Pleasant Grove Sunday School to Paradise Missionary Baptist Church 1865 – Present
The history of the church evolved from a community Sunday school. When the Civil War ended in 1865, Mrs. Dinah Watts Pace, a woman possessed with keen insight and zeal, saw a need to establish a religious presence in the Summerhill community. She was born in Athens, Georgia on January 9, 1853, a slave of the Alexander family. After moving to Atlanta, she trained to become a teacher by attending and graduating from Atlanta University Normal School. However, “it was the children that touched Dinah Watts the most. She loved the homeless, hungry children of her time and she did something about it” (Atlanta Journal, February 8, 1974.) She gathered the neighborhood children of Summerhill and founded the first Sunday school class at the corner of Richmond and Martin Streets. The Sunday school was formally organized and named The Pleasant Grove Sunday School. Mr. Arthur Casey became the first Superintendent. Mrs. Pace along with Mr. Casey and her two brothers, Lewis (who financially supported her efforts from his earnings as a Pullman Porter) and Albert Watts worked faithfully and earnestly to sow the seeds of Christianity for many years. Parenthetically, upon leaving Atlanta Mrs. Pace moved to Covington, Georgia where she continued to teach “colored children” in churches and private schools. In 1890 she founded the Covington Colored Orphans Home (later known as The Reed Home and Industrial School) where many boys and girls grew up under her tender care. She was supported in this endeavor by her husband, James Pace, and her two brothers. At the home/school, Mrs. Pace subscribed to high ideals and strict standards of deportment. At the time of her death in 1933, Dinah Watts Pace had almost single-handedly educated 700 children. She had taken in 465 girls and 235 boys off the streets; out of the clutches of hunger, cold and ignorance and molded them into well-educated respectable citizens. The buildings of the orphanage and school no longer exist. In Covington, a street named Dinah Pace Road is the memorial for this outstanding visionary and Christian woman of courage.
The Pleasant Grove/Reed Street/ Paradise Missionary Baptist Church enjoys a rich and diverse history. This is due in part to the fact that from 1870 through the present, the church was blessed with eleven pastors, one interim pastor and one associate pastor of leadership, mission and vision. Following is a history of the church under each pastor:
Reverend Robert Epps, 1870-1875
As the Sunday school prospered, Rev. Robert Epps moved from Athens, Georgia and joined the Sunday School group in a house-to-house canvass to solicit members for a church in the community. On October 26, 1870, the Sunday School Class and the newly solicited members were called together by Rev. Epps in the house occupied by the Sunday School and the first Baptist Church in the Summerhill Community was organized. Rev. Epps became the first pastor. The church was named the Pleasant Grove Baptist Church. Rev. Epps only had a grammar school education. Yet, he became an influential community leader. Rev Epps resigned in 1875.
Reverend Doctor C.O. Jones, 1876-1900
Rev. C.O. Jones was called as the second pastor. Under his leadership, the church’s membership outgrew the accommodations and was forced to seek a larger place. Through the influence of one of the members, a white realtor gave a brick church, formerly occupied by a white congregation, to the Pleasant Grove congregation. The new church was located in a wooded grove on Reed Street. Taking pride in the site, the land was cleared and it was not long before homes were built and the street opened. The name of the church was changed to Reed Street Baptist Church. Rev. Jones was the pastor of the church for twenty-four years and resigned.
Reverend J.A. Pinson, 1901-1902
Rev. Pinson of Greenville, South Carolina was called and served for one year. During his tenure, he continued to save souls for Christ.
