131st birthday: First Independent Baptist Church celebrates Sunday
Corsicana, Navarro County, Texas


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Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy; Six days shalt thou labor, and do all thy work; But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God; in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates; For in six days, the Lord made the heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them is, and rested the seventh day; wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.

- Exodus 20: 8-11

For nearly one century and a third, First Independent Baptist Church has kept the faith of the fourth commandment. This Sunday, the church celebrates its day of rest and worship as the 131st anniversary of its organization.

Mrs. Cleo Lee, publicity chairman for the events of the day, said the longevity of the church is a milestone for its congregation; many members of which can trace its religious roots back to ancestors that helped form it.

She said families like the Robinsons, Mathises, Dixons, Littletons, Venters and the Washingtons had ancestors in the original congregation.

Sunday, the church's tradition continues. Featured speakers for the day, according to Mrs. Lee, will be the Rev. Donald Lacy for the 11 a.m. service and the Rev. Larry Polk, pastor of Second Mission Baptist Church - and a former pastor of Independent Baptist - at the 3 p.m. anniversary service.

Research efforts discovered the church, founded in 1868 on North 14th Street, was listed in legal records as The First African Baptist Church, while the records of the church itself and the cornerstone itself and the cornerstone of the building identified itself as Second Independent and First Independent.

An investigation under the leadership of the Rev. S.T. Alexander (pastor from 1929 to 1936) resulted in having the name properly recorded under its present name.

A group of interested churchmen, a few years out of slavery, led by Simon Perry, formed the original organization. Also included in the founding group were Robert Hardee Sr. and wife Hannah, Sister Hughes, Jenny Perry, Dempsi Levi and others.

The term "independent" was included in the name to differentiate it from the already existing Baptist movement of the time and to show that it was independently organized by negroes.

First Independent Baptist Church had its first home on East Collin at what is now 3rd Street. After a short stay there, the church was moved to the corner of 4th Avenue and 3rd Street, where the first "substantial" building was constructed.

In 1886, a storm severely damaged this building although the congregation continued to use it for some time. Later, the church board recommended the property be sold and used the proceeds to purchase property at 5th Street and 5th Avenue where the latest version of the church's facilities now stands.

During the pastorage of the Rev. A. L. Moore, which began in 1913, the congregation decided it had outgrown the building in use at that time. Under Moore's leadership, the present church building was planned. Construction began June 19, 1917 and completed in September 1918 - at a total cost of more than $25,000.

Present seating capacity for congregation members is more than 1,000 with two choir galleries, a large dining room and kitchen, classrooms and office space.

Cleo Leo, herself a 40-year member of the congregation, said she was orginally attracted to the church as a child during the time her cousin, the Rev. Robert L. Lowe, was pastor.

"And when my husband and I moved back to Corsicana, it was just natural that we chose (First Independent Baptist Church) to worship, given my ties to it," Mrs. Leo said.

Today's familial atmosphere continues, she said, much as it did during its early beginnings.

"It (the church) is really very family-oriented," Mrs. Lee said. "Many of our members' families had a lot to do in beginning the church."

And a celebration of its continuance will be held on the sabbath - the day the Bible says is set aside for rest from labor and worship of the Lord.


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Copyright March, 2009
Edward L. Williams & Barbara Knox