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Shiloh Baptist Church

The International Tea and Cleveland's Civil Rights Struggle

Shiloh's International Tea hosted an array of prominent and challenging speakers. The annual event reflected the important political and social role that Black churches maintained in Cleveland during the 1960s and 1970s.

In 1975, Shiloh Baptist Church held its 10th annual International Tea. Dressed in costumes representative of different nations, congregation members had arranged a buffet of ethnic food in the building's basement; upstairs, Reverend Jesse Louis Jackson stood at the church pulpit to address a capacity crowd sitting beneath the stained-glass dome. In an hour-long sermon, the civil rights advocate equated Cleveland and the United States to a wrecked ship—both lacked in socially conscious political leadership, threatening to sink the fight for racial equality. Recalling the influence of the urban African American voting bloc in helping to elect Carl Stokes as Cleveland mayor, he urged the attendees not to dismiss new leaders and to continue effecting change through the ballot box.

Touching on contentious issues of politics, poverty, and race, Jackson's speech was not atypical for the tea social. A 1969 speech by Congressman Louis Stokes had pointed towards the turmoil of Cleveland's race relations, and denounced violence as a means of implementing social change. In 1970, the first Black female president of the United Nations General Assembly, Miss Angie Elizabeth Brooks, had spoken to issues of racial inequality in the United States and criticized the Back to Africa movement. And in 1971, ABC News Correspondent to the United Nations, Malvin R. Goode, had denounced the war in Vietnam at the International Tea. Indeed, for ten years, Shiloh's International Tea had hosted an array of prominent and challenging speakers. The annual event reflected the important political and social role that Black churches maintained in Cleveland during the 1960s and 1970s.

The first International Tea at Shiloh was held in 1966, coinciding with a growing awareness in Cleveland of the political power held by the African American community. The following year, the election of Carl Stokes as mayor held a spotlight to the influence of churches and clergy within Black neighborhoods. Churches such as Shiloh were actively involved in promoting voter registration, and acted as spaces for public meetings and political rallies. While the unity of Cleveland's African American clergy behind Stokes's candidacy may have brought the power of a new voting bloc to the attention of politicians and the media, the influence of the church as a center of social, cultural, and political life for black communities was not new. Shiloh Baptist Church, organized from a mission of First Baptist Church in 1850, had long held an important place in the lives of Cleveland's African American citizenry. Countless mass meetings, social functions, and public gatherings were hosted at the various structures occupied by the congregation throughout its history. Shiloh also sponsored sports teams, missionary services, educational programs, and recreational activities for its congregation and Cleveland residents.

Intimately tied to Baptist concepts of mission, evangelism and fellowship, the influence of Shiloh in the community had historically extended to the social and cultural lives of Cleveland's African American residents. As the Civil Rights Movement progressed through the 1950s and 1960s, local houses of worship in Cleveland's highly segregated Black neighborhoods played an integral role in the fight for racial equality. Clergy members of black churches throughout the city increasingly became associated with social and political activism. Shiloh Baptist Church was no different; the acceptance of pastoral leadership by Rev. Alfred M. Waller in 1963, compounded by a rising African American population on Cleveland's East Side, helped fuel the expansion and influence of Shiloh Baptist Church during the 1960s. Coming into his new church, Waller challenged the congregation to both grow the church and broaden their missionary role in the community. Believing the role of the African American church was to "think black, but act colorless," he urged the congregation towards social action in Cleveland's inner city neighborhoods. The mission work of the church was to provide hope to Cleveland's disenfranchised residents and cast the East Side in a more positive light.

The International Tea was one outgrowth of these efforts. The social event was designed to broaden the outreach and culture of the Black community by familiarizing them with the traditions and heritage of others. Congregation members researched the history and culture of different nationalities, often making contact with persons of different ethnicities from their neighborhood for recipes and costume suggestions. The event was also meant to act as a positive representation of the black community to the outside world; it not only echoed the language of the Civil Rights Movement, but provided a real-life example of its ideals. The International Tea presented themes that drew attention to commonalities between cultures, such as the universality of human rights, the brotherhood of man, the American Dream, and America as a melting pot. The political, social, and cultural commentary provided by prominent guest speakers on these subjects was meant to both challenge and shape the views of Cleveland's African American community. Shiloh Baptist Church, as well as other black houses of worship in Cleveland, continued to play an important role in shaping the politics and culture of Cleveland until the late 1970s.

