In 1883 a sanctuary was reborn from the ashes of Reconstruction. The sanctuary, Union Missionary Baptist Church, had fallen into disrepair and resources were needed to restore and preserve the structure. On October 29th, 2011 a Restoration Celebration and Capital Campaign Launch was held to preserve and restore this piece of history that not only belongs to Jefferson and Texas but also to the South and to the United States.
The Church site at 520 Houston Street has met the spiritual needs of the people of Jefferson,Texas since 1842. The land itself was first donated to local slaves by Captain William Perry and the first structure was erected in 1847. A white man donating land to slaves was definitely an odd occurrence in a pre Civil War South.
Texas was spared the physical damage of the Civil War compared to states like Georgia,Tennessee and Alabama but Reconstruction was a violent, destructive time in East Texas. In the fall of 1868 the original Union Missionary Baptist Church was burned to the ground as part of a large backlash against the United States Reconstruction policy.
The historic significance of this site is that it was not only the center of black religious services but also Freedmen’s Bureau, Radical Republican and Loyal League activities for theJeffersonarea. It is also represents the post Civil War anger of newly disenfranchised southern whites and a measuring device for the racial divide between black and white that has grown smaller through slavery, reconstruction and the civil rights era.
In 2003 the Texas Historical Commission named the Church to their “Endangered Landmarks Program”. Then in 2006 a non profit group was formed to restore and preserve the church. This group has partnered with the Collins Academy, which leads us to the Restoration Celebration and Capital Campaign Kickoff.
The event was held inside the church, Saturday afternoon, and featured a powerful, positive sermon from Reverend Allen Green of Second Baptist Church of Eire, PA. The energetic, uplifting music was provided by Reverend Jimmie Nelson who made an old, out of tune piano sound brand new. Although the church building is currently without electricity there was great energy inside.
Speakers included Mr. Richard Collins of the Collins Academy, Jefferson City Administrator Shawn Ferrell, and Chairperson of the Union Missionary Church Board Pency Floyd, Michael Williams and Sammie DeSpain of the Marion County Historical Commission.
Everyone who attended this event left with enthusiasm and determination that we can restore and preserve this important piece of American history.