The History of Allen Temple Baptist Church 1919-2014
95th Church Anniversary
Reverend James Lewis Allen served as pastor from 1919-1925, Reverend Allen founded the Allen Temple Baptist church in 1919. He was born in slavery, July 12, 1853 to David and Mary Allen of Leesburg, Loudoun County, Virginia. Reverend Allen began his ministry at the age of sixteen. Reverend Allen's first assignment was in Clarksville, Texas where he served as a schoolteacher and minister and later served in El Paso, Texas. Reverend Allen was seminary trained, having graduated from Maryland Seminary and Howard University. The history of Beth Eden Baptist Church records Reverend Allen was called to pastor Beth Eden from El Paso, Texas. After serving six years, Reverend Allen relocated to Oregon. In 1917, Reverend Allen returned to the Bay Area. The American Baptist Churches sent Rev. Allen to East Oakland to start a Church.
When Allen Temple was founded in 1919, the 1920 census count reported 5,489 black residents in Oakland with the majority of them clustered in West Oakland. Allen Temple Baptist Church was among nine known black churches in Oakland, and the first black church in East Oakland.
J. Alfred Smith Sr., records the following from the Western Appeal, a black newspaper dated April 1, 1927.
The church started in a little hall on E. 14th Street and Seminary Avenue with oil heater and a few borrowed chairs, with still fewer members, during the years that tried "men's" [sic] souls - when conditions were such that only a "man" [sic] who was really interested in the morals of a community, the training of youth, the satisfaction of a desire on the part of worshippers for a place to assemble, and whose heart and soul were sincere and filled with an ambition to help suffering humanity.
The church relocated to a house on 85th Avenue at A Streets and as was the custom of so many churches, it became known by its location; the 85th Avenue Baptist church. Records were lost during the infancy years, thus little is known about the details of members and officers.
Reverend Allen later became the pastor of the Mount Olive Baptist Church, Marysville California and was the moderator of the General Baptist Association.
According to the history records of McGee Avenue Baptist Church, Reverend J. A. Allen, of the 85th Avenue Baptist was one of the principal organizers, though not a member. During the lean years, the 85th Avenue Baptist Church was crippled by a small and weak membership including weak economy. Records were not maintained, thus details of the early years are scanty.
After Reverend Allen retired, he maintained his residence at 1632 Tyler Street, Berkeley. He passed away peacefully at his home, November 6, 1940, at the age of 88 years and 3 months. Reverend Allen was survived by his widow, Mrs. Francis Allen, and two brothers, Dr. Willard Allen of New Haven, Connecticut, and Mr. Loyd [sic] Allen of Philadelphia. The Evergreen Cemetery, Oakland, records Reverend Allen's burial date, November 9, 1940.
Following Reverend Allen, there was a series of pastoral changes. The Reverend James Dee Wilson served for one year, 1926. Rev. Wilson was well known throughout the country as a dynamic preacher, musician and social justice activist. Reverend Wilson served as moderator of the General Baptist Association. According to the McGee Avenue Church history records, Reverend James Dee Wilson became pastor of McGee Avenue Baptist Church in 1935. Reverend Wilson and his wife Sara resided on Stuart Street, Berkeley. Reverend Wilson's date of birth is listed July 20, 1878. He was called from labor to reward, September 16, 1949.
Dr. R. H. Thomas served as pastor from 1927-1929. Both Reverends Wilson and Thomas were well known in the Bay Area and beyond. Reverend Thomas led the 85th Avenue Baptist Church to higher heights. He expanded the traditional views areas of evangelism, missions, and Christian education to relating them to the gospel as black liberation. The church began to forge its identity as a social justice church. No doubt Reverend Thomas was influenced by the Marcus Garvey movement that had established a United Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) chapter on 8th Street in Oakland, in what was called the Liberty Hall. By now, the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) had established headquarters in Oakland and enrolled over two thousand members including prominent and ordinary citizens as clergy, public employees and the son of a U.S. Congressman. Reverend Thomas's deep respect for the founding pastor coupled with his deep historical appreciation, resulted in the congregation honoring the founding pastor by changing the church's name from the 85th Avenue Baptist Church to the Allen Temple Baptist Church.
