MCALLEN, TEXAS (KVEO) — Many gathered Tuesday to witness a rededication to the Bethel Missionary Baptist Church Historical Landmark hosted by Village in the Valley in an effort to celebrate Juneteenth.
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The Historical landmark was founded in 1936 and it is recognized as the first African American Church founded in the city of McAllen. Members of the church said it was torn down in the early 2000s due to financial reasons.
“If you drove by here a couple of months ago, you might’ve found tires just kind of like a dump,” said Village in the Valley Co-Founder Marsha Terry.
Terry said their organization, with the help of volunteers and the city of McAllen, was able to restore it to the now “Bethel Garden”. The city of McAllen invested money and resources to bring life back into the area that is located on the corner of south 16th street on Booker T Ave.
Former McAllen Mayor Jim Darling said once he learned about the problem the area was facing, he knew he had to invest funds. He also signed a Proclamation to make June 19 “National Juneteenth Observance Day.”
“We had meetings, of course with Dr. Howard, we came out here and we looked at it, and thank God I had some city money and its high stakes money,” said Darling.
Terry said how they were able to make a mural painting of a fence that celebrates the church and fix the area by adding benches and flowers.
“They put up nice flowers and it’s just a much nicer space to commemorate what’s stood here before which was Bethel Missionary Baptist Church,” said Terry.
On Tuesday, at the landmark, Terry said they held a rededication ceremony to commemorate those that used to worship at the church.
“People that are spiritually-minded, I think it’s an important part of our history, an important part of Juneteenth and it’s an important part of black culture because spirituality is an important part of how we grow up,” said Terry.
Dr. Theresa Gatling, the co-founder of Village in the Valley, said why it is important to learn about Juneteenth.
“The Emancipation Proclamation went fourth in 1863 but we weren’t told in Texas until 1865 that we were free already. So we celebrate this day as the day where all enslaved people were free including those in Texas,” said Gatling.
Bishop Michael Smith and his wife Sharan Smith used to attend the church. They said seeing the land restored put smiles back on their faces. The church is where they first met and shared a lot of experiences there.
“I preached my first sermon, I was part of the choir, I was sometimes acting Sunday School Director. So I guess you can say I group up here,” said Bishop Smith.
The Smiths remember when the church brought their community together.
“This was a community, even though the majority was African-American, they still had a fellowship with the Hispanics in the area so they grew up together, so it was a community within a community,” said Smith.
Dr. Ray Howard who is a member of Village in the Valley said the church was not just a faith center. He hopes the memory of the church gets passed down for generations.
“It was a community center, it was an education center, right across from us even though it no longer exists was where the Booker T. Washington school was.” Dr. Howard added, “it’s now part of our legacy as well, even though I didn’t get a chance to go to the church I feel the presence of those who did.”
Village in the Valley will be having events throughout the week to celebrate Juneteenth, to learn you can go to their Facebook page.