Clarksdale Baptist Church
"A church in the heart of downtown, with the whole town on our heart"

Our church was organized in 1898, with eight members, who were:  Reverend and Mrs. A.L. O'Briant, Mr. and Mrs. E.L. Broadus, Mrs. Henry Hicks, Mrs. H.W. McKay, Mrs. T.J. Manghum, and Mrs. N.K. McClannahan.  This courageous little band purchased a lot, and within six years after their organization, completed their House of Worship.  This church was located on the corner of First and Sharkey Streets, where the Woman's Club now stands.  Four ministers served the church during these six heroic years.  The pastorate of each of these noble men of God marks a very definite phase in the growth of the church . Revered A. L. O'Briant was our first pastor.  He helped select a lot, and started the first church building.  However, he didn't get very far before he was called to another field.  Then came the Rev E. D. Solomon.  The church building was finished under his ministry.  He worked on it with his own; he got the eaves sticking out too far on another man's property, and of course the eaves had to be sawed off.  It was while he was here that the church applied to the "State Convention Board' for financial help, and they gave us $40.00 per month on the pastor's salary. The first deacons were elected during his pastorate, and they were W. R. Ellis, Sr., Lome Lackey, Lonnie Walker and W. V. Jenkins.  The Rev. J. R. White was our next Pastor.  His pastorate was very short, then came Rev. J. E. Barnett who stayed several years.  While he was here his home burned and practically everything in it, along with the church records that he had in his possession.  Rev. W. A. Jordan followed Rev. Barnett.  Mr. Jenkins remembered Rev. Jordan reading long sermons, and using vigorously a palm leaf fan in the pulpit while preaching. Rev. A. R. Bond came next.  He was a brilliant orator and was well liked by all the members.  Rev. C. T. Kincannon succeeded Rev. bond.  He was a good preacher.  It was through his efforts that our first pastor's home was built.  He wrote letters to his friends in Virginia, Mississippi, and to big business firms in Memphis.  He got the money where it didn't look like it was "gettable".  He was a quiet, unassuming, consecrated Christian.  The church moved forward under his leadership.

Outstanding among the early members of the church during the years 1905-1908 and who served faithfully were Mr. and Mrs. J. M. Brooks, Mr. and Mrs. W. V. Jenkins (these two men served as church clerk and Sunday School Superintendent for 35 years respectively).  Mr. and Mrs. L. B. P. Jenkins, Mr. and Mrs. A. E. Dugger, Mr. and Mrs. R.R. Sankey, Mrs. T. G. Hughes, Mr. and Mrs. J. T. Jenkins and Mr. W. R. Ellis, Sr.  Following soon were Mr. and Mrs. C. S. Longino, Mr. and Mrs. W. D. Markham, Mr. and Mrs. J. E. Merritt.

 After the pastorate of Rev. Kincannon, the terms of the pastors began to lengthen.  Dr. Martin Ball and Mrs. Ball came in 1913 and left in 1921.  They brought their own horse and buggy with them.  The church became clear of debt in 1917 and just ready for progress when the church building was destroyed by fire on March the 25th of that year and everything was completely lost with the exception of one piano.  Worship services were held in the Eliza Clark School, and revivals held in the Courthouse.  Immediately after the church burned a new $60,000.00 edifice was planned.  A hold was dug in the ground, and a top put over it and worship was held in there until work on the church was begun.  A tent was bought and put on the lot where the Woman's Club building now stands.  The congregation worshipped there until August of 1920, when we moved into our present building.  The building committee of the sanctuary where we now worship was composed of J. P. Hill, Chairman, Louis B. Jenkins, John O'Neil, R. R. Sankey, A. Webster and Dr. Ball.  Dr. Ball was a great soul.  He had long, flowing, snow-white beard reaching down to his waist.  Aristocratic in his looks, gentle in his nature, sound in his doctrines and untiring in his efforts.  It was during his pastorate that the State Board was asked to discontinue the $40.00 per month they had been sending. 