Reverend Thomas resigned in 1929. While the details concerning his departure are not known, what is known that he was a great man of God who help to build up the ministry of Allen Temple. There were no other assistant ministers in the church, however prior to his departure, Pastor Thomas ensured that the church would have a well-groomed leader to succeed him. The mantle was passed to an outstanding layman, Brother G. W. Wildy. Brother Wildy entered the Berkeley Baptist Divinity School where he received a certificate in ministry. G. W. Wildy was ordained shortly thereafter and became the next pastor of Allen Temple Baptist Church. Pastor Wildy was an excellent carpenter and architect and those skills proved to be a valuable asset to Allen Temple during the years of his service as Pastor from 1929-1950.
1929 was the beginning of the "Great Depression era", resources were scarce and money was scarcer. Not only were families struggling, the church was struggling as well. Under the great leadership of Reverend Wildy, Allen Temple became a "refuge in a time of storm". Allen Temple was among other churches that "fed the hungry and clothed the naked". Times were hard, but God's strength provided stability.
The Great Depression did not depress the hopes and dreams of Pastor Wildy. He recognized that education was key to strengthening young people. He had a vision to build a church school department that would be a better facility for leadership education as well as winning young people to Christ. With faith, and hope. Pastor Wildy's vision came into reality on October 29, 1939 at 3:00 p.m. for the groundbreaking service and on February 18, 1940, a new facility was dedicated in honor of "Pastor G. J. Wildy. The California-Nevada Bulletin reported, "The people sacrificed and worked hard to accomplish the building of a lovely little chapel on 85th Avenue and A streets in East Oakland."
World War II brought hundreds of thousands of black migrants from the South seeking improved economic opportunities and escaping the oppression of discrimination. West Oakland continued to be the enclave for the black community, businesses and black churches. To attract new members, Pastor Wildy advertised in black newspapers, telling them about Allen Temple Baptist Church. Gradually, membership began to grow and Allen Temple began to establish a reputation as a gathering place where other pastors came to discuss important issues. Reverend Wildy was more than a pastor, he was involved in the Baptist denomination and political issues that impacted Black people.
Under Pastor Wildy's leadership, Allen Temple grew financially, grew in numbers, grew spiritually, and the church facility grew in size. Though Pastor Wildy was effective, nevertheless, internal schism stalked the church over Wildy's management style. Pastor Wildy preached his farewell sermon February 1950 and later organized the Cosmopolitan Baptist Church located several blocks from Allen Temple. Reverend Wildy later moved to Los Angeles. He was called from labor to reward, February 15, 1993.With the departure of Rev. Wildy, much healing and reconciliation had to take place.
Reverend Augustus L. Carpenter served as pastor from 1950 to 1958. God sent a mighty man of valor by the name of Reverend Augustus L. Carpenter, a seasoned man of age and wisdom with an outstanding reputation as a godly leader. Reverend Carpenter served as the past President of the District Sunday School and Baptist Training Union Congress of Louisiana for twelve years and was considered an outstanding leader. Reverend Carpenter was born in Louisiana, March 27, 1878. After serving as pulpit supply for ninety days, Pastor Carpenter was elected pastor of Allen in the spring of 1950. On September 29, 1950, the first deacons of Allen Temple were ordained by the Reverend Carpenter. Working with the members and with the help of his wife, Dorothy, Allen Temple began to heal and grow and was gaining a reputation as a prominent church in Oakland. Rev. Carpenter soon found his role as pastor expanding beyond the stain glass windows. Black leaders were calling upon churches to support the efforts of NAACP that had been strengthened as a result of W. E. B. DuBois who had sparked a movement to establish headquarters in the Bay Area to fight discrimination that abounded in the Bay Area. Rev. Carpenter responded to the needs of the community and the NAACP to help fight racism and housing discrimination, at the same time improving the administrative infrastructure of the church such as the first church bulletins were published by Mrs. Marie F. Johnson and Mr. Lee Conroe.
