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Nine facts you didn't know about Victoria's oldest black congregations

By Jennifer Lee Preyss
Feb. 25, 2011 at midnight
Updated Feb. 24, 2011 at 8:25 p.m.

Pastor Zettie Woodson speaks to a member of his congregation at Webster Chapel United Methodist Church on Sunday after the morning service.  Originating in 1871, Webster Chapel is one of the oldest congregations in Victoria. Woodson has been pastor there since June.

PALESTINE BAPTISTA group of 21 former slaves, including the church's first pastor the Rev. Mitchell Harrison, founded the First Colored Baptist Church in Victoria County on June 27, 1868, under a tree near Convent Street. That same year, the church was renamed Palestine Missionary Baptist Church.

Palestine built its first sanctuary between 1871 and 1873, followed by a larger church building in 1886 on the corner of Convent and Navarro streets. Salvaged lumber materials were used to build the structure and were brought over by ox-wagon from Old Indianola. The existing brick structure was built in 1953 at the corner of Convent and Depot streets.

Harrison served Palestine for 37 years until his death in 1906. He was credited with organizing the Mt. Zion District Association, and establishing at least two other churches - Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Edgar and Providence Baptist Church in Gonzales.

WEBSTER CHAPEL UNITED METHODIST Webster's congregation established in 1871 to serve newly-freed slaves. Slavery ended with the 13th U.S. Constitutional Amendment in 1865. The church building on South Wheeler Street was first erected in 1889.

Webster Chapel began as a Methodist Episcopal Church. It was named after the Rev. N. Webster, the church's first pastor.

Early members of Webster Chapel formerly attended services of the First Methodist Church of Victoria as slaves. In the 1930s and 1940s when people relocated to Victoria in search of jobs, Webster experienced a surge in membership.

MT. SALEM AMERICAN BAPTISTMt. Salem American Baptist Free Mission Church organized in 1872 by 25 charter members in Indianola. Two hurricanes in 1875 and 1886, destroyed the original church building.

In 1886, Rev. Robert Greer and 20 members of Mt. Salem relocated in Victoria, and transported the original church's bell, pulpit and salvaged lumber from the Indianola location.

In 1939, the church was renamed to Mt. Salem American Baptist Church.

Palestine Baptist Church is among a short list of historic black churches in Victoria that continues to thrive into the 21st century. In June, the congregation will celebrate its 143rd anniversary, designating Palestine's members as the oldest, continuously worshiping black church in the county.

The Texas Historical Commission erected a historical marker in front of Palestine Baptist Church on Convent Street in 1991.

Other markers recognizing longtime black church congregations were erected in front of Webster Chapel United Methodist Church on South Wheeler Street, and Mt. Salem American Baptist Church on North Street. Here are nine facts you didn't know about Victoria's oldest black congregations.

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