From its beginnings in the years after the Civil War, Beaumont’s oldest black church has witnessed the establishment of the area’s first black public school, weathered desegregation and this year will celebrate 150 years as a “beacon of light in the community.”
“Born and raised” in St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church, Walter McCloney said he strives to keep his “commitment (to the church) palatable.”
The Beaumont Enterprise reports the 79-year-old church trustee said St. Paul A.M.E Church is a part of the legacy and vision of the “spiritual builders” who founded the church in 1868.
“We’re the beneficiaries of what they did,” said McCloney, pointing to the vaulted ceiling and colorful glass windows that adorn the Waverly Street sanctuary.
McCloney, the third generation in his family to attend the church, said St. Paul was “very special” to him as one of the oldest black churches in Beaumont.
St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church grew out of a Methodist church organized for blacks three years after the end of the Civil War, according to historical church documents. Members of the young church met on alternative Sundays in the basement of the Jefferson County Courthouse.
A Beaumonter since “the close of the War between the States,” church founder and former slave Woodson Pipkin was known for his “quaint old timey ways and self-respecting habits,” according to church documents.
Pipkin formally became the group’s first pastor in 1872 and moved the church to the second story of his residence once located in the 900 block of Market Street. The church soon outgrew the upper story of Pipkin’s home and moved to a larger location on Beaumont’s north side at the site of what is now Alice Keith Park.
On Sundays, the church doubled as a school where many church members learned to read and write, according to an account by local historian Judith Linsley.
Pipkin later donated a lot on Wall Street that was the “center of activities for blacks,” witnessing countless births, deaths, weddings and civic ceremonies. St. Paul remained at the downtown location until the early 1960s, when the old building began to give way to “age and decay,” according to church records.
When the upper story of the church’s structure caved in, church members made do and held services in the basement. But when a fire destroyed the two-story building, the congregation raised funds to purchase the Waverly Street property.
St. Paul “stands on their shoulders” of longtime church members who have “kept the faith,” McCloney said.
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