The History of Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church

Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church was organized  June 10, 1902 when a disagreement arose in Olivet Missionary Baptist Church, Chicago's oldest African-American church, over the purchase of property.  The dispute split Olivet into two factions. One faction remained at Olivet.  The other - a small, determined group of about 30 parishioners led by Olivet's former pastor, Rev. J. F. Thomas, - established Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church.

The name Ebenezer was suggested by church member Eliza Jackson.  Ebenezer was first located in Arlington Hall at 31st Street and Indiana Avenue.  After a year of worship, Arlington became too small for the rapidly growing congregation.  In 1903 Ebenezer purchased a building located at 35th and Dearborn streets for $11,500. This location was "home" for the next 18 years.

When Ebenezer was organized, Rev. T homas was already 59 years old and was hailed as " a strong advocate for the good of his race." During his 18 years at Ebenezer, he served as president of the Illinois State Baptist Convention and as chaplain of the famed 8th Regiment in the US Army.  Under Rev. Thomas' leadership, the church prospered and membership continued to grow. With such growth, Ebenezer once again faced the need for a larger building. In 1920, Rev. Thomas and members of Ebenezer met with Isaiah Temple, a Jewish synagogue, and finalized plans to purchase the synagogue at 45th and Vincennes Avenue. Per an agreement between these two parties, Ebenezer paid $65,000 with a down payment of $26,000. 

Ebenezer quickly emerged as a community conerstone: a place to worship, to organize, to search for jobs, and to eat meals.  In 1914, Rev. Thomas initiated an important early outreach program at Ebenezer. Every day for one month during the winter, the congregation provided meals to the city's hungry. On February 7, 1914, the Chicago Defender reported that the church had fed 4,327 individuals, with whites outnumbering all other races 20 to 1.  Even as some white congregations refused to serve African Americans, Rev Thomas stressed that at Ebenezer, "none was turned away," and that there is " no color line in heaven."

From its beginning thru 1931, Ebenezer featured a traditional sytle of worship with preaching and classical music. Rev. Thomas did not live to see the opening of the new building.   Had he lived until August 29th of the year, he would have been in the ministry 54 years. Sources indicate before his death, he received a message from the Holy Spirit, and he knew his days were not long on this earth. Therefore, he preached his 54th annivesary sermon one week before his death. Rev. Thomas was 77 years old when he died. A monument to his memory is located in Lincoln Cemetery.


After the passing of Rev. Thomas, Charles Henry Clark of Nashville, Tenn., was called to the pastorate of Ebenezer. During his first 18 months as pastor, Ebenezer welcomed more than 700 members to the membership and raised $11,000 over the purchase contract. Standing room was at a premium on Sunday morning in this beautiful church, which had a capacity for nearly 1500 persons to attend service regularly to hear their eloquent pastor preach.  Rev. Clark was the director of Binga State Bank and was not only known as a preacher of the gospel, but a sound, safe and sane businessman. At Ebenezer, he organized the Ebenezer M. B. Church Business Men's League, with 100 members joining for a fee of $10. The purpose of the league was to maintain a permanent home-making instituion.

On Friday night before the fourth Sunday in Ocober 1921, the congregation marched to the present Ebenezer site, rejoicing in their unselfish way for the wonderful achievements that God allowed them. In May 1921, the church mortgage was burned. The church was paid for three years before term. After the mortgage burning, a new day dawned in Ebenezer.  Everyone felt the burden lifted and was free to go along and enjoy more happy days.

In August 1929, Mrs. Charles Clark died.  Because of some dissatisfaction among members of the church and the pastor, Rev. Clark read his resignation on  October 27, 1930. The resignation was accepted by a majority church vote.  Storms raged in the membership, but the church rolled on.  Winds blew, but the church moved on because Christ said "upon this rock I'll build My church and the very gates of hell shall not prevail against it." 

Rev. James Howard Lorenzo Smith was called to the pastorate of Ebenezer on March 16, 1931.  He came with an illustrious educational background, having earned his bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees. His family members were: wife, Anne Johnson Smith; daughter, Anne; sons James Jr.,  Naaman, Clyde, and Robert.


