Historic Black Church Archive Finds New Home at The Texas Collection

July 31, 2023
TC - St. James materials handoff group photo

Pictured at the transfer of documents on July 27, 2023 are Paul Fisher (Texas Collection), Rosemary Perkins and Harolyn Brooks (St. James UMC) and Jeff Pirtle (Texas Collection).

Dozens of boxes of photographs and documents related to St. James United Methodist Church – a historic Black congregation founded in 1874 – were entrusted this week to the professional archivists at The Texas Collection, Baylor University’s premier institution for Texana and Texas history-related archival collections.

The materials had been housed at the congregation’s 1924 church building, located at 2nd and Clay Ave. in what was once a bustling neighborhood but is today a mix of multifamily homes, commercial properties, and Baylor campus facilities. The building was sold to Lane and Amy Murphy in 2016 after the congregation merged with Wesley United Methodist Church and could no longer care for the century-old structure.

Lane Murphy agreed to keep the materials in the church building as he and his wife explored new opportunities for what is now called 2nd and Clay. He digitized many of the historic photos and made the records available to past and present members of the St. James congregation. In recent weeks, conversations with the remaining parishoners and staff at The Texas Collection reached an important milestone, and the materials were formally gifted to Baylor.

The collection represents a significant resource for scholars, researchers, and people invested in keeping Waco’s history alive, said Jeff Pirtle, Director of The Texas Collection & University Archives.

“I truly appreciate the work that Lane and Amy undertook to keep these items safe and available to historians after the congregation moved out of the building,” Pirtle said. “Giving this archive a new home at The Texas Collection will ensure the material lives on for generations to come. This collection will be an important part of telling of the history of Waco’s Black community.”

The materials will be inventoried, cataloged, digitized, and made available over the coming months, Pirtle said, and he hopes other community resources can be added to The Texas Collection’s efforts to expand the stories found in its collections.

“The history of Waco – and Texas – is rich with diverse backgrounds, experiences, and memories,” Pirtle said. “It is our goal at The Texas Collection to preserve and make available those resources that tell Texas’ unique story in an authentic and impactful way.”