Monday, April 25, 2011

Jehovah Missionary Baptist Church & Cemetery

“Established approximately 1869 in Milo, Oklahoma by Choctaw and Chickasaw freedmen under the leadership of Banks Stevenson, the church was commissioned by Rev. Sam Burns, a white preacher.”

"Jehovah was a small ten foot by twelve foot one-room log house with a dirt floor, peg benches and kerosene light. The church began with a small congregation but continued to grow in membership which required relocation to a larger house of worship about one and one fourth mile east of the original location."
Jehovah Missionary Baptist Church (Old Sanctuary) From a book produced by the church 1990
Jehovah Missionary Baptist Church became the spiritual home for many Indian Territory freedmen and their descendants. The congregation included many who would later be recognized as citizens by blood of the Chickasaw Nation.

When Jehovah was moved to its present day location it was led by Pastor Rev. R.J. Jackson, an “Indian preacher.” At the time of this final relocation there were three deacons who were original Dawes enrollees; David Stevenson, Caesar Stevenson and Mose Taylor. The church now owns the land on which the church stands, land given to the congregation by the Indians.

Caesar Stevenson (Photo Courtesy of Evelyn Norwood)

It is said one of the few schools in the Chickasaw Nation that allowed Indian children and Black children to attend school together was established at Jehovah Missionary Baptist Church. Education during this period was intended to educate a child up to the eighth grade.

Report Card of Eliza Stevenson (Courtesy of Evelyn Norwood)

Eliza Stevenson (Courtesy of Evelyn Norwood)
Eliza Stevenson was a student at the school located at Jehovah Missionary Baptist Church, her family like others in the community had a history that began before statehood. Her great grandmother and name sake Eliza Nero/Dyer came to Indian Territory from Mississippi as a slave of Nancy Smith.

Eliza Stevenson was born in 1909 and was not an original Dawes enrollee like her mother and many of her other relatives that were active members of Jehovah Baptist Church.

Years later, Eliza’s daughter Evelyn Brown would attend this same school and walk six miles just to catch the bus that would take her to the school at Jehovah.

The church and school was a vital part of the community during the days of neighborhood schools. Although the school no longer exists, the memories remain for the few students who began their academic careers at Jehovah, like Evelyn Brown-Norwood.

There have been many church ministers over the one hundred and forty-two year history of Jehovah Baptist Church among them several were formerly enslaved in the Choctaw and Chickasaw nations. Not all of the ministers survived to become enrolled as Freedmen of the Choctaw or Chickasaw nations but research has been able to identify those who did.

Rev. Andrew Franklin
Banks Stevenson who was the initial minister at the founding of the church did not survive to enroll as a freedman in 1898. However it appears several other men were enrolled as children or young adults that later became ministers of Jehovah.

Men such as Edd Shannon (Chickasaw Freedmen card # 500,) William McKinney (Chickasaw Freedman card # 510,) Levy Stevenson (Chickasaw Freedman card # 422,) George Roberts (Choctaw Freedman card # 1172) and Rev. Andrew Franklin all appear to be original Dawes enrollees.

It is evident the men and women who descended from former slaves had a sense of community and were determined to build institutions that educated their children, and provide a spiritual foundation for the population surrounding Jehovah Baptist Church.

The list of “First Deacons and Trustee Board” is another example of how the former slaves in the Choctaw and Chickasaw nations rose to the challenge of firmly establishing this institution in their community and is probably a good reason why it exist today.

Among that first group who served on the Deacons and Trustee's Board were Chickasaw Freedmen including Eddie (Edward) Abram; card # 699, Lovard Abram; card # 478, Lyman Pickens; card # 496, Mose Taylor; card # 512 and Eli Stevenson; card # 583. The Choctaw Freedmen who were a part of that initial group of deacons included Caesar Stevenson; card # 34, and David Stevenson; card # 579.

Edward Abram

Amanda Abram

Throughout the history of Jehovah Missionary Baptist Church it becomes easy to see the long history of African and African-Native people who were members of this old and venerable church. The history is based in the people who worshiped within those original log walls. They developed a thriving community despite not being citizens of the Chickasaw nation or the United States until 1907.

The surnames of Indian Territory Freedmen survive with their descendants who have maintain the church and it's traditions. These men and women survived slavery and Jim Crow in Indian Territory and later the state of Oklahoma. Jehovah remains like it's congregation a survivor to be cherished and preserved.

Surnames of members today. Abram, Brown, Franklin, Gaines, McGee, Harris, Pickens, Shannon, Stevenson and Taylor are just a few of the families that lived in Indian Territory prior to Oklahoma statehood and contributed to the history of Jehovah Missionary Baptist Church and Cemetery; making it a vital part of Choctaw and Chickasaw history as well as the history of Indian Territory and Oklahoma.

I think it is important to end this article on what was probably one of the most important institutions in the church and community; the Senior Missionary Society. The society is one of the best examples of former slaves working to help one another and their community. Present day members of the church should be proud of their history and heritage and we can only hope they will continue in the noble traditions of their ancestor’s.

1 comment:

  1. I'm posting this comment on this particular article from another website:

    Re: JehovahMissionaryBaptistChurch&Cemetery
    Date: 5/12/2011, 2:21 am
    In Response To:

    JehovahMissionaryBaptistChurch&Cemetery (Terry LIGON)

    Thank you for sharing the information about this wonderful church in Milo, Ok. Along with this great church are the Mt. Olive Baptist Church in Newport, Ok., Calvary Baptist Church in Gene Autry, Ok. and Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church in Gene Autry, Ok. All of these churches are more than 100 years old.

    Today, all of these churches are sister churches comprised of descendants of slaves from the Chickasaw and Choctaw Nations. Each cemetery is a treasure trove of historical data. The cemetery mostly associated with Mt. Olive Baptist Church is the Old Hickory Cemetary.

    I'm sure other churches exist that surround these churches, however, these are the old country churches that continue today.

    Thanks again for the mention!

    I appreciate the kind words of the author and feel it should be addressed in a future blog...