By now, racial restrictions and housing discrimination gave way to blacks moving into East Oakland; as a result, membership grew, leading to the need to further expand the church facilities by purchasing additional property lots that were for sale as a result of the "white flight" to suburbia. In March 1953, a special ground breaking service was held. The Reverend Carpenter was a great preacher, leader and a tenuous dedicated pastor. His resignation letter dated, January 8, 1958, read in part: "There comes a time in all our lives when a parting of the ways must take place. Sometimes by death, moving away or otherwise...One called of God to preach the Gospel cannot do as he chooses at all times, nor what man thinks he should do, but must be led by the Spirit....". Reverend Carpenter was called from labor to reward, January 9, 1961, at 9:30 p.m. in Oakland. Marsha Carpenter Peterson, granddaughter, of Reverend Carpenter is a long time member of Allen Temple and is active in various ministries.
Reverend Doctor Charles Christopher Bailey served as pastor rom 1958-1969. Six months after the resignation of Pastor Carpenter, God had already provided a "ram in the bush". Allen Temple was blessed with a youthful son in the gospel of McGee Avenue Baptist Church, Berkeley. Reverend Bailey was born February 24, 1934 in Houston, Texas, and was one of the migrants in the 1940's to come to California. He graduated from Encinal High School, attended U.C. Berkeley, and the Pacific School of Religion, Graduate Theological Union by the time he was twenty-four years of age. Reverend Bailey received his doctorate in Political Science from Lincoln University, San Francisco. Under Pastor Bailey's leadership, he "established regular office hours, improved the accounting and record keeping, and established a Board of Christian Education. The forward thinking leadership style of Pastor Bailey signaled the beginning of a significant change in the image of Allen Temple. Pastor Bailey realigned Allen Temple with churches that were associated with the American Baptist Churches. Uniquely, Allen Temple was the first of the black churches to move into an all-white association by leading the way in integrating a black church into an association with the American Baptists in Northern California. Pastor Bailey's progressive leadership style was highly appealing to middle class blacks many of whom were businessmen and women in the community that helped to reshape the church. Ministries and boards within the church were active in raising funds for a new expanded sanctuary.
Women played a major in the life of building the church, no longer relegated to "women's roles, women shared in the leadership of the church alongside men. The Women's Missionary Society, Sister Albertine Shelton was the first President of the Business and Professional Women's Society, who took on the responsibility to raise substantial monies to help young people in the church who were college bound. A Library committee was established. Deaconesses, and a host of other women were pillars of the church. "Mrs. Arville Gilmore became the church representative in the ecumenical area of working with the Oakland council of Churches. Mrs. Carolyn Stuckey provided counsel and instructions in speech and the dramatic arts. Mrs. Lula Kelly promoted fund raising programs for the library. Younger women became supportive in Christian Education. Sister Doris Newell Thomas organized a young adult choir. In cooperation with the Oakland Public Schools, Allen Temple became a site location for an Adult School. As a pastor who was well educated, Pastor Bailey understood that upward mobility for the black race was directly connected with education. The clergy ministry was strengthened with the able bodied help of Reverend George Johnson, and the Reverend Matthew Faulkner. Among the deacons that were added were Frank Crosby, Edward Hall, Willie Wade, and Joseph Mondy. Deaconesses Mother Mae Douglas, Mary Williams, Arville Gilmore, Lillie Blount, Eliza Jernigan, Joyce Stewart Beulah Floyd and countless others were "on the battlefield", strengthening the church. As the church continued to grow, In spite of the tremendous strides under the leadership of Reverend Bailey, with deep regrets and the greater community, a great era ended when Pastor Bailey resigned in 1968. Dr. Bailey left a great legacy to Allen Temple. In 1972, Dr. Bailey became the first full time African-American faulty member to teach at Cabrillo College, Santa Cruz in the Social Science Department and went on to publish in major journals. Dr. Bailey moved to Bellingham, Washington, where taught part-time at Whatcom Community College. Dr. Bailey was called from labor to reward, August 13, 2006.