Rev. Macon Vick came in 1921.  He was with us eight years.  During his pastorate, a new $5,500 pipe organ was installed and beautiful stained glass windows were put in. We had financial worries caused largely by our debt and interest.  Those were the days of oyster suppers, bazaars, ice cream and strawberry suppers, rummage sales, circus day dinners, silver teas, baby shows, and various other means of making money.  The ladies worked hard and deserve a lot of credit.    The church bought Bro. Vick a Ford while he was here.  Bro. Vick did a good work and was well liked by the congregation. 

The next pastor called was the Dr. W. M. Bostick, who was State Evangelist at that time. Conditions had improved and his were prosperous years.  He stressed sacrificial giving of your time, talents and money.  It was while he was here that the pastor's home was converted into Sunday School rooms.  The church rented a home for him on Oakhurst.  The church also bought new orchestra chairs for the choir. the Sunday School, auditorium, and the entire building was redecorated.  The swelling membership demanded an Assistant Pastor.  Mr. Roger Hickman served as Assistant Pastor and Music Director for several years.  We remember Mr. Hickman played the xylophone.  After Dr. Bostick left us, we called Dr. V. E. Boston.  He served during the depression years.  Things were cheap, money was scarce, unemployment pitiful.  Dr. Boston was a good, consecrated preacher and a good businessman. Holding the church to its true course was a tremendous accomplishment during those trying times, and great credit must be given to Dr. Boston as a "Heaven-Sent Leader". 

On March 1, 1936, Dr. N. D. Timmerman came and served as pastor until September, 1941.  Under his fine leadership the church reached a membership of 1400, greatly increased its local budget, also increased its Board of Deacons.  Dr. Timmerman was the prime mover and was very instrumental in organizing our Riverside Associational Missionary work.  His outstanding work was the organized effort to pay off the $15,000 bonded indebtedness on the church.  Dr. Timmerman was truly one of the greatest pastors this church ever had.

Our wartime pastor, Dr. James Alexander Stewart, began his ministry January 1, 1942.   Upon him fell a greater responsibility than sponsoring any material expansion - the necessity of inspiring in his people some faith at any cost.  He was a rock of comfort and moral support to those who went to the world's battlefields and to those who stayed at home and waited.  He took a special interest in the children of our church.  All who were members during his ministry remember so well his Sunday morning period of worship he had for the children.  Dr. Stewart saw the culmination of our dreams come true, the last dollar of our church debt was paid, even to the $800.00 paving debt.  So on January 31, 1943 our church was dedicated in these words of Dr. Stewart:

"This house of God is dedicated as a place of solemn and sacred worship; as a place of brotherly love, sympathy and understanding; as a place where the weak will find strength, the troubled courage and the bereaved hope." 

 Dr. F. K. Horton was our next pastor.  On March 5, 1944, Dr. F. K. Horton preached his first sermon to one of the largest congregations in the history of the Church.  Between the time Dr. Stewart left and Dr. Horton came, the church bought a new pastor's home at 415 School Street for the sum $8,000.00.  Outstanding among the things that were done during his ministry were: increasing the offerings to missions and Cooperative Program; raised church budget to $45,000.00 and installed public address system.  On March 9, 1947 the church authorized the building of a three-story Educational Building adjacent to the present building.  The building was begun November of 1947 and completed in 1949 at the approximate cost of $115,000.00.  When our congregation outgrew our facilities, it was decided by our leaders it would be best to divide into two congregations.  Two committees were appointed to work out the division.  F. H. Cannon was chairman of the group which desired to remain with the Clarksdale Baptist and C. N. Dabbs was chairman of the other group which wanted to locate a new church in Oakhurst on a site already owned by the church.  Clarksdale Baptist voluntarily deeded to the Oakhurst Church the building site in Oakhurst, also the parsonage.  Clarksdale Baptist Church borrowed $25,000.00 from the bank and gave it to the Oakhurst Church for its building fund.  There were also many individual gifts.  When the church divided in 1954, Dr. Horton elected to respond to a call from the group that became known as Oakhurst Baptist Church.

