The Fight for First Baptist Church of Venice Continues with Renewed Vigor

The following is from a recent conversation with Venice Elder Carol Powell about the significance of the First Baptist Church of Venice. The First Baptist Church of Venice is an historical African-American church in the heart of Venice. The church building was acquired by the Penskes, a rich White couple from outside of Venice, who want to turn it into their own private mega-mansion. The Save Venice team is
a Venice activist group that has been fighting to save this church for over two years now.

Jon Wolff: You were a member of the congregation of the First Baptist Church of Venice.

Carol Powell: Yes.

JW: What years were you active with the church?

CP: When Reverend Holmes [E.L. Holmes] was there, who was the original person at that time. 1955, I believe, up until his passing. Not only myself, but my sisters and brothers also. There
were eight of us at that time.

JW: What recollections do you have of your life in the church?

CP: It was great. It was wonderful. It was teaching. That was my first teaching of what God is about… what He meant. It was because my grandparents came here, and that’s the church they went to, which they helped build. It was full of people… full of young people. My older brothers and sisters went to evening church as well, which was documented just for young teenagers. And I just had a great time, a good memory of the people that helped, and our family.

JW: I believe a good portion of the congregation is still in Venice. Isn’t that correct?

CP: Yes.

JW: They would probably be happy to have this building, that their ancestors built with their own hands, returned to the community.

CP: Absolutely. It would mean so much because, when you go into a place that you were once raised in, you get a new feeling. You get that feeling back of love and God and friendship and family members. You get that feeling of coming together. And that’s what’s missed.

JW: What do you think about the effort that the Save Venice team is making to reclaim this church?

CP: I think it’s great. I think that this is what should happen. We need that church back. The people that are helping and going to meetings, along with myself… I am so proud that we still have that vigor to do that.

JW: Do you feel that spiritual centers like this are essential to any kind of community?

CP: Yes. I think it would stop a lot of bad things from happening. Because you can bring people back into it. It has a lot of influence. We used to have meetings and groups and childcare and job search in that church. I think it would bring the community together… as a whole… mentally, physically, emotionally. That’s what I feel.

JW: Do you think that there’s a good chance that we’ll be able to win this fight?

CP: Yes, I do. I think that with prayer and the vigor to go forward, and the strength that we all have together, I think that we can win it. I really do. I’m one of the ones in the group and I would give all I can to bring this about. To not just tear it down and make it someone’s house with an indoor swimming pool, which is what I was told by one of the security guards that works for the Penskes. This is a place of praise and worship.

JW: It’s part of the history of Venice.

CP: This is the history. This is where a lot of people began as children. I can remember seeing my grandparents coming down the street with water and food and coffee and pastries that they made by hand for those men that were putting that church together and working on it. They were there with their hands in the mud to make the cement and put that church together. People did it. People from here did that.


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