Cothran Chapel C.M.E. Church
Phena Fincher interviewed Mrs. Johnnie Mae (Hale) Langford about the Cothran CME Church around October 1984. The interview goes as follows...
Phena: Could you tell us just at the beginning where your present church is located?
Langford: It's located at 427 Greenlawn Street at Prescott, AR.
Phena: I think you wanted to give us some information regarding the history of your church, as such, the entire denomination, rather than just your local church, so if you would like to do so at this time.
Langford: When the general conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church South met in New Orleans in April 1866, the Conference felt like since the fortunes of the war, that a change had taken place in our political and sociel relations and that made it necessary that the change should be made for our organization into 2 separate congregations, districts and annual conferences, if we desired it. So at the General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church South in Memphis, TN, May 1870, it was found that 5(?) annual conferences had been formed among us and that an almost universal desire had been expressed upon our part that we might be organized into separate distinct churches, and we at that time were called the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church, but we were under the Methodist Episcopal Church South. They have been nice to us through the years in helping when we were doing our transfers. In 1958 at the General Conference in Detroit, MI, our name changed to the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church.
Phena: So you are now the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church. That is very interesting. Could you tell us approximately when your church locally was established or founded. I think you said that there was a little bit of uncertainty about that.
Langford: It was 'round about in the 1890's, I don't know exactly what year.
Phena: How did you tell me you established that fact?
Langford: From hearing my grandfather and other elders talking and then, too, my mother always said she was christened in the 1900's and I know she had some elder sisters and they also was christened.
Phena: So you know then that the church had its beginning somewhere not too many years prior to the turn of the century, probably. How many families would you say originally attended the first few years during the early beginnings. Have you heard anyone say anything about that?
Langford: Not so much. It was mostly the Hamilton's, the Summers, I can't name them all.
Phena: What size congregation did you have in those early years? Do you recall having heard that?
Langford: It was kind of a small congregation.
Phena: During what years would you say the membership has probably been the greatest?
Langford: 'Round in the '40s we had a real large membership before our church burned over there.
Phena: Has it not built back up again since you were in your present location? I had the feeling you were probably about as active right now as your church has ever been.
Lanford: We are pretty active. We have a lot of things going, nice young people, seniors, young adults, and we have a very good Sunday School.
Phena: That's wonderful. Do you know what your average attendance is now at Sunday School?
Langford: Around 38-48, on roll about 56, I believe. And just a few Sundays ago - we always have a National Sunday School Rally and we did try to get as many members present and finances improved. And we did better than ever this year. We had $2,271.16 for the Sunday School Rally. And we have kindergarten, juniors, junior high and senior high, young adults, ladies class, (Harris Memorial), and men's class, (Green Memorial), named after some of our members.
Phena: In our talking beforehand, I know that you are not still in the original building. Could you tell us something about the early beginnings of the church, where it was located, that sort of thing.
Langford: The first church was located behind the railroad track down where you cross the first crossing and going down through the corner and hit that lane, hit Hwy 19, right in that corner. I understand at that time they started with a brush arbor and later built a frame church, and then later on with the help of the Methodist Church we built a brick church and it had a bell tower in it. At that time, in the 20's, they used the bell to ring to bring you to Sunday School. At that time, we had wood stoves and things like that.
Phena: How did you light your building at that time, do you recall? Have you always had electricity?
Langford: Yes, we had electricity, but we didn't have any gas. We used wood stoves. In about 1942 we had a pastor assigned to us, Rev. E. Morris and we were expecting to have entertained the annual conference the next year and we remodeled the church inside.
Phena: That's wonderful that Prescott, at Cothran Chapel, was able to serve as host to that important meeting!
Langford: That was in 1943. And it was called the Southwest Arkansas Conference then, and now we just call it the South Arkansas Conference, and we have a North Arkansas Conference. We were in the church then until 1945. It was that time our church caught afire. You might remember at that time that there were some gasoline tanks on the corner from our church and the truck was loading gas and someone said the driver threw a cigarette down and it caught fire and burned up the tanks and a row of houses, 3 houses. Then when the tank exploded it caught the top of our church and burned our building.
Phena: That was a sad day wasn't it? They tell me that you were one of the last ones to get out of the church. What was that all about?
Langford: We were just beginning our morning worship and Bro.
(?) Draper was praying that morning and Sister Ora Mae Gill and others who were waiting to enter the sanctuary, they burst in yelling to us to get out before the church caught afire. Bro. Draper was praying and I had to go by him to get out of the choir, so I patted him on the back and told him he'd have to get up because we were expecting the church to catch afire.
Phena: You had to stop the preacher that day, didn't you?
Langford: He hadn't started to preach - it was one of the laymen, the stewards, but we did get out. I was about the last one out from up there in the choir, 'cause all of the rest of them on the floor had left.
Phena: Well, I'm sure that was a difficult time for you, but were you able to continue services right along? What did you do?
Langford: Well, like I say, we lost a lot of our church records when the church burned, but that kept us from - I would have more details on different dates. We bought some land on West Third and West Olive and we built another church, and fortunately our parsonage didn't get burned. We moved it over there first and we built a concrete block church over there.
