ABOVE: Missouri City Council Members Jerry Wyatt and Anthony Maroulis; Gabriel Cuellar, Architect; Rev. Gerald Rivers, St. John Assistant Pastor; Christopher Fisher, son of longtime Pastor David L. Fisher; Fort Bend County Commissioner Grady Prestage; Portia Hopkins, Ph.D; State Rep. Ron Reynolds; and Missouri City Council Member Don Smith at the St. John historical marker unveiling ceremony
This past Sunday, February 19, one of the oldest churches in the state of Texas, founded by former slaves, held an official Texas Historical Marker Ceremony to cement its legacy as a major part of Texas history.
Supporters, church members, dignitaries and community leaders were on hand to witness the unveiling of the historical marker for St. John Missionary Baptist Church, on the grounds of the church that has stood for nearly 150 years. It was stated at the ceremony that St. John was the first church to ever receive a historical marker in Missouri City, and only the sixth entity of any kind to receive a historical marker in the history of Missouri City.
On hand for the unveiling was Christopher Fisher – the son of the late David L. Fisher who served as St. John’s pastor since August 23, 1987. Pastor Fisher passed away weeks before the official dedication ceremony. Also on hand was Gabriel Cuellar – the architect and engineer who has designed all the plans to move the building and to help with the restoration.
A 2006 arson fire heavily damaged the property, but thanks to the dedication and hard work of the St. John Fundraising and Preservation Committee (Friends of St. John), they were able to work with key volunteers and community leaders to pursue funding for restoration and collect the church history that led to the securing of the Texas historical marker designation.
Dr. Portia Hopkins spoke as well. She began working on this project, as part of her dissertation while pursuing her doctorate, after meeting with the current Assistant Pastor, Rev. Gerald Rivers. Hopkins played a primary role in collecting the church history and helping get the historical marker done with the key people with the Texas Historical Commission. Also on hand were Fort Bend County Commissioner Grady Prestage; State Rep. Ron Reynolds; and Missouri City Council Members Don Smith, Jerry Wyatt and Anthony Maroulis.
“Mere words cannot express my emotions when I imagine what it must have been like for those former slaves living on plantations in Fort Bend County during a time of lynchings, rapes and beatings endured by blacks before any thoughts of civil rights,” stated Rep. Reynolds. “As the first African American State Representative in Fort Bend County since Reconstruction…today was an amazing Black History Month experience. I was honored to present a Texas flag that I had flown over our Capitol for the Dedication of an Official Texas Historical Marker Honoring St. John Missionary Baptist Church located in Missouri City.”
The old and rugged white St. John church building sits on the grounds it has occupied since inception, now surrounded by swanky housing developments from the north, south, east and west. In spite of that development, St. John’s sits as a house on a hill that can’t be hidden and carries with it a history that can never be forgotten. St. John has ties to so many historical icons, such as Reverend John Henry (Jack) Yates and the ancestors of former State Representative Al Edwards, but the overall history in itself is one worth highlighting.
The context of St. John’s story is rooted in the history of African Americans in Fort Bend County immediately after the Civil War. After the Civil War, former slaves from the DeWalt Plantation, led by Rev. Dave King, formed St. John Baptist Church (Colored) in 1869.
Despite being victims of violence, degradation and oppressive institutions, these former slaves created vibrant, dynamic and supportive communities. During the 1870s and 1880s, several small community churches sprouted up across the county that provided spiritual support and shared economic resources for Blacks in Fort Bend. Oral history testimony denotes that St. John worked collaboratively with other churches to hold Juneteenth picnics, church anniversary celebrations, bazaars, activities and continual services for the surrounding communities.
As early as 1893, St. John offered educational opportunities to the community. Between 1897 and 1905, St. John was seemingly a part of a larger cluster of African American schools in DeWalt. In 1900, Anna Cartwright Roberts deeded two acres in the David Bright League to the church and County School District #19. In 1935, George L. Dew purchased the property and sold two acres in the William Stafford League to the church to relocate.
In the 1960s, the church building was repositioned to the opposite side of the property and enlarged with materials from the former school. A rear addition was built in the 1970s.
The members of St. John are in the process of selecting a new pastor, since the death of their longtime pastor – Pastor Fisher.
St. John’s rich history exemplifies the persistence of African Americans in Texas to create and maintain spiritual communities during the Reconstruction era, and being able to effectively sustain that community in Fort Bend for nearly 150 years. This is Black history at its finest!