New Hope Baptist Church, the Oldest Black Church In Dallas, Reflects ‘Unmistakable Merger of Politics and Prayer’

The Rev. Ronald E. Jones at his church, New Hope Baptist Church (Ron Baselice/Staff Photographer)

Some years back, when I agreed to visit Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship to worship with a friend, I had no idea President George W. Bush would also be visiting with his friend, Tony Evans, the minister. 

Not long after that, another friend invited me to The Potter’s House to hear Bishop T. D. Jakes, and I was escorted to the VIP section. By mistake, I thought, since former Dallas Cowboy Emmitt Smith was seated behind me. During the jumbo-screen announcements, Jakes introduced everyone on our row, including “the writer” next to U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison.

And then, there is Freddy Haynes, activist-pastor at Friendship West Baptist Church, who once referred to former Dallas mayor Laura Miller as “Laura Killer.” Haynes’ congregation — and 5,000 votes from the Amen Corner — is often credited with Craig Watkins’ slender victory in his first run for district attorney.

Every black church in Dallas I have stepped inside has reflected an unmistakable merger of politics and prayer. To even begin to understand the transforming power of any black church, you must understand its history.

“We were founded by coloreds, for coloreds,” The Rev. Ronald E. Jones said, laughing at his emphasis on a word black people had graduated to by July 1873, when his church was founded. New Hope Baptist Church is considered the oldest black church in Dallas that wasn’t funded, financed or controlled by whites. Its address, on South Central Expressway, is in an area once known as North Dallas. Trendy residents who live there now call it Uptown.

Of the 250 members worshiping at New Hope today, Jones says there is still one family whose roots can be traced back to an original founder. Thankfully, much of the church history has been written down by New Hope’s historian and the oldest living member, Julia Jordan. (Mrs. Jordan is 94 and didn’t feel up to an interview.)

It is stunning to see church photographs of nearly every single pastor, beginning with The Rev. John Hay in 1873 to the present day. By its fourth minister, E.W.D. Isaac, the church began to take a more active role in the projection of its political voice through media.

Isaac managed the Star Publishing Co., which owned and operated The Dallas Express, an early black newspaper with a reputation for exposing the shameful lack of opportunities for communities of color. From the church pulpit, he preached a message of faith and freedom, justice and jobs through preparation by education.

The church prospered. By 1899, it was able to attract one of the country’s most admired black families, convincing Alexander Stephens Jackson to relocate. Lynching and other forms of terror continued despite the steady enactment of laws. Jackson was part of a new movement of academically gifted young men wanting to pastor black churches in Dallas. The theological die was cast.

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SOURCE: Dallas Morning News – Joyce King

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