Phena: Were you able to continue to have some kind of services during this time or did you just disband, or what did you do?
Langford: No, we first started meeting in the courthouse, and it seemed like we didn't like going to the courthouse. Then we were invited to have our services over on West Olive in the Macedonia Baptist Church because they were only having services 2 Sundays and so we would have services Sundays, but we would go every Sunday because that was what we was used to, to help them on those Sundays, and we stayed there until we built our church in the location I mentioned.
Phena: It is wonderful as Christians to be able to work together that way, isn't it?
Langford: It sure is. So we stayed there until 1962. In 1962, the Housing Authority came through and they said that all that land there was in the gutter, so they wanted to buy our church and houses and land around there and they did, and now that is where this Housing property is, over on West Third and Olive, one's on West Third and the other's on Olive.
Phena: Did you secure more property then in the present location?
Langford: Oh yes, they paid us and we bought some property over where we are now on Greenlawn and that was in 1963 that we moved. Then at that time we was invited to Mt. Zion Baptist Church, they only had services twice a Sunday - we worshipped with them until we built our church.
Phena: Did you contract to have your church building built along the way or did any of your people help to do the work themselves?
Langford: We were able to - we had some trouble getting along, but we met some contractors that came from California and laid down the bricks and they were living down in the Chidester area, down that way, and they were doing work and we went to see some of their work and they made arrangements with us so we could secure a loan from the Chidester Bank. A little bank down in Chidester let us have the money.
Phena: Is your building debt-free yet or are you still paying on it?
Langford: Oh, we paid for it. We burnt the mortgage in 1970.
Phena: That's good. Once again, could you tell me what year it was that you built your church there in your present location?
Langford: It was in 1964 or 1965, 'cause we moved in 1963, 'cause we moved out here in September 1963 and the church moved also. We built the church in 1964 or 9165.
Phena: That's close enough. Is your church just a sanctuary or do you have some Sunday School rooms in connection with it?
Langford: We have 5 Sunday School rooms. In the main auditorium we have a sliding door. We have the men's class and women's class. Of course, the young adult class is down to the front, and we have kindergarten in the fellowship hall and we have the juniors in one of the classrooms and then the junior high. And then the Senior - now the men moved to the pastor's study, so the senior high is in the main sanctuary where the men's class used to be.
Phena: You have a complete program for the entire family, don't you, and you say you have a good many young people in your church at this time. That's good because it shows the potential that you have for growth when it's that way. Do you have services every Sunday?
Langford: Yes, we have services every Sunday and we have teacher's meeting, choir rehearsal, and just about 4 Mondays ago, we have prayer meetings from the Mission sponsor, from 11:30-12:30 we have prayer services, just one hour.
Phena: You are certainly to be commended on that, too. I believe you mentioned some of the original pastors as we were passing. Would you care to mention others?
Langford: Yes. Some of them, I'd like to say the year we sold the church, our minister was Rev. Brown, but they sent Rev. M.R. White here that year the church was to be sold so that he could help in the building of the church we're in now. He succeeded himself. He was our pastor then in the 60's, then he came back. His children were small children, but when he came back this time, they were in college. So you can tell the distance between the times that he was here. In 1929, Rev. L.T. Turner was our minister, and then Rev. H.S. Coleman - he was in the 30's. Rev. W.S. Davis and Rev. Jess Stephenson - he served across the track, and also later when we was on West Olive and Third, and Rev. A Marsh, and Rev. A.L. Daniels, and Rev. C.V. Dickson, and the Rev. I.M. Manning and the Rev. J.S. Washington - He was our pastor and one time also our residing elder. Rev. E. Sneed, Rev. J.W. Bryan, and Rev. H.M. Hemphill, and Rev. Cooper, and these just some of the preachers that have been in our church here. The last church - Rev. M.R. White, Rev. H.M. Hemphill, and Rev. Cooper, and Rev. A.L. Kendrick and Rev. A.L. Miller and, as I said, Rev. White for the second time. Then the pastor that we have now is Rev. Isaac Simmons.
Phena: I wondered as you were mentioning all these pastors, have you had any pastors to come from your church? In other words, have you had any people to commit themselves to be ministers?
Langford: Yes, Rev. T.J. Rhone was a member of our church and he became a pastor, but he never was our pastor.
Phena: Where is he now, do you know?
Langford: He is deceased, but his wife, she attends our church - she is still living.
Phena: How would you say the services have changed in your lifetime? You told me that you had been honored in being the person with the longest number of successive years of service to your church, is that correct?
Langford: Yes. It's about 57 years now, because I joined the church when I was 10, and I'm 67 now.
Phena: That's a wonderful thing to have, and I am sure you were most appreciative when they honored you, but you certainly did deserve it.
Langford: Thank you.
Phena: How have you seen the services of your church change during those times?
Langford: Well, the ministers are more educated, for one thing, and then we have organized our church - it's better organized than it was then, because we have more people with knowhow and we have training in doing our district and annual conference - we have training sessions. We have a board of Christian Education which is nice, to plan the programs and the guidelines for us and different activities. Young people, when I was a girl, they called it the Epworth League, but now they've changed it to Christian Youth Fellowship.
