Mount Pleasant Baptist Church
by Ross Lumpkin
The late Reverent D.L. Austin established the Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in his own home in 1920 with six other founding members. He was a skilled carpenter who set out at once to build a church on the corner of Ave. A and Valley Road, and moved his congregation there in 1921.
The original building was a small structure, 18 by 36 feet, a fine example of vernacular church architecture in the early 20th century. Reverent Austin was fond of saying “this church will be too small to be played with, and a little too small to be played in, just large enough to serve the lord.”
The six founding members gave shelter to many Afro-Americans migrating from the south to work in the great estates in nearby Sands Point. Sister Marjorie Simon, the grand-daughter of Rev. Austin, remembers her mother telling her that her grandmother always told the newcomers: “You live in my house, you come to my church.” Thus, the congregation grew.
Back then, church on Sundays at Mount Pleasant was an all-day affair that included morning services, Sunday school, a community lunch, socializing, recreation, and games. It was a time for the congregation to gather together for a “day of rest” away from the chores of everyday life.
The small area enclosed by Valley Road, Harbor Road, Middle Neck Road, and Avenue C was once known as Hicksville, named after John Hicks who had farmed the land in the late nineteenth century, and built his home and a barn across the street from Mount Pleasant.
In the mid-twentieth century, Hicksville flourished with a vibrant mix of Afro-American, Polish, and Italian workers. Italian entrepreneurs ran a grocery store, a shoe repair, and a pool room up the street on Avenue A. On the other side of Avenue A, there was a Polish meat market, and just up Valley Road, the Polish-American Hall was built in 1937. Mount Pleasant stands as a reminder of that time.
Sister Simon looks back fondly on her time in Hicksville: “Whenever someone needed help, the community pulled together to help out. That’s what it was like.” When she left home to attend nursing school in the ‘50s, she was taken aback by the racial tension she encountered away from Port.
In 1990, the foot print of Mount Pleasant was extended on the east and south sides to create office and meeting space. Wheel chair access was added. The axis of the nave shifted from N-S to E-W and a rounded window behind the pulpit was added for light. In spite of these alterations, its architectural integrity was preserved.
Although the current pastor, James Furman, comes across in private conversation as a warm, soft-spoken man who is more interested in listening than talking; when he steps up to the pulpit, he proves himself to be a dynamic and inspiring speaker.
The service is as intimate as the space in which it is held. Congregants sing and clap with enthusiasm. Pastor Furman likes to talk about the “power of collective faith,” and he brings it to life on Sunday morning.
Some members are former residents of Port who still come to Mount Pleasant. Others are brand new to town. Some are older, some are younger. Not all are black. They share a spiritual tie that binds them together, and has brought Mount Pleasant just one-year shy of its centennial anniversary.
Rev. Austin got it right.