Discover more from Footnotes by Jemar Tisby
Documentary Premier: Our Cornerstone
Watch this short documentary I co-produced about a remarkable historic Black church
Projects like the documentary in this post are what I’ve been working towards for years. If you’d like to see more, please support my work by becoming a paid subscriber.
When you cross the two-lane bridge that spans the Mississippi River and deposits you into Helena, Arkansas, one of the largest and most remarkable structures draws your eyes—Centennial Baptist Church.
Though founded years earlier, the edifice that currently stands was built in 1895, and designed by a Black architect in the Gothic Revival style.
This church in a small town in the Mississippi Delta region played a prominent role in American religious history. After the Civil War, Black people used their newfound freedom to escape the racism they experienced in white churches and to organize their own ecclesiastical fellowships.
Many different strands of Baptist churches grew in the post-emancipation period, and eventually several of them agreed to come together and form a denomination—the National Baptist Convention (USA, Inc.).
The NBCUSA is the largest Black religious organization in the country, and for the first 27 years of its existence Elias Camp Morris, pastor of Centennial Baptist Church, was its founding president.
The gorgeous church served as a center for Black spiritual edification, communal uplift, and fellowship. It stood proudly among the buildings and other churches in downtown Helena when the town was a busy economic and political hub.
But due to the decline in business, quality of education, and residents in the town, Centennial slowly lost members and momentum. They stopped holding services in the mid-1990s.
Unable to keep up with the repairs and care required of such a stately old building, the church fell into disrepair. Then in April 2020, high winds finally caved in its roof. Now the weathered timbers of the crumbling interior claw at the sky like skeletal hands.
Can Centennial be saved? Can the building be restored? How is the local community responding?
Learn more about the historic Centennial Baptist Church, its nationally renown pastor Elias Camp Morris, and the people of Helena in a documentary called—“Our Cornerstone.”
I co-produced this 20-minute documentary about Centennial Baptist Church. It premiers on YouTube on Sunday, February 5, at 4 pm ET.
Immediately following we will have a live chat on my Instagram page with the filmmaker, Nolan Dean, and me.
DONATE to help restore Centennial Baptist Church.
LISTEN below to a message from the Centennial Committee about making the church a national park.