Rev. Smith's first pastorate was African Baptist Chuch in Eufaula, Ala., where he served six years. He retired the church debt that had been outstanding for some time. He next accepted the calling to Lily Baptist Church in Troy, Ala. He bought peace to a confused congregation by preaching brotherly love and admonishing them to live by the Golden Rule.  He then was called to a larger field of labor in Birmingham. The membership increased from 900 to 1600 in the five years that he served.

Rev. Smith's insallation week at Ebenezer was celebrated by ministers throughout Chicago and surounding areas. The celebration was climaxed with a gala banquet attended by 1500 people held in the church's dining room. The church was undergoing troublesome times and the membership went into payerful meditation for God to send a leader to bring us out of these times. Through the prayers of the dedicated, the leadership of Rev. Smith and, above all, the grace of God, the church was restored to a period of peace. The name Ebenezer became an attraction for many seeking a church home.

Rev. A. E. Williams became assistant to the pastor in January 1932.  Rev. Williams taught the first teacher training course in October 1931.  The first annual Women's Day was held in November 1931.  Nine deacons were added to the offical board: James Tillman, W.M. Robinson, Lloyd Gordon, L.H. Gates, S.E. Heard, Benny Banks, J.V. Richadson, W.M. McIntyre and George Otis. Three others - M. Turner, E. Hamilton, and Pomple Dunn - were added.

Rev. Smith designated the Missionary Society as parent group to all of the mission organizations: the Young Women's Auxillary, G.A. Girls, Starlight Band, Jr. Missionary Helpers and the Shepherd Boys League. He organized the Helping Hand Club, Unity Club, Friendship Circle, Sick and Charity Club, Hospital Relief, Sunshine Club, Busy Bee Club, Star Literary Society, Social Service, and The Reminder Club. The latter was to defray the expense of printing The Reminder. 

State clubs were organized. The purpose was to form a more friendly and closer relationship between old and new members from their states.  These groups offered not only strong fellowship, but strong financial support to the church. The officers were elected with church approval.

Some Of Rev.Smith's accomplishments include:

- a library was installed consisting more than 200 volumes pertaining to Christian education and Negro history.
- in August 1932, the nursery was established to operate during morning worship; Mrs. Jessie Norfleet, a graduate nurse, was in charge.
- the first neon sign was erected in 1932.
- the distribution of Thanksgving baskets to the needy under the supervision of the Missionary Society; Mrs. Wille Johnson in charge.
- in March 1934, a mimeograph machine was installed, and the church office began printing church programs and announcements for the Reminder.
- in August 1934, a bronze plaque was installed on the wall of the main auditorium naming the official roster serving the church.
- the trustees of Ebenezer installed microphones in the church auditorium, and amplifiers were installed in the Sunday School room for the overflow crowd on Sunday mornings. 

Ebenezer contined to grow and needed room to expand. The trustees, with church approval and attorney William E. Lily, purchased the adjacent four-story, eight-flat building located at 4511 S. Vincennes Ave. The basement was renovated and used for Sunday School and a dining area. In 1946 Rev. Smith recognized the need for a community center. The site was to be located at 44th Place and Vincennes, a site owned by Ebenezer. The church raised $80,000 and kept those funds separate until the plans were completed.

Another major endeavor under Rev. Smith was the installation of the rebuilt pipe organ locaed in the choir loft. The project cost $18,000 and transformed the instrument from a two-manual organ to a three-manual organ, making it one of the finest in the city. The pipes were taken down, cleaned and restored by hand by Saulter and Sons. 

The church's beautiful German art stained-glass windows on the main floor and in the balcony were cleaned, repaired and releaded and broken panes replaced.

Ebenezer was very conscious of the value of education.  Religious education awakened the youth to their responsibilities in the community and caused them to have a broader view of the Christain life.  Rev. A.E. Williams was the first director of Ebenezer's education department. Rev. Williams also conducted the first Vacation Bible School. Each year enrollment increased. Mrs. A. E. Streetpelton was one of the first teachers..