In the fall of 1953, members of the Clarksdale Baptist Church looked forward to the first service in their own dear church building with happy anticipation, but also with some anxiety.  After the division our church had 711 resident members, 175 non-resident members, making a total of 886 members.  The big day arrived and with it the realization that the Clarksdale Baptist Church was still alive and well.  Long before the 11 o'clock service, the crowd began to assemble.  The beautiful velvet curtains which had replaced the old wooden partition dividing the auditorium had to be pulled.  Never again would they be closed for a morning service.  It was the beginning of new and exciting times in the life of the old church.  A committee was appointed to search for a pastor.  Meanwhile, the "supply committee" called on professors from Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville to fill the pulpit in the interim.  Each one would come for about a month.  They arrived in Memphis by train on Saturday and traveled back to the seminary on Monday.  Church members considered it a privilege to meet them in Memphis and take them back.  The people fell in love with each one.  Some of the most popular were Dr. Sabin Landry and Dr. T. C. Smith.  Dr. Estill Jones even came on crutches because of an accident.  Mr. William Hall Preston, was with the Baptist Student work, came several Sundays from Nashville.

Every church needs an overseer, however, and it was with much happiness that the congregation welcomed the Rev. Carman C. Sharp as its new pastor.  He and his wife, Caroline, and their three daughters moved from Bardstown, Kentucky, into the recently purchased parsonage on Oakhurst Avenue.  He served from June, 1954 to February, 1961.  Because of his ability and consecration he filled a need in our church at this time and we grew financially and spiritually under his leadership.  He was an excellent preacher, but he is best remembered as an ideal pastor.  During his time the membership grew to 919 resident members, most of whom were visited at home at least once by the pastor.  We purchased a lot from Mr. Grace Lawler for $8,000.00 to be used as a parking lot.  Before Rev. Sharp came the church bought Robert Bobo's home for $21,500.00 to be used as a parsonage.  We also adopted "Fair View Church" as our Mission Church in 1958.  Fair Hays was appointed as superintendent of the mission.  During the interim period between Rev. Sharp and Rev. Marion, Dr. Ira Everson served as our supply pastor.

Rev. Lucius B. Marion came to us in May, 1961, from the First Baptist Church of Tuscaloosa, Alabama with his lovely family... his wife Mildred Caswell and children Barbara Ann, Carol Jean, Lucius B., III (Chip) and Charles Fuller.  During the years he was at our church we moved steadily forward spiritually, numerically, and by the enlargement of our physical plant.  In order to provide space for enlargement, four adjacent lots were purchased.  A large two-story Educational Building was erected and the remaining space was reserved for parking and recreation.  In 1966 we launched a "construction program" which consisted of an Educational Building and the remodeling and decorating the Sanctuary at a cost of $384,343.00.   Total cost of the construction program was $444,570.14.  Architects were Brewer, Skewes and Godbold. Contractor was B. A. Crawford.  On March 13, 1967, Dr. Glenn Gates, then chairman of deacons, broke ground for the new educational building.  The addition was planned to be used by the school as well as the church.  The large gymnasium doubled as a fellowship hall.  The kitchen was equipped in cafeteria style.  The school assumed the office space in the old annex, and the church offices were moved to the new building.  A new choir room was provided.  Church services were held in the new fellowship hall while the sanctuary was remodeled to seat 600.  Although the facade remained the same, the inside was turned around and completely transformed.  New pews, pulpit furniture, choir chairs and carpet were installed.  The three original stained glass windows were retained on the west side and three matching ones put on the east at a cost of $60,227.14.  A three-manual, 29-rank Wicks organ replaced the old Mohler at a cost of $40,000.00.  The lovely "Jordan River" stained glass from the door to the old baptistery was placed above the new baptistery.  Dedication services for the new sanctuary were held at 2:30pm on February 23, 1968.    During Bro. Marion's ministry, the church continued to grow.  In this time there were 657 additions by baptism and 919 by letter, making a total of 1,576.  Total membership peaked at 1,406 in 1976.  Twice during his long pastorate Bro. Marion was so seriously ill that members feared for his life, but the Lord restored him and he was able to continue his work with renewed vigor.  However, on November 29, 1981, health problems forced him to tender his resignation.  On February 7, 1982, a day of appreciation for him and his ministry was observed by the church with services beginning in the morning and lasting through the afternoon.  The members voted him special privileges, including the title of "pastor emeritus" and the lifetime use of the parsonage on Oakhurst.

