Reminiscence is pleasurable, educational and instrumental in our growth as a people, on this true Christian journey. It is also important when one can reminisce and realize the growth and progress that has been accomplished. Over 146 years, the family of First Missionary Baptist have moved from a house on Aunt Nan’s Alley to a state of the art edifice on Esters Blvd (formerly Railroad Street).
For those who are not familiar with the Church’s history…in 1846, the first Colored Baptist Church was born. This was a giant step forward for the Christians of Biloxi. The first records that were written were destroyed in fire. The Church history could not be destroyed because it is wrapped up in the word of God and preserved in the hearts of pioneers whose souls were set on fire when they heard their fore-fathers tell the story of Christ, mingled with the beautiful beginnings of laborers of this spiritual institution.
The first meeting place was a house on Aunt Nan’s Alley, the present, Cuevas Street. A small group of about twenty or more attended. They were: Sisters Hannah Hartfield, Lizzie Smith. Emily Harris, Jane Randolph, Josephine West Randolph, Lucy Churchill, Laura Harris, Jane Bradford, Brothers Monroe Campbell and Dan Smith. They met from house to house, gathering wherever they could to praise and serve God. Sometimes they went to Handsboro to fellowship with others. The membership increased and souls were added to the Church under the leadership of the Reverend (Rev.) Pleasant Gill and Rev. Alfred Alexander (Mrs. Inez Peter’s grandfather). Taylor Fryson and William Randolph, the first architect and builder and Brother George Strong. These pioneers worked without ceasing. We pause to salute the pioneers for their effort, who without a doubt put in front and in spite of small financial gain were able to hold on, to carry on, and push the wayfaring who passed this way. This strength of character and determination still lingers throughout the membership today. This is evident in the work done by the present day Trustees and others who worked tirelessly to get the new Church built (2010).
After having been organized as a bonafide Baptist Church, the next agenda was the question of a place to worship. They were t old that the city gave to the members a strip of land and on the same land a hall was built, located on the present site which is the permanent home of this Church. Realizing that a Church cannot succeed without a pastor, the Rev Pleasant Gill was called and became the first regular pastor in 1876.
With great determination, faith, hard work and trust in God, these faithful Christians worked diligently together until they were able to raise enough money to erect a Church building. There were times when these Christians became discouraged with the little progress they were making (after waiting 5 years we do understand), because the first money collected on the drive was $11.20 on November 10, 1889. God never forsakes His people and soon He turned their visions and dreams into a reality.
In 164 years, we have had 17 Pastors, with three surviving, Rev O.D. Gilmer, Rev Hubert Jackson and the current Pastor Eric Dickey.
The Rev. Gill served as Pastor for one year. Rev. Alfred Alexander served as the Shepherd of the flock three different times: 1877-99; 1914-1915; and 1925-28, a total of 26 years of service in kingdom building and pointing the way to Christ. Twenty-two consecutive years began work on schedule, appointing the first building committee: William Randolph, Chairman, George Strong. Willie Evans and William Forbes, Acting clerk. First Trustees were Alfred Nicholson, Chairman, John McSwain (father of Nolan Swain, Sr.) and Louis Forbes. Plans were formulated to erect this building. The City of Biloxi rented the hall and paid the Church $5.00 per month to use it as the Biloxi Public School. Concerts and musical entertainment was given by the Church members. A finance committee appointed and Mrs. Winfred Alexander was Chairman, Sisters Mary J. Powell and Agnes Spence were members. On June 3, 1980, a band of Sons and Daughters was organized to rally until the Church was finished. Mrs. Josephine Randolph, Mrs. Annie Jackson. Mrs. Jane Marshall, Mrs. M. J. Powell, Mrs. Louise McSwain and other members of the Church served on the Committee.
From November 1889 to January 1890, the treasures reported $95.20. The building committee was authorized to purchase the lumber. This building, which was a visible expression of the faith of the founding fathers who decided in 1891 to erect the First Colored Baptist Church, which was destined to become the First Missionary Baptist Church. On the dedication of the Church, the following Churches were invited: First Baptist of Pearlington and Gainesville, MS; First Baptist Churches of Bay St. Louis, Pass Christian, Handsboro; the Methodist Church of Biloxi; First Baptist Church of Ocean Springs, & Scranton, MS; Fourth Baptist Church of Mobile and the Rev. H. McRay of St. Elmo, Ala.
This Church has survived tornadoes, storms, hurricanes and other disasters because of its fortitude, integrity and dedication to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. It started one hundred and sixty – four years ago, “Pointing the Way,” on the slopes of Back Bay, when this tabernacle was organized and established. We did not have the advantage of a baptizing pool, but in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico extending in the northern area at the foot of Lameuse Street, known as Back Bay. Many souls were baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, until Rev. Alexander made plans and employed Mr. Edward Alexander to build a pool in the last decade of his service which was from 1925-1928. (In our present and temporary building, baptisms were held at Main Street Baptist Church and New Bethel Baptist Church. Our temporary home did not have a baptism pool).
In the 1900’s several Ministers were called and served a short period of time.