Audio

Community Cornerstone Church members recall memories of growing up attending Shiloh. They describe the external features of the church building, a golden dome and large front pillars. Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection
Banking Lesson Shiloh Church members recall the satisfaction of a savings program with the local elementary school. The church would coordinate savings accounts for children during the school year for redemption upon summer vacation. Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection
Funeral Home Visits Church members recall spending time with the church janitor, at the neighboring funeral home, and in enterprising activities. Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection

Images

Rev. Waller with Louis Stokes and Jesse Jackson, 1975 Rev. Jesse Louis Jackson spoke at Shiloh's 1975 International Tea in his capacity as the President and founder of PUSH (People United to Save Humanity). In an interview following the sermon, Jackson urged for mass demonstrations to bring the issues of unemployment, racial discrimination and poverty to the forefront of local and national political agendas. Source: Shiloh Baptist Church
B'nai Jeshurun Synagogue The building that currently houses the Shiloh Baptist Church was completed in 1906 for the B'nai Jeshurun Jewish congregation. Architect Harry A. Cone's neoclassical design for the symmetrical, cruciform structure centered around the building's most distinguishing feature- its central dome. Source: Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections.
Carl Stokes at International Tea, 1967 Organized by auxiliary groups such as the United States Mother's Club, the Deaconess Board and the Queen of Sheba Circle, Shiloh's International Tea speaks to the contributions and influence of women in Baptist congregations. Not only were tea socials common fundraising events organized by female congregants, but the International Tea was similar in character to traditional Baptist "Women's Day" programs - an annual event where women took on all leadership positions within the church. These church programs offered an accepted outlet for the social and political activism of women, and a means to redefine their gender roles within both the church and their community. Source: Shiloh Baptist Church
Rev. Waller in Egypt, 1967 In 1967, Rev. Waller joined the Preaching Mission Team of the National Baptist Convention on a 30-day tour of West Africa, Rome, Egypt, Israel and Jordan. Stemming from key tenets of the Baptist faith, Mission and Evangelism, churches such as Shiloh actively participated in international missionary work to promote education, democracy and Christianity across the globe. Source: Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections.
Old Shiloh Shiloh Baptist Church, officially recognized as a Baptist denominational church in 1869, is Cleveland's oldest Black Baptist congregation. Initially created as a mission to alleviate concerns of members of First Baptist Church over the growing number of black congregants, Shiloh quickly grew to become an integral institution in the religious and social life of Cleveland's early Black Baptist population. First Baptist Church aided Shiloh in acquiring land on East 30th Street by 1870 for a house of worship. The above-pictured stone church was dedicated in 1899, and acted as home to the congregation until the purchase of the Temple B'nai Jeshurun in 1924. Source: Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections.
Inner-City Mission, 1966 Following the Hough Riots, Shiloh Baptist Church was active in providing aid and housing to persons displaced by the fires. Source: Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections.
Rev. Waller and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, the pulpit of Black churches provided a space where controversial and challenging ideas could be communicated to the Black community. In a 1967 address at Shiloh Baptist Church, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. denounced the Vietnam War as well as the Baptist Church. King's speech targeted the failure of the church in condemning an unjust and evil war, as well as the hypocrisy of a segregated Southern Baptist Convention that promotes missionary work in Africa. Source: Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections.
Picnic at Garfield Park Shiloh Baptist Church acted as a recreation center for its members, as well as the surrounding community. Churches, in league with the efforts of the NAACP, were also active in the 1940s movement to prohibit discrimination in Cleveland parks. Source: Shiloh Baptist Church
Shiloh Credit Union Shiloh Baptist Church was also tied to the economic development of its surrounding community. Founded in 1960, the credit union provided a segregated community an alternate means to saving and borrowing money. By 1990, the Shiloh Credit Union was one of the most successful credit unions in Ohio, with assets reported of more than one million dollars. Source: Shiloh Baptist Church
Missionary Society Food Delivery The importance of social action and community involvement was stressed under the pastorate of Reverend Wallace at Shiloh Baptist Church. During the 1960s, a food bank was organize and more than $35,000 of aid was donated to Cleveland benevolent societies and missions. Source: Shiloh Baptist Church
Shiloh Laity Historically, Cleveland's African American church-going population was predominately Baptist. In 1960s, Shiloh's congregation was the largest in the Cleveland Baptist Association. Source: Shiloh Baptist Church
International Tea, 1970 The 1970 International Tea was hosted by Angie Brooks, a Liberian native and the only Black woman elected President of the United Nations General Assembly. A capacity crowd of 1,500 crowded into Shiloh to hear her speak on the subject of "Some Relevant Keys toward World Peace." Source: Shiloh Baptist Church

Location

5500 Scovill Ave, Cleveland, OH 44104

Metadata

Richard Raponi, “Shiloh Baptist Church,” Cleveland Historical, accessed August 8, 2022, https://clevelandhistorical.org/items/show/176.