”
There is no money or protection attached to designation, according to Dr. McCall.
He said the church was one of the first to open its doors to the civil rights movement.
“A lot of people were afraid during that time,” he said.
Despite that, he said the church, which was founded in 1893, “has always been a leader in the community.”
Dr. McCall said numerous mass meetings were held at the church where the Black Panthers was organized as a political party under the leadership of Stokely Carmichael and other members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.
“We had a very, very unique minister,” he said. “His name was J. W. McCall, we called him Buddy West. He was blind, but he was one of the first people to take and pass, at the time, the test they were using for voting.”
Dr. McCall said the pastor’s daughter, Annie Ruth McCall (Lawrence) was also the first female African American to take the test and pass it, and she was the first female African American registered voter in Lowndes County.
Another member, Fannie Robison, he said, housed many of the civil rights workers.
“She had the only telephone in the community. Most of us used her phone to communicate outside the area.” Dr. McCall said.
“This church served as the first nominating site for the convention for African Americans for the Black Panthers, as well as well as the National Democratic Party of Alabama,” he added.
He also said it served as a springboard for many of the activities of the era and was used as a “freedom school” during the civil rights era.
“Once upon a time, it even served as a school for the public school system,” Dr. McCall said.
When Russell School burned, he said, the church was used as a substitute site.
“If you look at the building, you’ll see the building is kind of in disrepair,” McCall said.
Although the congregation has been around since 1893, the current building was built in 1959.
He said a gable at the end of the church has a gaping hole, the steeple needs to be replaced, the church pews, which are 53 years old, need to be stripped and re-varnished, along with the hardwood floors and the vestibule doors.
He said the belfry need to be restored as the trusses holding it have been there since 1959 “and there is the possibility the whole thing might fall down.”
Member Celain Rudolph, who celebrated her 100th birthday on April 18, said, “The main thing we need is some money to help save the church because it looks like the church is going down.”
“I think it’s a great idea (to restore the church) because it does have a lot of history,” said Delois Pickney, another member. “I was pretty young when it started out in the civil rights movement. But I was a part of most of the mass meeting that were held here. And I think it is a very significant idea to have this church restored and put on the historical trail.”
Dr. McCall said the church holds yard sales and cookouts to raise funds. He said a building fund has been set up, and persons wanting to make donations may call the church at 548-2074, go on line to www.fbc45.org or mail donations to P.O. Box 654 Hayneville, AL attention Trustee Board.
Dr. McCall said the church has been moderately successful in raising funds, but the economy has been down and tithes are down significantly.
“We have not had any response from the corporate or the business community, and of course, we have not done a great job of publicizing what we’re trying to do,” he said.
“We have plans to do a new facility,” Dr. McCall said. “But we want to restore and preserve this church back to its early glory.”
He said being on the civil rights trail, the church has tourism significance “and we have plans to turn it into kind of like a museum… a point of information for future generations.”
He also said the church has plans to record a lot of histories like those of Celain Rudolph who used her own car to take people to voting places during the civil rights era. He said the church also wants to have a mock mass meeting set “so people can see what it actually was back in that time.
“Hopefully this (getting out the word of being on the list) will be the first of many efforts we can do to get the word out to the community,” Dr. McCall said.
The church has about 125 active members with an average attendance of about 80 on Sundays and total members of about 300.
According to the Alabama Historical Commission, although needing restoration and funds to maintain it, the church is a place worth saving for future generations.