What was life like for African Americans in 1910? In what situations did they find themselves? It was just forty-five years after the end of the American Civil War. There were many still alive who could remember that war. There were many alive who had been slaves. In the South, the status of blacks was almost as it had been during slavery. In the North, it was only a little better. Blacks could vote, seek pubic office, and attend public schools. But most northern blacks lived strictly segregated social lives on their side of the color line, in the poorer sections of cities. Blacks had their own fraternal lodges and social clubs; small businesses; and the professional services of a few black doctors, dentists, and lawyers.
But the Black Church was then, as it continues to be now, the strongest institution in the black community. The vast majority of African Americans attended Baptist or Methodist Churches. By 1900, fifteen Black Baptist Churches existed in Indianapolis and by 1916 there were thirty. Black Baptist migration from the South expanded older congregations and forced the establishment of new ones. The vast majority of African Americans attended Baptist or Methodist Churches. By 1900, fifteen Black Baptist Churches existed in Indianapolis and by 1916 there were thirty. Black Baptist migration from the South expanded older congregations and forced the establishment of new ones. But the Pentecostal movement was well underway. In 1910 Garfield Thomas Haywood founded Christ Temple Apostolic Faith Assembly and became a leader in the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World Church.
The Indianapolis population in 1910 was 233,650. African Americans numbered 21,816. It was the sixth largest black population among United States cities. In many ways, Indianapolis was a very progressive city. The Indiana General Assembly established Indiana University Medical Center, effectively uniting three proprietary medical schools – Indiana Medical College, Fort Wayne College of Medicine, and Central College of Physicians and Surgeons. Harry Stutz began manufacturing a rear-axle mounted transmission and assembling automobiles. In 1914 he opened a factory complex on North Capitol Avenue to produce automobiles. Madame C.J. Walker relocated her hair products and cosmetics company to Indianapolis where it developed an international reputation. Acme Milling Company and Wilson’s Mill merged to form Acme-Evans. Its best-known product was, and still is, E-Z Bake Flour.
It was into this social and political climate in Indianapolis that the Mt. Olive Baptist Church was organized on June 10, 1910 in the home of Brother Thomas and Sister Janie Dunn, in the 800 block of North West Street. There were possibly ten people at that organizational meeting. By the time Mt. Olive held its first worship service, there were forty-four charter members. Mt. Olive came into being as the result of a congregational split at Shiloh Baptist Church. Rev. J.C. Patton, the organizer, served as the first pastor from June 10, 2010 until July 15, 1915. Rev. Patton was previously the pastor of Shiloh for nine years. He was also the founder of the Indianapolis Baptist University.
Out of their own resources, through self-help and mutual assistance, that small congregation formed their own church, drawing upon a rich cultural heritage that was distinct, but one that influenced the dominant culture. African Americans had long been a part of Indiana history. In the pioneer period they were few in number, but after the Civil War the black population grew steadily as the result of migration from the South. From 1890 to 1910, blacks became increasingly urbanized and concentrated in the industrial cities of central Indiana and the Calumet area. The greatest number of blacks settled in Indianapolis, which continues to have the largest African American population in the state. But in Indiana too, blacks encountered prejudice, discrimination and heinous hate-crime of lynching.
A pattern of all-black or predominantly black neighborhoods developed early on, and as migration continued, there were increasingly larger concentrations of blacks. In Indianapolis, blacks gathered in the area just north and west of the “Mile Square.” The area around Indiana Avenue became a cultural center and a Mecca for jazz musicians. It was in this area, on the corner of Blake and Walnut Streets, that the first Mt. Olive was housed in 1910. Afterwards, St. Clair Hall on Indiana Avenue was used until 1921, when a lot was purchased at 727 Blake Street to build a new church. A saloon and pool hall had been located on the site owned by a brewer named “Schaffe.” A Trustee and his wife, Frank and Abbie Ball, had to purchase the property privately because the owner, in his anger about the Prohibition Law of 1919, had refused to sell the property if its intended use was a church or mission house. The Church Federation had been a strong supporter of the ratification of the Prohibition Law that had forced him out of business.