THE DAWNING OF A NEW ERA
Reverend Dr. J. Alfred Smith Sr. served from 1971-2009. Dr. Smith Sr., a native of Kansas City, Missouri, was licensed to preach in 1948 and ordained in 1951. The son of a strong Christian woman, Mrs. Amy Smith, Dr. Smith is a native of Kansas City, Missouri. Initially, Reverend Dr. J. Alfred Smith Sr. and Reverend John Favors shred the pulpit as interim pastors. However, on February 21, 1971, a new era was ushered in when Dr. J. Alfred Smith Sr. was installed as the pastor of Allen Temple Baptist Church at the age of 39 years. Dr. Smith Sr., his beautiful wife Joanna and five children, immediately proved to be "just what Allen Temple needed." The era of the Civil Rights Movement was in its sunset years, the Black Power movement was still on the horizon and the Black Panther Party was in its infancy stage, still struggling for its "true identity." Oakland was making national and international news as a "revolutionary city in revolutionary change. Allen Temple was located behind the Black Panther East Oakland Headquarters at the corner of 85th Avenue and East 14th Streets; which is now the location of the 65,000 square foot Allen Temple Family Life Center. Dr. Smith did not alienate himself or Allen Temple from the Panther Party. Rather, a healthy rapport was established, as the Panthers and Allen Temple shared some common goals for the black community that included education, justice, peace, decent housing, employment and destiny over the Black Community. By now Allen Temple was "on the map" as a church that was grounded in Black Liberation Theology through its praxis of social action as understood by the ministry of Jesus Christ outlined in Luke 4:18. The membership rolls grew; political leaders, educators, doctors, lawyers, and working people joined Allen Temple in great numbers; working to strengthen the church and the community. It was not unusual that national elected officials, as well as great, theologians such as Dr. Howard Thurman, James Cone, Renita Weems, Bishop Desmond Tutu from South Africa, Dr. Gardner C. Taylor, Drs. Henry and Ella Mitchell, and Presidents of the PNBC were among the many that graced the pulpit. Much of the growth of Allen Temple is attributed to the "fact that "lay people were trained to function in leadership roles. Dr. Smith Sr.'s philosophy was a simple statement: "In order to get to the sweet by and by-you you have to deal with the nasty now and now – translated that meant "Get out of the rocking chair of lazy religion." –Don't be a spectator, become a participator – get involved. Dr. Smith Sr., along with the leaders of the church led marches and took evangelism to the streets.
The stained glass windows in the sanctuary were a vision that Dr. Smith Sr. had long before coming to Allen Temple. Dr. Smith said, while I was still a full time employee, of the American Baptist, attending a national Conference at the women's college. As I sat there, I noticed the beautiful chapel with ornate stained glass windows with images of all white saints. I asked myself "do we have any black saints, is there anybody God has touched and used...surely, our elders were not unbelievers". Shortly thereafter, I visited Mount Zion Baptist Church, in Seattle, Washington, where my friend, Rev. Dr. McKinney was pastoring. I noticed the stained glass windows with pioneer Black pioneer Christians. Out of race pride, I wanted black pioneer images prominently displayed in the new sanctuary that was close to opening. With careful prayer, I was motivated to discuss the idea with Dr. Robert Scott, MD, who served on the Trustee Board; the church was close to completing the new sanctuary. Dr. Scott was all for the stain glass windows, but not all other trustees shared the same vision. After returning from Chicago where I had eulogized Dr. Scott's father, much to my surprise, Dr. Scott had gone to a stain glass window company in South San Francisco, and personally paid for a majority of the stain glass windows. Dr. Smith related he carefully selected the images that would be on the stained glass windows ensuring a representation of black men and women pioneers. A wall of stained glass windows is on the opposite side with images of biblical characters, images Christ the lamb, Christ the Good Shepherd and other gospel messages. In addition to the stained glass windows, a hand painted image of Phillip, baptizing a Black Ethiopian Eunuch looms large above the baptismal pool. Dr. Smith Sr., said, to all who entered the sanctuary, "the stained glass windows serve as a teaching message of "race pride - black men and women who were committed to "lifting up the race", I especially want children to see the beauty of black people who convey a message of hope in a hostile world.
