Former Morrow Memorial Church symbolizes black history
Nearly 100 years ago, the Marshalltown area was home to approximately 500 African-Americans, according to the “Continuing History of Marshall County, 1997.”
Many were originally from Green County, Ala.
A crop failure caused them to look north for opportunities.
“They had heard there was good farm land for sale and since most were farmers, a few blacksmiths and mill workers, they settled in central Iowa. With Ebra Morrow as a leader, the group traveled by chartered rail car.”
Morrow and 19 others were members of the Methodist Episcopal Church South.
Religion was important, and after arriving, they found themselves without a church home.
News of their plight reached a church leader, Rev. Stripland, who came to Marshalltown.
“On Dec. 12, 1917, the group of people met at the residence of William Burton Sr. with Stripland officiating. After a period of devotions, he took the names of those who were willing to become a part of the proposed church. He then preceded to organize the Methodist Episcopal Church and to record the names of charter members, of which Morrow was one.
Following the organizing of the church, Stripland informed them he would make arrangements to have a minister sent from the Annual Conference, which was to convene in April, 1918.
During this time services were held in various homes.
Periodically, the group would rent the Congregational Church at 523 S. 5th St.
On Feb. 26, 1918, Morrow, a railroad employee, was killed in a work-related accident, according to church history.
Later, the congregation purchased the Congregational Church building for $3,000.
Meanwhile, the Rev. Dudley Smith had been assigned to minister to the group.
It was first known as Morrow Memorial Chapel, in honor of Ebra. Later it became the Morrow Memorial United Methodist Church.
Marshalltown once had four African-American churches, according to Roger Maxwell of Windsor Heights.
Maxwell, a Marshalltown native, lived in town from 1932 to 1950.
Others were the Church of God in Christ, 604 W. Madison St., the Colored Cumberland Presbyterian Church, 214 W. Main St., and the Second Baptist Church, 516 Bromley St.
He remembers the churches well.
Maxwell said it was typical for the churches to hold 3 p.m. Sunday afternoon services.
“Members of the church our family attended, the Colored Cumberland Presbyterian Church would attend those services at Morrow, members of the Second Baptist Church would attend services at our church and so on,” he said. “Even in hot weather, people would dress up. They would use hand fans supplied by the funeral homes and keep them.”
He remembered several of the Morrow Church ministers, one of whom who had a unique preaching style.
“I remember Rev. Rogers walking on the benches,” Maxwell said. “He would walk from one to another. I also remember Revs. Hunter and Blanks.”
Over the years the Morrow Church’s membership declined as did the number of blacks in Marshalltown.
It was dissolved several year ago by its few remaining members, all in their 80s.
Gene and Ann Determan of Marshalltown, whose business, Determan & Merrill Ltd., adjoins the property, bought the building and lot from the Methodist Church.
Ann Determan approached Steve Sutherland of Marshalltown, then president of the Historical Society of Marshall County, and asked if the organization would be interested in preserving the building.
A HSMC task force with Ann Determan as member, was formed to evaluate options in 2010.
The group discussed moving the church building to HSMC property adjoining Taylor School No. 4 on N. 2nd Ave., and a call went out asking residents to submit historical church information to the HSMC.
No action was taken on moving the building but the society did receive historical information about the church and area African-Americans.
Sutherland, who serves the society now as volunteer, hopes the community and HSMC can figure out a way to preserve the church.
“Unfortunately, moving the church building to our property didn’t work out,” he said. “The society had a number of other priorities then that had to be addressed. And we have an equal number of priorities now, such as remodeling the museum building (202 E. Church St). I’m hoping at some point the society and community can come together and arrive at a solution.”