Local Church Fights To Preserve History

"My mother played the piano over there. And we would sit on the front seat, front pew, and we would praise God and have a glorious time in here," said Gayle Tart.

Even among structural damage from Hurricane Katrina, Gayle Tart can almost see the days of yesteryear here at St. Paul AME Church in a section of central Gulfport known as "the Quarters."

When she was younger, this church was not only a place a worship, it was a source of inspiration because of such members as John C. Robinson.

"As a little girl, I heard my mother speak of him warmly and fondly because he was an aviator, and he's one of the first people from the Quarters to gain national prominence. So people looked up to him. He came out of this church, out of our community, the Quarters, and this is a historical area," said Tart.

And this history is why she and some other members want this church to be restored rather than torn down and rebuilt. But it has been a long process in going about doing just that.

"We were going to tear the church down first and rebuild, but then we thought about the national registry and everything so we're waiting for that. Another thing with tearing it down is the asbestos and everything that's on it. We have to go through that situation also. But we're just buying time and getting our plans together," said church trustee Hezzie Watts, Jr.

Felicia Dunn Burkes, who is president of the Gulfport NAACP as well as a resident of central Gulfport, supports these and other restoration efforts, and not simply for sentimental reasons.

"The story has not truly been told in the African American community. We have literally hundreds and hundreds of historical structures that date back almost 100 years, some of them even more than 100 years," said Burkes.

And that's why some of these church members are praying for a divine blessing.

"This church is in this neighborhood. Storms are gonna come and go but people stay. So we need it here. We need it here," said Tart.

There are quite a few elderly members of the church, so if you can help clean out the church or simply give advice or a donation to the church's restoration efforts, just call 326-1798 for more information.