Historical Marker Placed at Bethel Baptist Church
MCALLEN – A historical marker was placed to recognize McAllen’s first church and school for African Americans.
Volunteers spent their afternoons and weekends bringing the original site of the Bethel Baptist Church back to life at the corner of 16th Street and Booker T. Avenue.
Recently, a well-deserved ceremony recognized the history of the place.
Lulu Stroud, 85, attended the church and school. “We grew up in the church. My mother and dad made sure we went to church. We attended everything. We sang in the choir. We did everything here,” he said.
Floyd Hanah, a retired McAllen school teacher, also grew up in the area.
“And we had first through high school in three rooms,” she recalled. “I feel honored and privileged to come back to this site. It’s unbelievable, really incredible.”
Organizers said all black students in Hidalgo County attended the school until integration in the ‘60s. The site was turned into a community garden.
In the front there is plenty of information, along with pictures of those early teachers. On the back fence, a mural depicts the school’s history.
“My brother and I were in the second class. We graduated together. Garrett and I graduated together. That was in 1951,” Stroud said.
The church became the center of activities for the African American community. Last year, the city declared it a McAllen landmark. It was only about two blocks total, but at one time this was the center of the black neighborhood in the city.
“We are thrilled. It was a long journey but it finally came to the end of the road. And we had so many people help us,” Dee Lopez with the Hidalgo County Historical Commission said.
“You never forget your roots. Never. Very nice,” Hanah said.
“It’s a wonderful gift. And I thank God I’m still here,” Stroud said.
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