Church members get positive reaction from city leaders in effort to get historic church on national registry.
BY ANDREAS BUTLER
More than a dozen members of Mt. Bethel Institutional Baptist Church of Daytona Beach flooded City Hall chambers on Monday to press for assistance in getting the 134-year-old church on historical registries.
Church members and supporters wore red Mt. Bethel shirts or plain red T-shirts to the city’s Historic Preservation Board meeting. One person held a signed that read “Save Our Church!”
“We want to get the church on both the national historic registry and local historic registry. The church and its history are worthy to be preserved for past and future generations,” said Eartha Sims-Watson, a deaconess at the church and its historian.
“I did a presentation on the church history last month, its significance today and next month I will do one on the historic registry application process.”
The goal is to eventually get the church listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Mt. Bethel was started on June 22, 1885 by a group of Christians, including former slaves under the leadership of the Rev. Joseph Brook Hankerson.
It has the distinction of being Daytona’s oldest Black church. It’s also among the 18 sites listed on the city’s Black Heritage Trail.
The current structure at 700 S. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. was built in 1921, making it 98 years old.
“We are requesting an administrative application for the historic preservation that any district to include the church and Campbell Hotel. Our church was founded by emancipated slaves. The current structure was built by former slaves and their descendants,” noted Sims-Watson.
The Campbell Hotel, located on the corner of Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune Boulevard and Walnut Street, was the only hotel in town that Black people could sleep at during segregation.
Support from Reed
There is support in the city government to make this happen.
“It’s important that we preserve anything cultural and historical in our community. Mt. Bethel is the oldest African-American church in our city. As it grew, so did the city’’ commented Daytona Beach City Commissioner Paula Reed, who represents Zone 6.
“I grew up in that church as a child. I support this fully. Once the church earns the local recognition, it qualifies for national recognition which will help it get the funds to bring it back to glory.’’
Response to the endeavor has been upbeat.
“We’re looking at this very positively. Mr. (Doug) Gutierrez has been working with us. He has really helped us with information on the application process. We have cooperation and support,” stated Dr. Joanne PinkstonMcDuffie.
Pinkston-McDuffie says she is a citizen very interested in preserving local history and the church. She sometimes attends the church.
During Tuesday’s Historic Preservation Board meeting, Gutierrez, Daytona Beach’s principal planner, said, “We look forward to working with you every step of the way.”
The next step is the application process.
“It’s a two-step process that we will bring to the board for review. The first thing is getting a plaque there for landmark designate. The next thing is getting the property on the local historic overlay,” Gutierrez explained.
Damaged by hurricanes
The church has faced some challenges in recent years.
It took substantial damage during both Hurricanes Matthew in 2016 and Irma in 2017.
The roof was damaged, causing water to leak into the building and some mold problems.
The church is still renovating. Pinkson-McDuffie added, “Renovations are ongoing. That is one of the reasons we need to get on the registry. That would put us in position to apply for ECHO (Environmental, Cultural, Historical and Outdoor Recreation) grants.”
A tourist attraction
Mt. Bethel was originally located on Freemont Avenue in Old Daytona’s Silver Hill community.
The church’s first permanent structure was erected on South Street in the old Daytona’s Waycross community.
Out of the congregation grew several other Baptist churches, including Mt. Zion and Shiloh Missionary.
“Even when I am ushering in the church, many times we have tourists come peek in wanting to see what the church looks like inside. They have heard of or read about the church’s history,” SimsWatson shared.
The church has produced some great local leaders.
Dr. Howard Thurman, the renowned theologian, scholar and educator who influenced the civil rights movement and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., attended Mt. Bethel.
The church’s founder, Rev. Joseph Hankerson was the first Black to be elected to the city commission as an alderman in 1898.
Yvonne Scarlett Golden, the city’s first Black mayor (20032006) and former city commissioner for Zone 5 (1995-2003), attended the church.
Andrew Moore, Sr., a city commissioner for Zone 6 (19761984), also was a member.
Moore’s wife, Freddye Moore, also was a Bethel member. She was the first Black on the Volusia County Council (1993-1999) and a former city commissioner for Zone 6 (1984-1992.
The Rev. Rudolph “Bunky’’ Matthews was the church’s pastor from 1965-1976. He is a former Zone 6 commissioner (19731976) and former Bethune-Cookman head football coach.