When Allen Temple opened her new sanctuary to accommodate everyone, two Sunday worship services were established. By now Allen Temple was dually aligned with the Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc., and the American Baptist Churches USA. Dr. Smith Sr.'s visionary leadership style landed him a position as second-vice president of the PNBC in 1984, and in 1986, he was elected President of PNBC. Mrs. Joanna Smith, wife of Dr. Smith Sr., worked diligently with the adult education department that was sponsored by the Oakland Public Schools. She helped adult students in preparing them for their high school equivalency examinations as well as enabled foreign-born persons to meet citizenship requirements. She was knowledgeable in Spanish and Portuguese.
The Reverend Doctor Malvina Stephens was the first woman among many to come to be ordained by Dr. Smith Sr. at Allen Temple. Dr. Stephens headed up the Prison ministry and congregational care among many other ministries. Dr. Stephens was called from labor to reward, September 16, 2014. Another outstanding female clergy is the Reverend Doctor Eunice Shaw, Director of Health and Social Services, and Thursday noonday Bible study. Numerous other female clergy serve in leadership roles at Allen Temple; the majority of whom are seminary trained with earned doctorate degrees. The late Reverend Doctor Ella Mitchell, editor of over a five volume collection of black women sermons, Those Preaching Women was licensed to preach, but was not ordained until 35 years later at Allen Temple by Dr. Smith Sr. As fate would have it, Dr. Mitchell's last public appearance was at the Allen Temple Baptist Church in 2008.
The Reverend Dr. J. Alfred Smith Jr. was licensed to preach in 1973, ordained in 1976 and served in various capacities including Youth Minister and Assistant Pastor, prior to his elevation as Co-Pastor. Dr. Smith Jr. expanded the church's ministries through community partnerships with the East Oakland Healthy Start programs and vocational training program in partnership with the Oakland Public Schools. This seasoned father and son team was equally yoked; bone of bone, flesh of flesh and together they established Allen Temple Baptist church as a model urban ministry church. Numerous ministries were added to Allen Temple under the leadership of this Father and Son team including an international global ministry that established an orphanage in Zimbabwe.
In the late 1970s and through the 1980's East Oakland was undergoing a major demographic and ethic shift as Hispanics began to populate the area. In 1988, the Reverend Ruben Hurtado was guided to Allen Temple Baptist Church and expressed his feelings to Reverend Gloria Aguilar and Deacon Armando Aguilar. In response to the change, and an answer to Dr. Smith Sr.'s prayer, Reverend Hurtado became Pastor of a new outreach ministry that spoke directly to the needs of the Hispanic community; thus, the Iglesia Bautista de Allen Temple was birthed with Reverend Hurtado as the Pastor.
In 1997, the Leadership Institute at Allen Temple was a vision of Dr. Smith Sr. after brainstorming his vision to start a Christian educational institute that would focus on educating women and men for responsible Christian leadership in the church and society. Dr. Smith Sr., served as Chancellor and Dr. L. P. Lewis was appointed Dean. After Rev Dr. L. P. Lewis's brief tenure as Dean, Dr. Jesse Perry, Ph.D., served as Dean for eight years. Rev. Dr. Barbara Bowman served as Dean for a brief period followed by the Reverend Dr. Brenda Guess who was appointed Chancellor and Dean. The Institute now extends its training globally to South Africa through on-line training.
In 2001, the Reverend Dr. J. Alfred Smith Jr., was led by God to start a ministry in Nevada, and within two years, Dr. Smith Jr., was elected Pastor of the historic Antioch Baptist Church, in San Jose. In the meantime, Dr. Smith Sr. rearranged his pastoral leadership team to include the Reverend Dr. L. P. Lewis, the Reverend Doctor Cheryl Elliott, Pastoral Care and the Reverend Doctor Martha Taylor, served as Assistant to the Pastor in Administration. At the same time, Sister Betty Gadling, served as Minister of Music for years prior to her retirement. Under her direction, the worship service was enhanced with an outstanding mass choir, and the popular yearly Black Nativity that gained local and national attention.
