The New Mount Olive Baptist Church celebrates 100 years of community, service, and fellowship
By Charles Moseley
The New Mount Olive Baptist Church was founded on November 25, 1918 and come hell or high water still stands today as a majestic example of Christian fortitude, spiritual commitment, and an unyielding faith of its membership.
This historical occasion will be commemorated at the 100th Anniversary Gala on Friday, November 9, at the Pier 66 Hotel & Marina in Fort Lauderdale.
Tony Thompson is a member of the New Mount Olive Baptist Church and local historian. He gave the following account on the setting and conditions which characterized Fort Lauderdale’s African American community during the early 20th century, reveling in a community which was self-reliant and determined to prosper.
“Education was of utmost importance to Negroes at the time in question because it was considered the great equalizer, and they wanted to be recognized as equals. The Black church was the heart of the Black community where they came together not only to worship but to learn, to share information vital to survival and to encourage and bolster one another. Negroes were also seeking to improve their lives and those of their families by any means necessary. Combine those aspirations with the building of the Flagler Railroad in Florida and the development of South Florida which was a result of the railroad and the job opportunities which were created, and you have the perfect recipe for success.”
“The railroad and the developers came to the perfect South Florida climate for the development of a Tourist Industry which influenced the migration and the immigration of thousands to the area to fill the many jobs in construction, development, agriculture and the service industries. Here Negroes were given the opportunity to earn wages and salaries and even to become entrepreneurs. All of these would come together as equals in the Black Church.”
The following is an historical account taken from the text of “New Mount Olive Baptist Church 1918-2018 Celebrating 100 Years of Worshipping God, Serving Humanity and Embracing Our Community.”
“In 1918 eight former members of Piney Grove Baptist Church stepped out on faith and founded Mount Olive Baptist Church in a small agriculturally based town, Fort Lauderdale, with a Negro population of about 445 and where there were already five Negro churches:
“Piney Grove Baptist Church, founded in 1904; St. John’s United Methodist Church, founded in 1904; Mt. Hermon AME Church, founded in 1906; St. Christopher’s Episcopal Church, founded in 1913; and St. Luke’s Baptist Church, founded in 1917.”
The founding members of NMOBC were: Joe Lewis Clark, age 32, a truck driver, born in Georgia and a married home owner (who later became a preacher and Associate Minister); Georgia (Georgeanna) Clark, age 32, born in South Carolina and wife of Joe; James Henry Jackson, age 47, born in Florida, a farm laborer and husband; Fannie Jackson, age 32, born in Florida, wife of James and mother of five children; Stephen T. Stafford, age 28, born in Georgia, a veteran, a farmer and a single home owner (who later became the first Superintendent of the Sunday School, a preacher and Pastor in 1922); Eva G. Taylor, age 24. James Thurston, age 24, born in the Bahamas, a married man and farm laborer (who later became a preacher and Associate Minister); and Mae Liza (Mary) Williams, age 41, born in Georgia, a widowed home owner and a laundress (who later was a member of the church’s Trustee Board).
CHURCH HISTORY: In 1923, under the leadership of Reverend H.P. Bragdon, the name of the church was changed to New Mount Olive Baptist Church and the members decided to build a new Church. Reverend Bragdon and Sister Mary Liza Williams, one of our first members, selected a suitable site on the corner of Fourth Street and Ninth Avenue. In 1925, a small wooden structure was built.
The membership increased rapidly for the next four years, and their faith and perseverance were quite evident as the membership rebuilt churches that were destroyed by the 1926 and 1928 hurricanes. In 1929, the permanent building was completed, and the congregation moved in early in September. When Reverend Bragdon ended his pastorate in 1930, there was a completed church building and a membership of more than 500.
Reverend O.W. Wells was called in 1937, and another tremendous growth in membership, size and prestige was recorded. Under his pastorate, a new and bigger church was built.
The Missionary Society, organized July 27, 1939, with Sister Rosa Lewis as president, grew from its original twelve into a group of eleven circles boasting more than 112 members. The church structure was completed. Counted among the many physical improvements was the completion of the remodeling and furnishing of the church kitchen and dining room in February 1960. By August 31, 1960, the member-ship had increased to approximately 1,700.
In March of 1962, the Reverend G.E. Weaver was called to assume the responsibility of leadership at Mount Olive. Under his administration, the Church grew spiritually, numerically and structurally. The old church was improved by the addition of a new wing with eighteen classrooms and seating space in the Sanctuary for an additional 200 people.
In February of 1979, 17 years after his call, Reverend Weaver led the Congregation across the street to a 1.5-million-dollar structure.