This year’s articles are focused on Miles Chapel Church, which was built on the corner of Lindell and Jackson streets near downtown Martin. It is God’s church, where everybody is somebody but “Christ is all.”
In the late 1800s during the dark, damaging days of segregation, the freed black slaves of Jackson had no place to worship God. A few white Methodist Christians believed that none of God’s children should be alienated from serving a true and living God, so they decided to let the ex-slaves worship in their church.
But this act of fellowship was not accepted by the Ku Klux Klan, so in retaliation, the Klan burned some of their churches. This act of violence did not stop these determined saints of God. They showed their faith and courage by giving a plot of land to the blacks so they could build their own church.
“Mother Liberty” Colored Methodist Episcopal Church was built Dec. 18, 1870, on South Highland Avenue. From this church, Lane College was founded in 1882. That’s where the C.M.E. seminary is located.
Lane was the only college in northwest Tennessee blacks could attend. It was a blessing at that time for poor blacks from all denominations. No one was excluded from getting a college education.
Lane’s main support came from small churches like Miles Chapel here in Martin. We had to send money each year to the general conference to help support those who were unable to pay their tuition fees.
Our ministers were sent from Lane to preach each – some young and some old.
There’ve been two other churches on the corner of Lindell and Jackson streets – one burned in the mid 1800s and the second was about to be condemned. In 1913 the Memphis Conference met at Miles Chapel.
The pastor of Miles asked the bishop at the close of the meeting if he could raise an offering. He said yes and the total of the offering was $49.80.
The brick structure church was finished in 1924. There’s been a church on that corner since 1879.
“W.F. Samb and his wife to deed Colored Methodist Church, Martin, State of Tennessee, Weakley County, know all men by these presents. That for the consideration of an hundred and sixty-five dollars, cash in hand, paid the receipt of which hereby is acknowledged.
“We, W.F. Samb and wife, S.A. Samb, have this day sold and do hereby transfer and convey unto G.W. Haynes; J.P. Phelps; B.F. Haynes and Mark Parham – trustees of the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church in America at Martin, Tennessee, and their successors as such forever in fee simple the following described lot or parcel of land lying and being situated in the town of Martin, Civil District Number 2 of Weakley County, Tennessee, lies on the north side of Jackson Street framing the same 45 feet begins at the southeast corner of the lot herein conveyed at the intersection of Jackson Street and the I.C. RR lands thence westward with the north line of Jackson Street 45 feet to a stake thence northward right angles to Jackson Street to Mrs. Fannie McComb’s south line thence eastward, with Mrs. Fannie McCombs south line to a stake on the west line of the said I.C. RR lands thence with the west line of I.C. RR land to the beginning.”
Note: Fannie McCombs was the mother of Holland McCombs. This man was known as the white boy who played baseball with Rev. Dale Willougby; Sylvester, better known as “Mammy” Mitchell; Carter Smallwood and Owl Sylvertooth. The last two mentioned were of Indian descent. All of the young men would meet on a vacant lot behind Miles Chapel.
The McCombs family was the family who gave land to Hall-Moody.
The variation of the church’s history was to let the readers know how “close knit” the two races were way back then. The reason a portion of the church deed was printed is to let the younger generation it only takes a few dedicated men like G.W. Haynes; J.P. Phelps; B.F. Haynes and Mark Parham, who have the desire and dedication to uplifting God’s kingdom here on Earth.
There are some of these men whose great-great grandchildren are still alive, such as Spencer Haynes; Claxton Lairy; Bobby Phelps and his son Bobby Joe, who still attends or sends his tithes and offering to the church; Elmer Joe Phelps and Florance Lue of Lansing, Mich., the daughter of Oscar Phelps. All of the Phelps were some of the best singers and prayer leaders.
The new brick building we now worship in was built by young black men such as Jim Parham; Tom Dumas; Raz “Pap” John; Rogers Dan Parham, whose family donated the land for the Parham Cemetery on the Dresden-Martin highway; Grover Busby, who became a member; and Odell Smith, who did the plastering on the walls. Doug Haynes also worked with Smith in 1923. Plaster was repaired by Bob Smith in 1973. That was the same year a ceiling was hung by Claude Howard Charles Pearson, also known as “Charley P.”
Other faithful members of the church included “Uncle” Al Clemons, who made the fires in the old pot-bellied stove when we did not have money for coal.
Walter Travis would donate a load of coal so Miles would have a warm place to worship.
Other white men made contributions such as John Vowell, who gave us lumber, and Armstead Stafford, who also took care of Johnnie and his wife. Johnny was so small he was nicknamed “Field Mouse.” When he was filled with the Holy Spirit, he would walk the narrow ledge on top of the church pew with his eyes closed. Uncle Al Clemons played the guitar. His favorite songs were “Back Back Train” and “Get Your Load, I’m Going Home On the Morning Train, That Evening Train May Be Too Late.”
In the early 1930s, Miles Chapel had more musicians than any of the black choirs of Martin, namely Annie B. Strayhorn; Odell Smith; Willie Burdette; Eddie B. Clark; Leroy Taylor; Henderson Caldwell; Collin Graves, who is no relation to UTM music teacher Neil Graves; Mitchell Southall and Gerene Moody, a UTM music major.
Editor’s note: Col. Bob Smith has extensive knowledge about the history of not just Martin, but Weakley County as well. He is an annual contributor of The Weakley County Press during Black History Month.