Rev. S.S. Dawster, Georgia, Rev. William Johnson, Louisiana, Rev, Henry C. Johnson, Louisiana, Rev. Edmund Baxter Young, Alabama. Rev. Young (1901-1910) was a dynamic speaker and his soul purpose was to win souls for Christ. Rev. James Mason (1911-1914) was very versatile. He could perform a choir director, playing the organ, as well as preach. During his administration pews were purchased for the sanctuary. Rev. Alexander Bell was elected and served 1915-1917. He was a very observant and practical minister. Dr. Rev C. T. Stamps was elected and served 1918-1925. He was a great scholar and educator. He was a great asset to the Gulf Coast District and served as a moderator and treasurer for the Gulf Coast District. Rev. Alexander who was one of the organizers of FMBC served again from 1925-1928. Rev. Hillard Parker Williams succeeded Father Alexander. He served from 1919-1933. Rev. Williams was an intelligent, energetic and faithful minister. He served during the time of the depression, but was able to preach the gospel, help others and repair the Parsonage of the Church to a livable condition. Rev. Jacob McQueen, Jr., was elected and served 1933-1936. He gave a better part of his service to the Junior Choir and the Junior Home Mission Society. Rev. Thomas Phillips was elected and served from 1936-1941. He taught the youth from the Christian doctrine and the basic facts of the Christian Church. During his stay, with his officers he built a pastor’s study which was destroyed by a hurricane. He also placed the Baptistery Window in the honor of Rev. Alfred Alexander, which remained until Hurricane Katrina.
Rev. Crowley was memorable and inspiring. He was called to serve on December 4, 1941. His leadership was manifested in the growth and stability of the membership of the Church throughout his 36 years of pastoring. His love for youth was expressed in the plans and activities provided for them through the Church programs. The Church grew numerically, spiritually and financially. He organized the Go Ye Band in 1946. The Alicia Marie organ was purchased in 1952, and the Chancel Choir was organized in 1953. Ever watchful of the growth and needs of the Church, in 1954 an Educational Department was constructed. The annex consists of an auditorium that was converted into classrooms and had a meeting capacity of about 300. The basement had nursery, library, dining room, kitchen and two restrooms. In 1955, the Junior Matrons’ Auxiliary was organized. In 1959, the public speaking system was installed, the main auditorium was enlarged and the heating and cooling system installed. Rev. Holloway left the Church solvent, spiritually and financially.
Rev. O.D. Gilmer (1977-1987) was called to serve in 1977. Under the leadership of Rev. Gilmer, the membership continued to grow financially and spiritually. The secretary position was introduced during this time and was first held by Mrs. Geraldine Blenman, great granddaughter of Rev. Alfred Alexander. Rev. Gilmer’s unwavering support of the FMBC family and all of our programs allowed us to become THE spiritual leader in the community. His unwavering financial support allowed the Church to purchase a van and complete major renovations to the sanctuary and outside structure. One of the greatest strengths was his emotional connections to the families her served. Rev. Gilmer knew his members and their families and to this day, he remains a loving and respected member of the FMBC family.
Rev. Hubert Jackson (1988-1998) was elected and served as pastor during the Sesquicentennial Anniversary (150 – year Anniversary). This was a major event for FMBC both spiritually, historically and financially. As pastor he was very supportive of Wednesday night Bible study and Prayer Service. He undoubtedly continued the tradition of worship on which FMBC was built and allowed the members to continue with their FMBC traditional worship service and Church programs.
Rev. Larry T. Holmes (1998-2004) served as Pastor for six years before the Lord called him home. Under his leadership, the gospel Choir was formed, and they continue to sing songs of gospel every third Sunday. He also expanded the west parking lot due to the increased membership. The early morning service time was changed to 8am and the spirit filled service grew tremendously under Rev. Holmes’ leadership. The secretary position became a paid position under Rev. Holmes. The Pastor’s study was renovated during this time and plans to build a new sanctuary and education building were formed and plans drawn. These plans were put on hold due to his untimely death but his spirit, his determination and his political savvy will never be forgotten.
From 2004-2006, the FMBC family was without a spiritual leader but the associate ministers, Rev. Donald Morgan and Rev. Eddie Hodge and Deacon L. J. Travis continued the worship service and spiritual programs, along with the members. During this time, Saturday morning Bible Study for the youth was formed and continues under the leadership of Rev. Raymunda Barnes. The congregation met in a temporary location at Richmond’s Funeral Home until a more permanent temporary location could be found. The membership moved to the temporary location at 306 Main Street.
August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast and FMBC was not spared. The Church structure was severely damaged. In 2006, the Church that we knew and loved was torn down, with the expectation of being rebuilt.
In 2006, Rev. Eric E. Dickey was elected and continues to serve this ever – growing congregation. Under the leadership of Rev. Dickey, along with the Trustees, Sam Hudgies, Chairman of the Finance Committee, William Windham, Chairman of the Trustees, Perry Howard, Assistant Treasurer, Vita Gines-Chrisophe, Financial Secretary, Deacon James Jones, Treasurer, and Deacon L.J. Travis, Chairman of the Deacon Board, the rebuilding of FMBC began.
Four years later, the rebuilding of First Missionary Baptist Church of Biloxi on the historic location on Esters Boulevard is complete…we thank God for all of His blessings, and His continued patience with His servants during this very trying and unsettling time. Prayer has kept us strong, and Prayer will continue to be our guiding force. POINTING THE WAY AND BUILDING FOR GOOD!