Phena: And you also have an active ladies group in your church, do you not?
Langford: Yes, we have the Missionary Society, and we had 2 circles, but now we hae 1 circle. We have 2 boards, the ladies, and then we have a choir and we're working - the junior choir is just getting started because it's hard to get someone to play for them.
Phena: You are being very modest, but I know that you have been a person in authority in your church and on other levels besides just the local church. Now you tell us about that.
Langford: Back when we started to build the first church, they put 2 ladies on the trustee board which was an honor. The members of the trustee board at that time were Bro. W.L. Berryman, C.T. Moncrief, Archie Langston, Doc McElroy, Bernice Barryman, and Johnnie Langford, and Jessie Johnson.
Phena: You have also been president of something, now, what was that?
Langford: I was president of the Missionary Society of the Southwest Arkansas Annual Conference and still when they changed to South Arkansas Conference, I was still the president, for 8 years. Right now, I'm the treasurer of the South Arkansas Missionary Conference.
Phena: How about, how many do you have when you have the ladies conference like that, approximately?
Langford: I don't know - sometimes we have good attendance. This is a picture of my first annual conference that I served as president, and they made a picture of all the ladies that were present at that time.
Phena: You have a good number. Where did that conference meet, do you remember?
Langford: That one met in Nashville.
Phena: Have you been privileged to attend any of the national conferences?
Langford: Yes, I was elected delegate to the conference in 1958 in Detroit and then in 1962, it was at St. Louis, MO, and I was a delegate then for those 2, and then to our national missionary meetings, the first one was at a college in Tyler, TX, and then we was in St. Louis, Kansas City and in Ohio at - I know, I went to St. Louis twice.
Phena: You have traveled quite a bit. You are well versed in all that's going on in your church, I'm sure. Are there any interesting stories that you could tell us about the early days in your church. You mentioned to me earlier something about a man that was the custodian in the Methodist Church here in town for a number of years who was also a member of your church.
Langford: That was Bro. Jordan Hamilton. He was a member of the Cothran's Chapel, but he was the custodian of the Methodist Church and he would pump the organ at that time, too, for to play the organ. He was a very active spiritual member. He would shout up there at the Methodist Church and he would shout in the CME Church and was really, I think he served until his health got too bad. We all miss Bro. Jordan Hamilton. All of his family is gone now, some moved away, but they're all gone.
Phena: Can you think of any other outstanding things about your church or human interest stories that would be nice for us to hear?
Langford: I'd just like to say it from the beginning when we started the thanksgiving service in the schools, it was very nice, you know the integrated service...
Phena: Do you know what year it was that you initiated that, approximately?
Langford: I'd have to think about that, but it's been quite a few years ago 'cause I was working at the time. I've been retired.
Phena: But you were the one, the Cothran Chapel Congregation was the one that took the initiative in that, was that corrected?
Langford: No, it was the Ministerial Alliance, both of them together. But now we just mostly went to the schools, and since this time we go to different churches. We've been to the Methodist Church and First Baptist, Munn's Chapel and Cothran's Chapel, and also the Easter Service, we enjoy. And the last 2 years, the Passion week was really good. We'd go to different churches and have lunch and it has really been nice.
Phena: It's nice to know that your congregation and those that participate have appreciated that, too. I think it has been a very nice thing for our whole community.
Langford: If you want to know something humorous to laugh about, at the First Methodist Church they were serving soup that day and they had white tablecloths on and they were a little over the edge and I put my plate down and half of my leg, and the whole bowl of soup fell in my lap. The ladies were so nice to get the towels. Pretty soon I heard somebody else holler and everybody knows Blue Avery. He had spilt his soup in his lap. So I told him I didn't feel bad then that I was the only one that spilt the soup that day.
Phena: You don't think Blue did that just to make you feel good.
Langford: He didn't know I had spilled mine. He said the same thing, that the tablecloth - he thought he was on the table and it was just the cloth.
Phena: You won't forget that.
Langford: Oh no! that was an experience I won't forget. We have some dedicated members of our church, and all the other churches. We have an Alliance Fellowship meeting every first Sunday evening at 6 churches. Watt's Chapel AME Church, St. Luke AME Church, Munn's Chapel Baptist Church, Mt. Zion Baptist Church, and the Macedonia Baptist Church in Boughton and our church. We have nice fellowship on the first Sunday of each month.
Phena: Do you have a meal then or do you just get together and have your service?
Langford: We have a program, each church presents a program, and then serve refreshments.
Phena: You have some nice fellowship that way. It has been such a privilege for me to meet and talk with you and I hope that when they have their 300th anniversary they'll have something to go on here.
Langford: I hope so. We have 114 years this year.
Phena: 1870 was the time it became the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church and by 1970 it was called the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church.
Langford: We celebrated 100 years then.
Phena: That may be the only 100th one you get to celebrate down here, but you might make it for the 125th or 150th. You have served the Lord well. We hope and pray that your life and the life of your church will continue to be a wonderful influence in our community.