A Proud History

The 1940s was a time of great migration for African Americas. The United States was at war on two fronts leading the National Defense Program to create thousands of jobs in California. With emphasis on shipbuilding and aircraft production, the job force went from 20,000 employees in 1939 to a workforce of more than 243,000 in 1943. Many were drawn to Long Beach on the promise of work at the Long Beach Naval Shipyard and migrated from the Midwest states like Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, and all the way down to the southern states like Alabama, South Carolina, Georgia, and Louisiana.

Arriving in California to begin working at the Shipyard, many of these workers and their families lived in, or near, the Cabrillo Homes. “At this time there were only two established African Americans (Negros) churches,  Second Baptist and New Hope” said founding member Nancy Bland. However, both of these churches were located across the bridge, in Central Long Beach.  With all the new arriving families there was a need for an African American church on the Westside, near the housing projects.
In 1944, Reverend Elijah James, began holding church services  in the Nursery Center of the Cabrillo Homes #3. Within a few months, with the help of his son-in-law Rev. Ancer L. Haggerty, St. Mark Baptist Church was born.  Among the founding families and early members were;  Sam & Annie Laura Lang,  Viola (Washington) Croom, Julice (JC) & Dottie Mae Haggerty, William & Bessie Lyons, the Flukas Family, Roger & Nancy Bland, John & Mattie Thompson, James & Marrietta Fennell, Therman & Omega Davis, John & Lillie Harris,  Joseph & Elnora Rentie, Willie & Mariah Fowlkes, Elmer & Wylene Rentie and many more.
By 1946, the Church had out grown its quarters in the nursery and a permanent  home was needed. Land was purchased, at the corner of Harbor Blvd and 16th Street, however, when the church attempted to obtain clear title to the land they were informed that Negros were not permitted to own property in California. Therefore, the Church had to go to the Supreme Court to get a clear Title. During 1946, the U.S. Supreme Court decided in the case Shelley vs Kraemer. They ruled that restrictive covenants-private agreements to exclude persons of a designated race or color from the ownership or occupation of real property-were not enforceable by the judiciary. And so the people of St. Mark  owned the land outright.
The new church building was designed and built entirely by the members of St. Mark Baptist Church. Coming together the members donated all the materials, and the men and women of St. Mark did all the construction themselves.  True to the church motto:  And they  Stood Every Man (and woman) in His Place Round About The Camp – Judges 7:21a   In 1951, Rev. James resigned as Pastor.  
Between 1951 and 1955, Rev. A.L. Haggerty and Rev. L.D. Rodgers served as Pastor. At the end of Rev. Rodgers service there was an attempt to divide the church, but through prayer and the grace of God St. Mark prevailed as one. In 1953, the St. Mark Baptist Church became one of the first African American church in Long Beach to incorporate.
In April 1955, Rev. S. M. Franklin was called to Pastor St. Mark. Rev. Franklin was a dynamic speaker and he, and his talented family of musicians, brought new enthusiasm to the church. The membership grew under his leadership and the church began to look for a larger location in Central Long Beach, the hub of the African American community. The current building became available and was purchased in 1960. Unfortunately, just prior to the move into the new building Rev Franklin passed away.
The church relocated to the new location with a renewed vision, but  without a Pastor. Rev. W. McKnight served as Pastor throughout 1961, until Rev. C.B. Hodge was chosen.  Rev. Hodge was an excellent leader and speaker who instituted a Youth Choir and a Sunbeam Choir.  He believed in encouraging and supporting youth and as the membership continued to grow the church expanded. The property at 1711 Lemon Avenue was purchased and the building was used for Sunday School and as a kitchen facility.
In 1964 Rev. Hodge resigned as Pastor and the Lord sent a kind humble minister into our midst named Henry Ford. Throughout 1964 and into the early part of 1965, Rev. Ford of Buffalo, New York was a constant visitor. In 1965, Rev. Ford was called to Pastor St. Mark. Rev. Ford became active in the City of Long Beach, and he was a well-respected spokesperson for the African American community. Under his leadership St. Mark broadened its ministry to include a Sunday Service at Bel-Vista Convalescent Hospital.  
In 1973, a new classroom and restroom facility was built onto the rear of the church. Oddly, in 1978 the rear of the church building caught on fire and by the grace of God one of our nearby members was led to look towards the church, thus saving the building from total destruction. The members of St. Mark where proven leaders, locally, and within the American Baptist Churches of the Pacific Southwest.  We were the First African American church in Long Beach to break the color barrier at the association and convention level.   
Throughout  Rev. Ford’s service many wonderful programs were begin, such as St. Mark Lambs baseball Team, the Young Adult Action Committee, The Young Laymen, New Membership Class, The Nursery, Children’s Church and the Street Evangelism Teams. Rev. Ford instituted the Long Beach Minister Alliance because He understood the fellowship of churches could save a community.   In 1982, Rev. Ford saw the completion of the long held vision of a Youth Education Building, championed by Deacon Joseph Rentie. During the building of the center, Rev. Ford and other members of St. Mark willingly used their talents and skills in carpentry to help complete the building. Today the building is used for class rooms, special occasions, banquets, socials, church rally’s, youth gatherings, fellowship dinners and on occasion as a worship center.
In 1987, after 22 years of faithful service the Lord called Rev. Henry Ford home. His favorite saying was “If I can help somebody, then my living will not be in vain”.   Rev. Ford more than lived these words.  Those of us who attended the Easter Sunrise Service held at St. John Baptist Church will always remember the picture of Rev. Ford running up the steps, two at a time.    He had a big child-like grin on his face.   Shortly after his death the Young Adult Action Committee implemented the Ford Lang Scholarship Committee that is still a vital source of education tools and scholarship awards.
In 1988, Rev. Solomon Roberts, a young minister who had trained under Rev. Ford was called to Pastor. Rev. Roberts brought to us a thirst for the word and believed in a strong teaching ministry and he willingly gave of his energy and his enthusiasm for the Word. Under his leadership the Children’s Church developed along with many of the programs which had fallen by the wayside.  In June 1992, after a brief illness, the Lord called Roberts home to rest. Following Rev. Solomon’s untimely passing, the church was under the guidance of the Deacons and our very own Rev. George Starks.
In November 1993, Rev. Bruce Shaw Sr. was called to Pastor. Rev. Shaw was a dynamic speaker and under his leadership the Youth and Young Adult ministries flourished.  Rev. Bruce J. Shaw resigned in January 1998 and returned to his home state of Kentucky where he has continued his ministry.
Rev. David Higgins Sr. was called as Pastor in January 2001. Under his leadership, the Evangelism Ministry was reestablished. A dynamic teacher of the Word, Rev. Higgins preached with a passion. During his tenure the church saw the completion of the expanded parking lot project. Bishop Higgins left in March of 2010.
*2012 – 2016 Pastor John K. Berry served as the Pastor.   *2017- Rev, O. Leon Wood, PhD assumed the role of Interim Pastor.
On September 2, 2018, Dr. Sean McMillan began his service as the pastor of St. Mark.  Dr. Sean, as he likes to be called, is a gifted delivers of the word. A true student of the Bible, Dr. Sean says that he has been called to St. Mark to challenge us to be all that God has envisioned for the church.  The membership is excited and looking forward to moving into our 75th year of service in 2019.  

Click for a printable copy of our St Mark History 2018