LIMA, Ohio - It can take a short woman to describe a long overlooked history.
Joyce Garrett, 79 years old and barely able to peek above a lectern, moderated a pictorial biography yesterday of Lima's three oldest African-American churches: St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal, Second Baptist, and Fourth Street Missionary Baptist.
In celebration of Black History Month, more than 80 people gathered at the Allen County Museum to recount stories and view photographs of these churches, their members, and activities.
"The black community is not always in the forefront," Ms. Garrett said. "People should know that we were in the community with our churches way back in the 1850s."
St. Paul, her family church, was founded in 1858, almost 100 years before Ms. Garrett became the first full-time African-American teacher at Lima Senior High School.
A sister church was born in 1873, when seven Christians began to worship in the upper room of a grocery store and started Second Baptist. Membership grew at both churches, which acquired new buildings and the trappings of pews and pulpits.
"Old-timers said the churches planned their services so that each could attend the other's Sunday school," said Stephanie Ransom Upshaw, a St. Paul parishioner.
In 1917, seven others met in a cottage. Their religious home eventually moved to another address, prompting the congregation to name the church Fourth Street Missionary Baptist.
Prayers and dinners covered the fledgling church's expenses. For 35 cents in 1931, Fourth Street Missionary Baptist fed people roasted pork, candied sweet potatoes, peas, apple celery salad, and coffee.
Photos of choirs and sanctuaries show a community for the excluded, happy and vibrant.
The churches served as havens for those who came to Ohio from states where lawmakers interpreted the Constitution's 14th Amendment as an impolite suggestion.
"When people migrated from the South, the first thing they did was look for a church," said Myrtle Johnson, a member of Fourth Street Missionary Baptist.
Ernest Stephens, Jr., who has served as pastor of Fourth Street Missionary Baptist since 1980, explained the churches' significance by referring to the book of Genesis.
The Bible states that God molded Adam from dust and then breathed life into his creation.
Mr. Stephens said the churches offer that same kind of zephyr to people in Lima.
"Without the breath of God, he's nothing." Mr. Stephens said. "And if any person don't believe that, say five words without your breath."
Pictures of the departed, bishops, organists, and choir marms, were among the bleached photographs. From behind the lectern, no one ever said they died.
As Mary Faulcon, a member of Second Baptist, told it, they simply "go to be with the Lord."
Contact Joshua Boak at: email@example.com or 419-724-6728.
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