The Church School was another great accomplishment of Bro. Marions.  The Clarksdale Baptist School opened its doors for the first time in September of 1964. That's when it all began.  Well, not really' it all began a long time before that as an idea and then a dream in the heart and mind of one man.  That man was our pastor Rev. Lucius B. Marion.  Bro. Marion served as headmaster of the school from 1964 until its closing twenty-two years later in 1986 and without additional salary.  The first school board consisted of only three members:  Charles Sullivan, chairman, Bro. Lucius Marion, headmaster, and Betty Lou Stribling, secretary.  In time a seven-member board was established.  Those early years were not without some dark days, however, as the fledgling school struggled for a strong and firm footing while climbing steadily, albeit shakily, toward its eventually won pinnacle.  One night in particular the trustees of the school met and were informed by the headmaster that there was no more money available and that it must be considered whether or not to open the following year or close the doors.  After a lengthy discussion and a secret ballot, the chairman, Mr. Sullivan, counted the votes, all of which were in favor of remaining open.  The headmaster said that he would attempt somehow to raise the necessary money and raise it he did.  In fact, over the years, Bro. Marion raised over $35,000 for the school.  The next chairman was Mr. George Lyon, whose term was 1968-69 and the school profited greatly from his expertise as a certified public accountant.  He was followed by Mr. Walter Lucas, 1970-71, who guided the school smoothly through the difficult years of expansion when the seventh and eighth grades were added and the trustees and headmaster met almost every day or night for weeks as momentous decisions were made.  

The school was fortunate over the years in obtaining the services of the following men who, without remuneration, kept the books and acted as treasurer: Mr. Joe Montgomery, Mr. George Lyon, Mr. Walter Lucas, Mr. Leland Gough, and Mr. Roy Scheider.  Mr. H. S. Wilson succeeded Mr. Lucas as chairman of the trustees in 1972.  He was followed by Ellington Massey, Corley (Sonny) Luckett, and Jerry Gillespie.  As the school changed, so did the principalship.  In 1971, Mrs. Lavenna Wright became the first full-time principal.  All principals prior to 1971 were teaching principals.  Mrs. Ann Garland Russell served as the first teaching principal from 1964-65, followed by Mrs. Sherard Shaw, who filled the position for two years, 1965-67.  Mr. Arthur E. Nute became the first assistant principal in 1973.  Mrs. Nina Campbell, church secretary, served as school secretary as well from 1964-69 and was followed by Mrs. Rose Edlin.  By 1974 the enrollment of the school was 426 students and the school earned "AA" accreditation.  Bible was a major subject, taught by each teacher, except in grades seven and eight, where one teacher taught all students and where the students received on full period of  Bible instruction five days a week.  The program was compiled in such a way that if the student started in grade one and finished grade eight, he or she would have completed a study of the Bible three times. Chapel services were held twice weekly and conducted by the headmaster.   The decision to close the school was made by the members of the church in March, 1986 upon recommendation of the school's board of trustees.  A program honoring the old school in a remembrance service was held on Sunday morning, May 18, 1986.  The Rev. Lucius B. Marion, pastor emeritus of the church at the time preached the sermon.  Seating was reserved for the then current faculty members and their families who were introduced to the congregation by Mr. Ray Huckaba.  The students provided the music.  Dr. S. M. Henriques, Jr., announced the establishment of the Clarksdale Baptist Church School Living Memorial Scholarship Fund, which was made possible by members of the  Dr. Henry McCrory family.  The interest generated by the fund is to be used as a scholarship by members of the Clarksdale Baptist Church who will be enrolled in seminary education.  A special love offering was taken to be given to the faculty members.  Since 1964 the school had a total enrollment of over 7,000 in its elementary and junior high school curriculum. "Though we are extremely saddened by the closing of the school, we want to celebrate the difference Clarksdale Baptist School has made in the lives of so many through the years."  Dr. Henriques said.  When you remember that over 7,000 students went through Clarksdale Baptist School in its twenty-two years of existence, you must conclude that the influence of Clarksdale Baptist Church School on all who were a part of it will be far-reaching.  As each generation passes down to the next the lesson learned, its legacy will be a perpetual blessing and never forgotten.   

