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Bertie's Bazemore early African American church

Speller, Ben March 2017.jpg

Benjamin F. Speller, Jr.

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Sunday, December 9, 2018

In 2003, the Historic Hope Foundation Board of Directors received a North Carolina Humanities grant to research, offer community discussion, compile, and publish a guide to African American Churches in Bertie County. The results of this publication project suggested that it was likely that the Bazemore Temple Church of God in Christ was the first church of that denomination established in North Carolina.

The Church of God in Christ was founded in 1907 in Arkansas by Charles Harrison Manson. Manson had been dismissed by his black Baptist church in Arkansas because of his beliefs concerning sanctification and over issues of culture, personality, and class differentiation.

The Church of God in Christ is the largest black Pentecostal denomination in the United States. It is also the second largest all black Christian group in the United States. It possesses a rich spiritual heritage with roots in both the African American experience and the spiritual revival that manifested itself among black and white Christians at the beginning of the twentieth century.

In 1911, Levi Bazemore, who was living near Newport News, Va., came to North Carolina to visit relatives. After he had introduced them to the Pentecostal concept of "baptism of the Holy Spirit," his family, under the leadership of Aaron Bazemore, established St. John Church as the first Church of God in Christ congregation in North Carolina and in Bertie County.

As the congregation increased, the St. John Church Building was increased in size. The church building was located at the corner of highway 308 (Governors Road) and Republican Road on land that had a large number of cedar trees. The congregation decided to change the name of the building to Cedar Fork Church of God in Christ.

Aaron Bazemore served as pastor of Cedar Fork until 1942. In recognition of Aaron Bazemore’s distinguished spiritual leadership and long tenure, the congregation decided to change the name of the church building in 1980 to the Bazemore Temple Church of God in Christ.

Under Aaron Bazemore’s leadership and related efforts, the following churches were established in North Carolina: Mt. Ararat Baptist Church, Windsor; Davenport Temple Church of God in Christ, Washington; North Carolina Community Temple Church of God in Christ, Windsor; and Wells Chapel Church of God in Christ, Greenville. He served as pastor at Center Hill Church of God in Christ in Chowan County and Macedonia Church of God in Christ in Edenton.

In 2003, Roseva Gilliam, the champion of Aaron Bazemore’s contributions as a spiritual and community leader in Bertie County and North Carolina, contacted the President of the Historic Hope Foundation about getting a State Historic Marker for Father Aaron Bazemore. She was provided a copy of the new criteria and guidelines for preparing and submitting a proposal to the State and information on the State Historical Marker’s Advisory Committee.

After 15 years of effort with the assistance of the Department of History and Political Science at North Carolina State State University, Roseva Gilliam’s dream was realized. The Dedication of the North Carolina Historical Marker for Father Aaron Bazemore was held on Nov. 17 at Bazemore Temple Church of God in Christ in Windsor North Carolina.

Benjamin F. Speller, Jr., Ph.D. is Retired Dean and Professor, North Carolina Central University, School of Library and Information Sciences, Durham.

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