In its first year, Mt. Olive formed auxiliaries and missions that were necessary to the operation of any church. The first Church Clerk was Geraldine Rogers who served with integrity for twenty-five years; George Buford was the first Superintendent of the established Sunday School; the Senior Choir was developed with Mattie Davis as president and pianist; the Senior Usher Board was formed with Brother Childress as president; and the Senior Missionary Circle was created with Abbie Ball as president. We can find all these church ministries still flourishing at Mt. Olive after 100 years. On the historic anniversary of the organizing of our church, we pay homage to the forty-four original members who exited Shiloh Baptist Church in 1910, struggled to survive in the trying economic times of the 1920s, suffered two painful church splits in the 1930s, and left the membership with a legacy of faith and determination for all time.
When a third church split occurred in 2007, Mt. Olive did not waver from its mission of service and worship. And it remained on course with the planning of its centennial celebration that was to come about in June of 2010. When the selected interim pastor proved to be unsuitable for the Mt. Olive pastorate, his services were terminated, and all ministries remained in tact. The Mid-week Bible Study classes were taken over by experienced Sunday School Teachers and Associate Ministers. The Christian Education Ministry put forward an organized curriculum designed to promote knowledge, faith, and spiritual growth. All other ministry leaders continued to offer plans that increased church participation.
The Mt. Olive Baptist Church was organized on June 10, 1910, in the home of Brother Thomas and Sister Janie Dunn, in the 800 block of North West Street. Its formation was the result of a split from Shiloh Baptist Church under the pastorate of Rev. J.C. Patton. Rev. Patton had served Shiloh for nine years. He was a Bible scholar as well as a pastor, founding the Baptist University of Indianapolis. He became the first pastor for the forty-four charter members of Mt. Olive who followed him from Shiloh Baptist Church. He served Mt. Olive until July 15, 1915. After Rev. Patton’s resignation, Rev. J.E. Youree was called to the pastorate on August 26, 1915. His tenure lasted a brief sixteen months, ending with his resignation in December 1916. With such a succinct tenure, not much was ever recorded about him or how his time was spent at Mt. Olive.
Rev. G.K. Wilson became the third pastor on March 6, 1917. Under his leadership, the church membership increased, requiring a move to a larger facility. Sometime after 1917, Mt. Olive moved from its first building, located at the corner of Blake and Walnut Streets, to St. Clair Hall located on Indiana Avenue. However, it was soon evident that an even larger facility would be needed. Building a brand new church on their own ground became the consideration of the greatly increased congregation of the Mt. Olive Baptist Church family.
There is a story in the Mt. Olive tradition that refers to the planned acquisition of the property at 727 North Blake Street. A man named “Schaffe” owned the property that the church wanted to purchase. There had been a saloon and pool hall on the site. But with the 1919 enactment of the Eighteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, “Schaffe,” a brewer, was forced out of business. In his anger,
“Schaffe” refused to sell his property if its intended use was to be a church of any domination, a mission house of any kind, or any quasi-religious organization, like the Church Federation (nee of Greater Indianapolis). The Church Federation had been a strong supporter of the temperance movement, and the ensuing Prohibition Law.
The Church Federation of Greater Indianapolis was founded in 1912 by downtown Christian congregations. Its early agenda was to organize the Christian faith community to promote a moral mindset in the Indianapolis area that would facilitate evangelism. That impetus meant working across denominational lines to fight against alcohol consumption, prostitution, and many other vices, to insure that their moral mandate would not be impeded. It worked to enact laws against gambling, liquor trafficking, and prostitution. Also, the organization kept pressure on politicians and law enforcement to make sure those laws were enforced. One of the Federation’s early strategy was to carry out monthly vice surveys of places where morals violations were suspected. Since Shaffe would not sell his property to a church, or any entity philosophically akin to it, a plan was devised to obtain the lot by deception. In those days the phrase was “by hook or crook.” In a bold and dramatic move, Mt. Olive purchased the property in the names of a Church Trustee, Frank Ball, and his wife, Abbie. Without Schaffe’s knowledge of the deception, the owner accepted their cash for the land. After all legal transactions were completed; Balls then immediately deeded the land to the church.
In 1921, Mt. Olive moved into a newly erected church at 727 North Blake Street. There would be no more stovepipes falling down, no marching to Tenth and Fall Creek for baptisms. The new edifice had modern heating and a new baptismal pool. All seemed well until November 8, 1924, when Rev. Wilson, who had been the pastor since 1917, resigned. With his resignation came a painful congregational split. Many members left with Rev. Wilson to form Mt. Horeb Baptist Church in Indianapolis. Mt. Olive would be without a pastor for the next four months.
