Mayor’s Message: IDEA board member shares local importance of Black History Month

Harrison Township Mayor Louis Manzo

This week we hear from the township’s IDEA (Inclusion, Diversity & Equity Advisory) board member, Elyse Bittner:

Black History is American History. It is Mullica Hill History. 

This February, in celebration of Black History Month, IDEA Board vice-chairperson, Margo Brooks-Carthon, sat down with Deacon Robert Greene, in the first of a three-part series, on the history of Mount Calvary Baptist Church and Mullica Hill life for early Black residents.

Deacon Greene is a member of Mount Calvary Baptist Church on High Street, and has deep roots in the community. His maternal grandfather, Henry Hall, got on a train at age 13 from the south. He adopted the last name “Hall” from someone he worked for and he raised his family on Church Street, including his daughter Elsie Rosalie Hall-Greene, Deacon Greene’s mother. 

Like many Black residents, Henry Hall worked as a farmer and carpenter, and was actively involved in Mount Calvary Baptist Church, founded in 1905. He would go on to serve as a member and then the Chairman of the Deacon Board at Mount Calvary for over 27 years.  His daughter Elsie began playing piano at Mount Calvary at the age of 13 and continued for 55 years. Deacon Greene’s father, Benjamin F. Greene, joined the church around 1936 and was a Sunday School Teacher, member of the Deacon Board, and sang in the Senior Choir and the Male Choir. All of his children – Joyce, Robert and Donald Greene – joined Mount Calvary in the 1950’s.

Until the first church building was erected on High Street, early congregants met as a group in one another’s homes and on the second floor of the Old Town Hall on Main Street. Many Black families in Mullica Hill lived on or around High Street and a few also lived on Route 322. Most attended Mount Calvary, built by the congregation, which included members from Mullica Hill and nearby towns. They would walk or take buggies to church.

While Mount Calvary’s congregation is majority African American, they have enjoyed a longstanding, Interfaith relationship with other churches in the area, including a yearly worship service held every year on Thanksgiving morning, coordinated by the Mullica Hill Friends Society.  Participants include members from Mount Calvary, Society of Friends, St. Stephens Episcopal, Trinity United Methodist, and The Catholic Community of the Holy Spirit in Mullica Hill. This interfaith Community worship service has been coming together for over 90 years.

Currently, Mount Calvary serves approximately 200 members from Mullica Hill and the surrounding areas. The original building was demolished in 1980, and the current building’s construction was started in 1974. 

When asked about the church’s Vision and Mission, Deacon Greene said, “The vision of Mount Calvary Baptist Church is to be a diverse, unified body that effectively spreads the Gospel of Jesus Christ to both local and distant communities.” Their mission, he said, “is to work in unity formulating effective ministries that advance the Good News of Jesus Christ to all communities with the purpose of building up the kingdom of God.”