Fitkins Memorial Chapel granted historical landmark status

Fitkins Memorial Chapel granted historical landmark status

by
Ryan Giffin for Nazarene News
| 13 Jul 2023
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Fitkins Memorial

During the 30th General Assembly and Conventions of the Church of the Nazarene, six resolutions were adopted recognizing various locations as historical landmarks in accordance with Manual paragraph 913. This is the fourth article in a series highlighting the significance of these six new historic landmarks of the Church of the Nazarene.

Fitkins Memorial Church of the Nazarene, located in Meridian, Mississippi, USA, was designated a historic landmark of the Church of the Nazarene by action of the 30th General Assembly in Indianapolis, Indiana, USA, last month. The designation came after the General Assembly adopted Special Resolution 756, a resolution from the MidSouth District on the USA/Canada Region.

The church building is located at 1110 Dr. Charles Johnson Avenue. Fitkins Memorial has gathered at this location since 1978. In 2011, the city of Meridian named the street on which the church is located after Charles Johnson, pastor of the church for 61 years and a significant leader in the Civil Rights Movement in the United States.

Fitkins Memorial was organized in 1946. It was named to honor Abram and Susan Norris Fitkin and their family. Susan Fitkin was the denomination's founding president of what is known today as Nazarene Missions International (NMI). She led the establishment of the Alabaster Offering, a giving opportunity created to support church building and material projects around the world. Fitkins Memorial was among the first churches in the denomination to receive funds from the Alabaster Offering to purchase its first structure in 1946.

Fitkins Memorial was also among the first African American congregations on the Church of the Nazarene's Gulf Central District when the district was organized in the 1940s. The congregation hosted the first meeting of this district in 1948. The church was a cornerstone of the Gulf Central District's existence from 1944 to 1968.

Charles Johnson served as pastor of Fitkins Memorial from 1961 until he died in 2022. In 1984, Johnson was appointed coordinator of African American Work for the denomination, a position he held for several years. Through his leadership, the annual National Black Nazarene Conference, sponsored today by the USA/Canada Region's Black Ministries, was established. Johnson also served on the District Advisory Board of the MidSouth District when it was established in 2014. 

The General Assembly resolution described the church and Johnson as "a champion for the social uplift of American society." Johnson testified in the famous "Mississippi Burning" trial of 1967 following the murder of Michael Schwerner and James Chaney, two personal friends of Johnson who worked alongside him in efforts to register African Americans to vote in American elections. In the aftermath, Johnson shared a platform with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., traveling with Dr. King throughout Mississippi. 

Following the assassination of Dr. King in 1968, Johnson and other members of Fitkins Memorial led 3,000 marchers in a peaceable demonstration of grief to the Meridian City Hall. Among his multiple honors and appointments, Johnson was named to the governor's colonel staff by Mississippi Governor Cliff Finch and to the United States Manpower Board by United States President Jimmy Carter. In 2011, Johnson was awarded the Miko Award for Civil Rights and Social Justice at the inaugural National Civil Rights Conference in Philadelphia, Mississippi, USA.

Johnson passed away on 12 January 2022. A biography of his life was written in 2012 by Chet Bush (Called to the Fire: A Witness for God in Mississippi, The Story of Charles Johnson, Abingdon Press). 

An article in remembrance of Johnson was published last year by Nazarene News. It can be read here: https://www.nazarene.org/article/remembering-charles-johnson

Related: Primera Iglesia Mexicana del Nazareno becomes historical landmark
Related: Instituto Biblico Nazareno celebrates 100 years, honored as historical landmark
Related: Camp Garner Creek recognized as historical landmark

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