The Church of God in Christ Board of Bishops, chaired by Bishop John H. Sheard, has sponsored the placement of a state historical marker in Lexington, Mississippi, the city where Charles H. Mason founded the Church of God in Christ in 1897.
The Mississippi Department of Archives and History approved the marker, which will be unveiled and dedicated on Friday, October 16, 2015, at 1 pm at the south end of the Holmes County Courthouse, 200 Court Square, Lexington, Mississippi. A dedication program includes several speakers of national importance, and state and local government officials will be present. The public is invited to the dedication.
The Church of God in Christ, the largest Pentecostal denomination in the United States, is now headquartered in Memphis, Tennessee. However, the church’s roots in Lexington, 150 miles south of Memphis, have often been overlooked. The Pentecostal Heritage Connection, led by Mary P. Patterson, assembled the dedication program. “If Memphis is the Church of God in Christ’s Jerusalem,” states Patterson, “then Lexington is its Nazareth.” Patterson, the widow of former Presiding Bishop J. O. Patterson, Sr., is particularly interested in helping young people to learn more about their heritage. She has organized tours of Church of God in Christ historic sites in Lexington since 2006.
Lexington has played a prominent role in Church of God in Christ history. Bishop Charles H. Mason (1864-1961) began his ministry in 1893 in Preston, Arkansas. Shunned by the African-American Baptist community in Jackson during the 1890s due to his teachings on holiness, Mason brought his revival to Lexington in 1897. He began preaching on the steps of the Holmes County Courthouse and later moved to private homes and an abandoned gin house. During his time in Lexington, Mason established St. Paul Church of God in Christ, which became known as the “mother church” of the Church of God in Christ denomination.
Mason faced opposition in Lexington, coming from those who disapproved of his holiness preaching and his pacifism and interracialism. He was incarcerated in the Holmes County Courthouse in 1918 for allegedly preaching against World War I, despite having sold bonds to help the war effort. The jail cell which housed Mason has been preserved and is open to the public. Hundreds of people each year visit the jail cell, which is decorated with colorful murals depicting Mason’s incarceration.
Lexington was also home to Saints Industrial and Literary School, established to train African American children by Sister Pinkie Duncan and Professor James Courts in 1918. Under Dr. Arenia Mallory, president of the school from 1926 to 1983, the school became known as Saint’s Academy and was a prominent K-12 school in the community. Dr. Mallory was a leading advocate for civil rights and the poor in Holmes County. The school closed in 2006.