I remember growing up in Old Ship, there was a very large congregation. Almost every seat in the building was filled.
And there were some businesses down the street and between Sunday School and church, most of the kids would walk down and we would buy candy and other kinds of refreshments, but we had to eat them before we got back here to church.
Old Ship was founded in 1852. The white members of that church decided to build a new structure and so they gave the structure that they had to the black members of the church. The black church was one of the few entities that blacks owned, where they could then make the decision of what went on in the church or how the church structure was to be used.
Someone asked them what will you call your church? And they said, “She has landed many a thousand, we’ll call her the Old Ship of Zion”.
My grandfather, Reverend Willie Leander Hamlin, was assigned to pastor Old Ship in 1911 and that’s how my mother’s family got to Montgomery.
We had two pastors during the time of the modern Civil Rights Movement, Reverend W.J. Powell. He served as treasurer of the Montgomery Improvement Association and also as chairperson of the Transportation Committee. And he was followed by Reverend Edward McLean and he also was very, very active in the Montgomery Improvement Association and the Emancipation Committee.
Then there were members, all of the members, perhaps in some way, because there was so many foot soldiers. My mother was a charter member of the Women’s Political Council. Three of the women, Joanne Robinson, Mary Fair Burkes, and Thelma Glass, they were all very good friends of my parents. Those were the ones who helped to begin the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
And of course we all know that when Ms. Rosa Parks took her seat and all, then they decided this is it. This is the time and so that very night Joanne Robinson composed a flier asking people to stay off of the bus that following Monday and of course, the boycott was not only for that Monday, but lasted for an entire year.
We want Old Ship to be a place that people can visit just to see the beauty of the church and to learn the history, the very important meetings that were held here, the decisions. Frederick Douglas did speak here. Booker T. Washington and President McKinley and he is believed to have been the first and only active President to speak at a black church in the city.
This we need to preserve. We need not only to preserve it, but we need to teach it to those who come after us. And we feel the need for a place of healing and we hope that we’ll be able to be that.