The congregation of Mt. Calvary Baptist Church held its first services in 1896 in the historically African-American neighborhood of Brooklyn in Jacksonville, Florida. Among those in attendance were former United States Colored Troops who fought against the Confederacy during the Civil War. Following the war, Miles Price, a Confederate veteran purchased a former 800-acre plantation. He sold off the southern portion of the property, which would later be developed into the neighborhood known as Riverside. The northern portion was developed by himself and sold to former slaves and black Union soldiers to establish a new neighborhood called Brooklyn. While Price was the one to name the neighborhood, it is unknown why a former Confederate soldier chose a name associated with the New York boroughs. Developed as a residential suburb, the area quickly grew after the establishment of a streetcar line. By the 1890s, more than 1,000 people lived in Brooklyn in more than 250 houses.
In its first fifty years, Mt. Calvary Baptist Church worshipped in a small white wood-framed building. After nine pastors, Reverend William Hill came to the pulpit in 1942 and led Mt. Calvary as pastor until his death 30 years later. Reverend Hill believed the church needed a new sanctuary and wanted to build a structure to accommodate the church’s growth as well as announce its importance to the city. Reverend Hill commissioned one of the few black architects in Jacksonville, James Edward Hutchins, to build the new church. Hutchins would design and build at least six other black churches and homes throughout the segregated black neighborhoods of College Park and Durkee Gardens, where prominent black physicians, educators, and business leaders lived. Reverend William Hill served as pastor of Mt. Calvary longer than any of his nine predecessors and christened a new sanctuary cementing his legacy within the church.
By the 1950s, the neighborhood of Brooklyn had nearly 6,000 residents. In 1983, John Allen Newman arrived in Jacksonville and became pastor of Mt. Calvary Baptist Church. Most of the Brooklyn neighborhood still attended Mt. Calvary in Newman’s early years as pastor. In early 1988, Newman asked church members to donate to the church on behalf of Jesse Jackson’s presidential campaign. He told the media that he believed “in holistic salvation, not just personal salvation, but the salvation of a person’s environment.” As Newman left traditional black Baptist teaching behind, he alienated himself from many within the neighborhood.
Shortly after becoming the new pastor, Reverend Newman convinced the congregation of Mt. Calvary that they needed a newer sanctuary, which he wanted to build diagonally across the street. He asked the whole community for donations, proclaiming he would build a walkway between the two churches. Newman even went as far as to ask longtime church members to mortgage their homes to help pay for the construction. The neighboring church was never finished and would later be demolished by the city. In 1999, Reverend Newman dissolved Mt. Calvary Baptist Church, leaving it abandoned in Brooklyn, and began The Sanctuary at Mt. Calvary in a former car dealership.
In promotional materials, The Sanctuary at Mt. Calvary links its history back to Brooklyn in 1896. Recently, Newman moved his congregation into another old church, a former Baptist church in the neighborhood of Grant Park. He made national news by proposing from the pulpit to his then-girlfriend, reality show participant, and former Trump aide, Omarosa Manigault. Due to the increasing use of the railway, Brooklyn developed into a more commercial and industrial area. Construction of the Fuller Warren Bridge in 2000 cut off the neighborhood, forcing many residents to move. Today, many structures in the neighborhood sit in disrepair including the former church with no plans for renovation.
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