BY ASHLEY D. THOMAS
Tubman-King Community Church celebrated Black History Month by sharing its own slice of history to congregants at last Sunday’s service.
The church, like many in the area, holds a rich historic background but initially was not a predominantly Black congregation. Originally named First Congregational Church, the church was founded in 1877 and had been a congregation of Americans of European descent.
In June 1985, members of the First Congregational Church voted to change their church name to Tubman-King Community Church. It gradually became an African-American church as the racial composition of the neighborhood surrounding the church changed.
“I think that there is a deep, long, rich historical legacy at Tubman-King that goes all the way back to First Congregational,” said Rev. John T. Long III, senior pastor of the church. “It is fitting that the church be named for Harriet Tubman and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to make that historical connection and to make that historical bridge.”
Two prominent figures
As explained during the service by youth leader Sarah Jackson:
“In the 1980s, Rev. (G. Wesley) Raney made the calculated decision to change the name of what was then known as the First Congregational Church of Daytona Beach. By then the church had been experiencing a shift in the racial makeup of the congregation that mirrored the changes in the surrounding community. As more Blacks from the community joined the church, more White members began to flee.
“Sensing the need to change the perception of this church as a “White” elitist church, members of the First Congregational Church of Daytona Beach elected to rename the church Tubman-King Community Church in honor of two prominent figures in African-American history who exhibited excellent leadership and courage during times of extreme duress – Harriett Tubman and Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.”
Making history fun
Jackson read the above excerpt during a production by the Praise Diamonds, a group of 12 young ladies who gave an interpretive/praise dance to such songs as “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” and “Break Every Chain.”
She said the girls that participate in the dance group enjoy dancing and understand that it is a ministry. “I don’t just teach them dance though. We talk about our Black history, scriptures in the Bible, and current events that affect them,” she said. “And I make it fun.”
“I think it was a great idea to change the name so that the Black community could identify with the church and feel connected. It does seems sad to me though that even today some Black people in our community don’t know who Harriet Tubman and Martin Luther King Jr. were and their contributions to America. They don’t understand our church name. We have to know our history.”
‘Every room is named’
Following the service, parishioners had the opportunity to view books, photos and artifacts in the church’s dining hall.
“Last week people brought in memorabilia of their families relating to African history or African-American history,” Long explained. “We had some folks that had pictures that their families had going back generations, some that were African, some from the islands.”
Long also noted that the history of the church doesn’t stop with the building’s name.
Each room is also named for a person of significance in African-American history. “Our social hall is the Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune Social Hall, the library is the Langston Hughes Library. Every room is named.”