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South Bend African-American church to celebrate 150 years in 2020

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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- One of the oldest community groups not just in South Bend’s black history - but in the city’s history itself – is about to turn 150.

The leadership at Olivet African Methodist Episcopal Church is gearing up for honoring its long history, but what makes it more special they said, has been the active role it plays in local social and political justice as well.

“We were founded in the community as the first African-American church to cover social, political, and civic responsibility,” church steward Alma Powell said.

“And I think that was a need in that time period; for African-Americans to have that cohesive bond.”

Olivet was founded in 1870 by free blacks who had escaped persecution in North Carolina years earlier.

Here, they found a haven to establish a place of worship in South Bend, just after the town’s founding.

Now, a descendant of that founding family works to ensure that history is remembered.

“We want to do whatever we can do to keep the church going, because our relatives started the church,” descendant John Charles Bryant said.

“Even though I’m not a member of Olivet I still support it. And we all try to support it when the time comes, whenever there’s a need.”

Olivet has also led the way in local advocacy, encouraging an active black representation in South Bend.

“We also make sure all of our members are registered voters, so we’re constantly saying, ‘Are you registered?’ and, ‘Do you want to be involved in the community?’” Powell said.

The church plans to honor past and present members, as well as promote future charity events during a 150th birthday tribute March 21 in Mishawaka.

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