Saturday, February 17, 2001

City's oldest black church honors 3 who nurtured it

By Allen Howard
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        They remember going to church by streetcar and they remember the words of the old hymns.

        Faith, Irene Reed and Jeannette Scott say, is what has brought them this far and is what will bring them to Sunday's Black History Month celebration at Union Baptist Church on Seventh Street.

        “I want to see some of my friends and hear some of those old gospel songs we grew up with,” said Mrs. Reed, 97.

[photo] Jeannette Scott will be honored Sunday at Union Baptist Church, along with Irene Reed and Alice Holiday.
(Ernest Coleman photo)
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        The women have each worshipped more than 80 years as members of one of Cincinnati's oldest African-American church.

        “I'll be there. I'll be there with bells on,” said Mrs. Scott, 92.

        They will be honored along with Mrs. Reed's cousin, Alice Holiday, 93, of Finneytown.

        The cousins were baptized on the same day in 1920 and they join Mrs. Scott in receiving Medal of Distinction awards as the history of Union Baptist is celebrated in a service of song, dance and video.

        This week Mrs. Reed was staying in her room at the Beechknoll Nursing Home in North College Hill to rest for the big day. “I haven't been able to get to church in six months, but I really want to be there Sunday,” she said.

Irene Reed
Irene Reed
Alice Holiday
Alice Holiday
        Mrs. Holiday was not feeling up to an interview and does not plan to attend Sunday.

        Mrs. Scott dates her worship habits back to infancy and says she's been building on it since. “My parents started bringing me to the church when I was 8 months old. Although I did not join until 1923, I have been in Union Baptist more than 91 years.”

        She said her faith in God and the church has grown over the years and she strengthens it by reading the Bible every day.

        A resident of Avondale, she keeps busy as a volunteer for the Foster Grandparents Program. When she tutors youngsters, “I try to instill in them and their parents, that they should read the Bible,” she said.

        Mrs. Reed and Mrs. Scott said they are proud that their religious heritage is built around one of the the oldest black churches in Cincinnati, but both see an erosion of the religious faith they grew up with.

        “I don't think enough families are coming to church together,” Mrs. Scott said. “The church is the best place to keep a family together. I stayed with Union Baptist because it was like a family church. I never thought of joining any place else because I am not a church hopper.”

[photo] In 1971, Union Baptist Church moved to its present building at 405 W. Seventh St.
(Glenn Hartong photo)
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        Mrs. Reed, who grew up in Cumminsville, said walking about a mile and catching a street car to Union Baptist church on Sunday was routine.

        But she thinks the church may be getting away from some of the old gospel songs:

        “At the Cross, at the cross, where I first saw the Light. And the Burdens of my heart, rolled away...” she sang during at interview.

        “That is the kind of hymn we were brought up on. The black church formed the basis of gospel music. I think we are letting the true meaning of gospel music get away from us by not going to church enough and not retaining the old gospel songs we used to have.”

    The membership at Cincinnati's Union Baptist Church reads like a local Who's Who.
    On the list:
George W. Hays, a former slave and first black court crier. Mr Hayes served three terms in the Ohio General Assembly . Hays Elementary is named after him;
    Jennie D. Porter, first black to receive a Ph.D. from the University of Cincinnati. Porter Junior High is named after her.
    Dr. Ray Clarke was the first black physician on the staff of Cincinnati's Jewish Hospital.
    Loretta Manggrum, a distinguished composer of sacred music who received a doctorate degree in music from UC at age 75.
    Peter Farley Fossett, a businessman and minister who had been bought out of slavery in the South by his brother-in-law and sent to Cincinnati.
    Frank A.B. Hall, the first black elected to Cincinnati City Council.
        Sunday's program will emphasize the impact Union Baptist has had in Cincinnati. It has been offering spiritual leadership since when most of the African-American population was centered downtown and in the West End.

        It was founded by 14 people on July 21, 1831. They held their first meeting in a building on Third Street, between Elm and Plum Streets, downtown.

        Using “Pew Rent,” and with each member donating an additional 25 cents a week, the group built its first church in 1835 on what is now Central Avenue and named itself The African Union Baptist Church. The Rev. David L. Nickens of Chillicothe was its first pastor.

        The word African was later dropped to include all nationalities.

        Union Baptist underwent a series of moves and expansions. The church provided escaping slaves with food and clothing and taught them to read and write. It purchased cemeteries to provide for the burial of people of color. At the close of World War I, there was a great migration of blacks from the South and Union Baptist converted a lecture hall into a dormitory to house 65 men a night. Later a social center was added and an annex was built.

        Bible schools, church clubs, and home economics and craft classes were all part of the ministry.

        Union Baptist is the mother church of Zion Baptist Church in Avondale, Mount Zion Baptist in Woodlawn, First Baptist in Walnut Hills, First Baptist in Cumminsville and Second Baptist in Springfield, Ohio.

        In the 1960s, urban renewal forced the church to move from its longtime home at Richmond and Mound. On June, 15, 1971, the congregation marched to its present building at Seventh and Central.

        The Rev. Wilber A. Page, 16th pastor, said then: “It was a sight to behold. The Lord was with Union and they did not fail to give him thanks.”

        The Rev. Mr. Page led the church for 66 years and was the driving force in the church's development of the entire block at the southwest corner of Seventh and Central, including the church and the Page Tower High Rise Apartment.

        The sanctuary seats about 800 and membership is about 775, said the Rev. Orlando Yates, the church's 17th pastor.

        Known for children's church, youth and college ministries, the Rev. Mr. Yates says, “I feel I am carrying on the historic and spiritual tradition at the church.”

       Union Baptist Church, 405 W. Seventh St., Cincinnati, celebrates “Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow” with a worship service at 10:45 a.m. Sunday.


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