 On June 6, 1982, the Rev. Donald Dunavant, his wife, Janet, and their two children were welcomed to the Clarksdale Baptist Church.  He came, as he put it in the June 10th newsletter, "with a deep and profound sense of divine assignment."  He became affectionately know as "Bro. Don," and in his all too short pastorate of two years, he made a deep spiritual impression on the church.   On July 29, 1984 the farewell services for Bro. Don were held as he was leaving to assume a post in the Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary in Memphis.  His last sermon ended with this personal note to the congregation: "It is a precious relationship that exists between a church and a pastor.  There are shared times of laughing together, weeping together, and praying together which intertwine hearts in a bond of love.  I am thankful to have shared that relationship with you."
On July 7, 1985 the pastorate of Dr. S. M. Henriques, Jr. began with a rousing patriotic service in the morning.  That evening the church family enjoyed a fish fry and time of "Patriotism and Praise," ending with an ice cream social.  Dr. Henriques was the youngest  pastor to be called by the Clarksdale Baptist Church (barely 30 years of age).  Although he had earned a doctorate, he wished to be called "Bro. Rocky" his nickname.
On November 1, 1986, Rev. Hugh Plunkett joined the staff as minister of music and adults.  He and Bro. Rocky worked well together.  Probably their most memorable joint effort was the first production on Easter 1989 of the "Living Last Supper" based on Michelangelo's famous painting.  Men of the church represented the disciples with Bro. Rocky as Christ and Betty Lou Stribling as narrator.  Some of the men and women of the church prepared the backdrop and "props" giving meticulous attention to detail, while others worked with lighting, music and publicity.  It reached many in the community outside the church and was so successful that similar productions with modifications were staged for six more years.  Bro. Rocky responded to a call from another church in 1990. 
 
In December of 1990, the church found that Dr. Carl White was responding to its call and in January of 1991, he and his wife, Frances, and their three children moved to Clarksdale.  From the first months of his pastorate when he preached a series of "I Am" sermons, climaxing with "I am the Resurrection and the Life," accompanied by a pageant of banners, beautifully handcrafted by ladies of the church, the congregation realized that new and often quite different forms of worship were coming to the heretofore rather staid church.  Bro. Carl, as he soon was called, worked with Bro. Hugh.  By 1992, Rev. Mark Kelly had been added to the staff as minister of youth.  The three of them formed a dynamic team.  The church had a feeling of expectancy which continued until the end of the pastor's tenure in July of 1996.
 
Dr. Duke Wheeler, formerly pastor at Marks, Mississippi served as our interim pastor following Bro. Carl.  Not only did he fill the pulpit on Sundays, but he also cooperated with the church staff in making weekly plans and often drove down from Memphis for special occasions.  He had an easy friendly style of preaching and conducting church affairs.   On the first Sunday of January, 1998, Rev. Bruce Willis preached his first sermon as pastor of Clarksdale Baptist Church.  Bro. Bruce immediately entered in to the life of the church and ingratiated himself with his gift for remembering names and faces. 
 




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