Strawberry Plains Baptist Church

The South Reporter, April 24, 1986

In 1865, Marshall County, like other parts of Mississippi and the South, marked the year of jubilee for Negro slaves. In 1867, a small group of exslaves joined together as dedicated Christians to organize a church. Though they were penniless because of their newly acquired social status, land was given to them to build their church by John Moore, a white Christian friend.

The name given the church was Strawberry Plains Baptist Church, so named because of the beautiful growth of wild strawberries that covered the grounds around the designated church site.

The church was built and organized under the leadership of Rev. Elijah Reynolds who later was elected pastor. The first church officers and deacons were Joe Oliver, Tom Williams, Alan Perkins, Frank Lee and Matt Finley. The first church mothers were Martha Lane Perkins, Fannie Lawrence and Sallie Steverson. The second Sunday was officially set as the regular meeting Sunday.

After some years in the church, it was destroyed completely by fire, but this did not stop the business of the church. Services were held under a bush harbor until a new church was built.

In 1895, the church membership had grown to 105 members under the pastorate of the Rev. J. L. Harris. During that year, the following people joined the church. New brothers were Milage Tabor, Milton Oliver, Burley Malone and Lee Norman; new Sisters were Clarice Perkins, Margaret Lee Hunt, Mary Toliver and Lula Bell Oliver Greeman. To date, Sister Lula Bell Oliver Freeman is the oldest active member of Strawberry Baptist Church.

In 1902, Brother Milage Tabor was elected Church Clerk and served in that capacity for more than 40 years. That next year, the church membership increased to 155 members.

During the year 1906, the church burned a second time. Two years later still under the pastorate of Rev. Harris the present wood frame structure was built and dedicated on June 9, 1907 the second Sunday.

Members of the building committee were Brothers A. B. Payne, W. M. Hunt, A. P. Perkins, Joe Oliver, Zick Steverson, Sr., Flavers Oliver and B. H. Hamilton.

Tribute should be paid to Rev. J. L. Harris who exemplified himself as a truly capable leader. At the end of his tenure, Rev. Harris had increased the membership roll to approximately 400 members.

In 1915, Rev. Crawford was elected for an interim period of two years when in 1917 the Rev. Armstard Williams was elected pastor. Under his leadership swinging lamp lights were bought and installed in the church. The same year Brothers Milage Tabor and Lee Norman were added to the Deacon Board.

1917 marked the beginning of the Church Missionary Society under the leadership of Sister Liza Norman. Sister Norman was later elected president and served for a number of years helping to emphasize the church concerns in the community. She was known for her diligent service and effective work.

In 1928, Rev. Wade T. Harris was elected pastor. During his four years, he proved himself quite capable to lead the flock at what was now called the Strawberry Missionary Baptist Church.

This was considered a great period of prosperity for the church.

The Usher Board was organized also during this period with Sister Lula Price being the first president.

With the coming of the depression, the church went through some frequent periods of turnover in leadership. In 1932, the Rev. Griffin of Memphis was elected pastor and served for three years. Following him in 1935 the Rev. Orner of Abbeville, Mississippi was elected and served three years. By 1938, the Rev. J. H. Greer of Memphis was elected pastor.

Near the end of 1938, the church membership had decreased to 185. Under Rev. Greer's leadership, the church was remodeled. The door was moved from the front side to the present front center. A cistern (well) was constructed on the church premises. The church organizational leadership had witnessed changes too.

In 1944, Rev O. W. Hoyle of Jackson, Tennessee was elected pastor and served for three years.

In 1947, Rev. W. M. Franklin was elected. It was under his leadership that the ceiling was lowered and electric lights added.

In 1951, Rev. A. L. Richmond was elected pastor and served for four years.

It was in 1955 when Rev. C. I. Bullock was elected pastor. Under his leadership, a piano was purchased which helped in bringing about a definite reorganization in the choir. A Building Fund Committee was started to raise funds to build a new church. Rev. Bullock served for seven years and was called to another church. Both Brothers Russell Houston and Wesley Oliver Sr. were added to the Deacon Board during his tenure.

In 1962, Rev A. L. Williams of Covington, Tennessee was elected pastor. He held the interest of the church at heart. He expanded the physical structure by adding the choir stand, usher room, and the pastor's study. Other parts of the building were repaired. The church membership had sturdily decreased to 109.

In 1964, the Rev J. C. Avant was elected pastor and served for seven years. During this period, the church was painted and roofed. James Howell, Larry Freeman and Robert Jones were added to the Deacon Board.

In 1971, Rev. Otis William of Memphis was elected pastor. Under his leadership, the church witnessed remarkable changes and improvements in the Strawberry Missionary Baptist Church both physically and spiritually. To name a few: meeting Sundays have been changed from one Sunday to two Sundays a month (2nd and 4th), the membership has increased to 350 and still rising; participation in church activities across the board has improved; deliberate efforts have been made to include young people in more active roles; and last but not least, he has lead the way for the construction of a new church building.

In 1975, the church deacons were Emmitt Rankins, James Howell, Russell Houston, Wesley Oliver. Sr., Larry Freeman, Robert Jones and Wallace Freeman. Brother Emmitt Rankins is the oldest active deacon now serving.

The history would be incomplete if we did not mention here that Strawberry Missionary Baptist Church is not a money making organization, but a man-making organization. We are stretching our hands out to touch those who happen to have the right talents to help the other. We encourage and expect all of our members to continue to practice his or her Christian commitment to the highest.

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