Prior to retirement, Dr. Smith Sr. served as Distinguished Professor of Christian Ministry and Preaching at the American Baptist Seminary of the West and the Graduate theological seminary in Berkeley. Dr. Smith Sr. testified before the United Nations on April 14, 1989 in an effort to end Apartheid in South Africa. The international presence of Allen Temple has been felt through the preaching and teaching of Dr. Smith Sr. on the continent of Africa, Korea, Canada, and England. He led Allen Temple on a journey to the Holy Land in Israel and Palestine on two occasions. After authoring over sixteen books, and wining numerous awards, including one of Ebony magazine's Top 15 preachers of 1993, and 2001, Doctor J. Alfred Smith Sr., retired as Senior Pastor of Allen Temple in 2009 and was voted in to serve as Pastor Emeritus. His ministry continues.
Reverend Dr. J. Alfred Smith, Jr. March 15, 2009-present. On March 15, 2009, the Reverend Dr. J. Alfred Smith, Jr., was called by an overwhelming majority vote to take up the mantel as Senior Pastor of Allen Temple Baptist Church. Not only had he served for many years at Allen Temple as Co-Pastor, he brought the experience of a Senior Pastor, of the historic Antioch Baptist Church, San Jose. The installation service was celebratory, joyful and included a wide spectrum of church members. The participation of youth and young adults signaled a new and brighter vision for the church as young people became more prominent in worship service as leaders. Dr. Smith Jr., is not only a highly gifted preacher, he is an intellectual scholar at San Francisco State University and served as an adjunct professor in the Doctor of Ministry program. He is the recipient of the American Baptist Homes of the West Affordable housing award in 2007. Dr. Smith Jr. is well established as a gatekeeper for social justice as a community activist. He serves in a leadership capacity at the Progressive National Baptist Convention.
Within a year, after Dr. Smith Jr. became Senior Pastor, the Church reached a new milestone when he chose the highly gifted and talented Reverend Doctor Jacqueline A. Thompson, a daughter of Allen Temple, to serve as the Assistant Pastor of the Church. Dr. Smith Jr. and Dr. Thompson work as a united team, reframing and retooling, the future of the church in the millennium age, with emerging digital and technological virtual reality. Under the leadership of Dr. Smith Jr., Allen Temple has enhanced her presence well beyond the walls of the church via Internet live streaming. New ministries have been added in response to the needs of the community and beyond. Four large television screens are strategically placed in the sanctuary, pastoral outer office and the Family Life Center for enhanced viewing of the Sanctuary. The barriers and configuration of the platform where the preaching and announcements and choir singing takes place now communicates an interactive environment and is accessible for the physically challenged. The removal of fixed chairs freed the platform pulpit space to be more flexible for creative worship such as praise dance, skits and the newer pulpit places the speaker at eye level with the congregation. Dr. Smith Jr. avails himself to the congregation, community and worldwide using technology such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Both Sunday services (8:00 a.m., and 11:15 a.m.) can be viewed via live streaming. Thursday Night Bible classes are interactive and PowerPoint presentations and film media are used as enhancements to further involve audience participation. Pastor Smith Jr. is a dynamic preacher, he sees himself as part of the global village, a far-reaching network of humanity, connected to people whom he does not yet know through social media. Our Communications Ministry reaches the four corners of the world and every age group through the dynamic, unifying power of the Internet – Allen-Temple.org, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Under the dynamic leadership of Dr. J Alfred Smith, Jr., Allen Temple continues to restore wholeness to a fractured community through continued and new ministries such as addressing the phenomena of sex trafficking; to address this pressing issue, a ministry that helps young people who are caught in the trap of "human sex slavery" is being addressed. A Historical and Archival Ministry is being launched to capture the rich legacy and history of Allen Temple.
A debt of gratitude is owed to the Reverend Dr. J. Alfred Smith Sr., for chronicling the early historical years of Allen Temple Baptist Church in his book Thus Far by Faith and Mrs. Pearlie Williams, Church Librarian.
Reverend Dr. Martha C. Taylor,
Allen Temple Baptist Church Historian
Progressive National Baptist Church Historian