While awaiting the call of a new pastor, Rev. Solomon Dunlop, one of Mt. Olive’s young associate ministers, put forth a valiant effort to maintain the morale of the congregation. Rev. Dunlop officiated as Mt. Olive’s first interim pastor until Rev. Joseph Abernathy was called to the pastorate in March 1925. Under his pastorate, the New Members’ Ministry and Senior Missionary were reorganized. A Clean-up Club was formed to ease the financial constraints of the church. Rev. Abernathy remained with Mt. Olive until October 1928, when another congregational split occurred. Again, many members followed Rev. Abernathy to form the New Light Baptist Church.
It was at this time that Rev. Verner Belcher acted as the second interim pastor until June 13, 1929, when Rev. J.H. Holder was called to become the fifth pastor of the Mt. Olive. Rev. Holder resigned in August 1931. There is very little information available about Rev. Holder and his time in the Mt. Olive pastorate. What is known is that the Sisters of Help Auxiliary was formed to assist with baptisms, and to provide comfort at worship and funeral services. They are the modern day Church Nurses’ Ministry. Traditionally, they were always female, but since the 1970s, there are many male nurses in the ministry.
In October 1929, the nation’s Stocks and Commodities Exchange collapsed, leading it into a severe economic depression. Unemployment was high and mortgage foreclosures were taking away homes. Even church doors were being padlocked. And Mt. Olive felt the impact as well. Some members strayed away while some others joined other churches. The members who remained at Mt. Olive had to loan the church money to buy coal and to meet other expenses. Out of meager resources, through faith, self-help, and mutual assistance, the Mt. Olive membership weathered that economic storm.
Because the prayers of the righteous avail much, November 12, 1931, the divine intervention of God directed the officers of Mt. Olive to the Home of Henry Thurston Toliver. Rev. Toliver accepted the call to the pastorate on a “six months trial basis.” But that six months trial turned into forty-five years of faithful service. He worked tirelessly to reactivate old auxiliaries and reorganize existing ones to help rebuild and strengthen church membership. In looking back at providential history, it is recorded that Rev. Toliver accepted “6-month trial” at Mt. Olive. But he stayed for forty-five years. It is worth noting that in Biblical Numerology, six is the number of man, and forty is the number for a trial. In any case, on May 12, 1932 Rev. H. T. Toliver was called indefinitely to the Mt. Olive Pastorate.
In their forty-five years of service, Rev. and Mrs. Toliver accomplished many things. Mrs. Toliver organized additional missionary and singing groups, while Rev. Toliver reorganized other ministries and helped to plan an extensive remodeling of the church. Youth activities increased with the addition of basketball teams. In 1940 the Christian Education Committee was formed to take oversight of the total religious program of the church. The Brotherhood Union was formed in 1941 to support the total ministry. By 1942, the church’s $5,000.00 mortgage was liquidated at 727 Blake Street. In 1959 the Mt. Olive Visual Aid Committee was appointed show monthly films to the B.T.U.
Throughout the 1950s, at least some of the church’s consideration was focused on maintenance and renovation. A spacious two-story annex was built with an office first-aid rooms. A modern kitchen, an enlarged dining room, and an additional space for educational purposes were provided. An elevated baptismal pool and a choir box with seating capacity for seventy were included. A new study for the pastor was located on the second floor annex; and in the sanctuary, new pews replaced the old movable chairs.
The Mothers’ Board was appointed in 1960. All black churches, in every denomination, are characterized by a predominantly female membership, and a largely male leadership. Despite these facts, the major programs of the Black Church in politics, economics, or music depend heavily upon women for their promotion and success. Women are designated as the “mothers of the church.” This is largely an honorific title usually reserved for the older and more respected women in churches. The phenomenon of the “church mother” has no parallel in white churches; it has virtually no equivalent anywhere else; it is derived from the kinship network found within black churches and black communities. Anything in the Baptist Tradition that is important, they will structure it into a board. The power of the church’s Mothers’ Board can sometimes rival that of the Deacon Board.
By the 1960s Mt. Olive at 727 Blake Street was located very close to the hub of activities surrounding the Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) Campus. The aggressive building and expansion plans of IUPUI included the church’s property. The expansion plans of the university complex prompted the pastor and congregation to think in terms relocating to a more distant location from the university. The church building and parking lot were sold for $73,000.00. A committee was formed to visit several churches were for sale. But none of the ones for sale were suitable for the Mt. Olive’s specific needs. It was decided that a new structure would be built on the $41,000.00 lots to be purchased at Milburn and West 16th Streets. The lots were cleared and a groundbreaking ceremony was held on November 10, 1968. On the first Sunday in August 1969, the the membership marched from the Blake Street location to the new Mt. Olive Baptist Church edifice at 1003 West 16th Street. The congregation continued under the pastorate of Rev. Toliver for the next seven years.
Rev. Toliver served as pastor of Mt. Olive from November 12, 1931 until July 19, 1976 when he was retired with the title of “Pastor Emeritus.” Rev. Felix Chandler, an associate minister, acted in the capacity of interim pastor after Rev. Toliver’s retirement. Rev. Chandler and the officers of the church did an exceptional job of keeping everything under control. There were practically no disruptions, spiritually or financially.
Mt. Olive’s seventh pastor was called on the first Sunday in September 1978. Rev. Wayne T. Harris, Sr. was a pastor with a new vision for Mt. Olive. Women were put into leadership positions; installed as Trustees for the first time at Mt. Olive. Under Pastor Harris’ leadership, the church converted the neighboring Bar-and-Grill into a Crisis Care Center in December 1986. The completely renovated building provided food and shelter for the homeless population.
As a part of the “out-reach ministry,” a 24-hour prayer line and weekly radio broadcasts were established. In 1995, Rev. Harris motivated the congregation to build a new sanctuary, thus more than doubling the square footage of the entire church. It was a testament to what a church could do when visionary pastoral leadership is followed. Through obedient stewardship, sacrificial giving, unwavering faith, and ceaseless prayer, Mt. Olive accomplished great things.
In his twenty-two year tenure at Mt. Olive, Rev. Harris demonstrated extraordinary preaching and teaching abilities. He often exhorted the congregation to "PUSH" or Pray Until Something Happen. His entire ministry focused on “victory through, vision, faith, and sacrificial love.”
Even though Rev. Harris had become ill with various infirmities, his passing was still a great surprise to the congregation. His home going celebration was well attended by the spiritual and secular leaders of the community. Condolences poured in from all over the state and from the United States Congress as well. He continues to be sadly missed by the Mt. Olive congregation and all those who understood the congregation’s loss.
When the official church-mourning interval was completed, a pastoral search committee organized to seek out candidates for the pastorate. The Deacon and Trustee Boards jointly entrusted Rev. Warren T. Hurley to act in the capacity of interim pastor. This was the fourth time in its history that Mt. Olive had need of an interim pastor. Rev. Hurley demonstrated extraordinary organizational skills and immense preaching abilities. His sermons possessed a strong teaching component and had an up-to-date relevance for our times. As pastoral assistant, Rev. Hurley continued his hard work, promoting unity and reconciliation throughout the church. Mt. Olive was blessed to have one of its own to lead it through a difficult period.
In April 2002, Dr. Donald R. Hudson was called to the pastorate. He was the eighth pastor for Mt. Olive in its then 92-year history. He resigned in January 28, 2007, and another church split occurred. It resulted in the loss of some longtime members. But many more longtime members remained and the church continues the rebuilding process. The phrase “church split” has an ugly connotation and implies that the Word of God is divided. But there is not, nor can there ever be, any division in God. “Church expansion” is a preferable phrase because it means that new churches are always opening and God’s Word is spread. Church expansions have always been a factor for the African American Church. Just as Mt. Olive expanded from Shiloh Baptist Church, other churches have expanded from Mt. Olive. It is a continuous cycle of renewal and regeneration. According to Ecclesiastics 1:9, "there is nothing new under the sun."
On November 16, 2008, Rev. Dr. Carl Z. Liggins, Sr. was installed as the ninth pastor of Mt. Olive. Even before the Installation Service, Pastor Liggins seemed to be the embodiment of Jeremiah 3:15. He has a pastor’s heart and has displayed remarkable preaching and teaching abilities. Additionally, his character is such that all nine of the “fruits of the Spirit” can be exhibited at any given time. As his ministry unfolds, as we observe his fierce loyalty, strength of character, dedication, and length of service, we are certain to be reminded of all that has been finest and best in the Mt. Olive pastorate. As Mt. Olive approached its Centennial Celebration in June 2010, Pastor Liggins was about to complete one year of pastoral service. Under his pastorate, Mt. Olive has inspired leadership, equipping it for the work of ministry, with a fresh telling and retelling of the Gospel Story.
Humbly submitted: Rosalynn Shropshire West