Reverend Doctor Edwin Posey Johnson, 1902-1929
Rev. Dr. E.P. Johnson, a God fearing man, was born in Columbus, Georgia on February 22, 1849. At an early age, he completed his elementary work, received his college degree in the first class to graduate from Atlanta University and earned the Doctor of Divinity Degree from Atlanta Baptist Seminary. For many years he served on the Theological Faculty of Morehouse College. He was active in city, state and national Christian organizations. He was called to pastor Reed Street in 1902 and set a high standard of leadership and left a rich heritage. Dr. Johnson and his devoted wife, Mrs. Eliza A. Johnson worked to build a bigger Reed Street. The impressive granite church on the corner of Crumley and Fraser Streets was erected in 1910 under Dr. Johnson’s leadership. Mrs. Johnson also worked faithfully in the primary class and was held in high esteem by the community. The first public elementary school in the Summerhill community was named in Dr. Johnson’s honor: The E.P. Johnson Elementary School. Both Dr. & Mrs. Johnson worked quietly to edify the body of Christ. In December 1929 he was called from labor to reward.
Reverend Doctor Ralph W. Riley, 1930-1932
Rev. Dr. Ralph W. Riley was a student minister at Reed Street Baptist Church while attending Morehouse College. During Dr. Johnson’s illness, Rev. Riley served as assistant pastor. Upon Dr. Johnson’s death, Rev. Riley was called to pastor the church. He was a prepared leader with vision and a progressive program for church advancement. During his pastorate, he revised the order of service, organized a young people’s choir, established a Young Men’s Glee Club and introduced early morning Easter and Christmas worship services. His wife, Mrs. Martha Riley, assisted her husband in training and developing young Christians. Reverend Riley also served as President of the Baptist Theological Seminary in Nashville, Tennessee.
Reverend Doctor Clifford Nathaniel Ellis, 1934-1980
Rev. Dr. C. Nathaniel Ellis was born in 1897 in Chattanooga, Tennessee. He graduated from Morehouse Academy in 1922, Morehouse College in 1926 and received his Bachelor of Divinity Degree from the Morehouse School of Religion in 1927. In recognition of his outstanding work as a theologian, Selma University awarded the Doctor of Divinity Degree to Rev. Ellis. During his early years, Rev. Ellis was the pastor at New Hope Baptist Church in Powder Springs, Georgia, The First Baptist Church in Dublin, Georgia and The Providence Baptist Church in the southeast community of Atlanta, Georgia.
From 1934 until his death in 1980, Rev. Ellis served with distinction for forty-six years as the sixth pastor of Reed Street/Paradise Baptist Church. Under his leadership, Reed Street grew in unprecedented terms which led to major renovations of the Fraser Street church, the construction of a state-of-the-art Educational Building, major bus ministries and the establishment of new church auxiliaries. When the building of the Atlanta Fulton County Stadium forced relocation of the church, Rev. Ellis provided strong guidance, leading the church to a new northwest community location, renaming the church and liquidating the debt on the new facility within a short time frame. Vision, advocacy, institution building and education were the cornerstones of Dr. Ellis’ life. He founded the Mount Calvary Missionary Association and served as moderator of the Executive Board of the Georgia Baptist Missionary and Educational Convention. Rev. Ellis held the longest presidential tenure of the Atlanta Baptist Ministers Union. He also served as Dean of Theology at Kingsbury, Tennessee.
Rev. Dr. Ellis founded the WSB Chariot Wheels Radio Program, one of the first African-American gospel broadcasts in the nation. He also spearheaded the first integrated audience at the Atlanta Municipal Auditorium during the Convention of the Alliance of World Churches. His affiliations included membership on the Board of the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc., and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. He was a member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity. Rev. Dr. Ellis was married to Vashti Scott Ellis, a sister of the legendary W.A. Scott, II, founder of the Atlanta Daily world, one of the oldest African-American newspapers still in existence in the United States. They were parents to five daughters: Mary (Mrs. Bill Odum), Charlotte, Angela, Gloria and Ruth.
Rev. Dr. Ellis traveled and lectured throughout the world. His dynamic sermons were brought to life when he recounted his trips to the Holy Land. Despite walking with kings and statesmen, Rev. Ellis never lost the “common touch”. His greatest joy was spreading the “Good News” of the Gospel of Jesus Christ!
Reverend Edward William Lumpkin, 1981-1989
When Reverend Ellis suffered a mild stroke, Reverend Lumpkin was named Associate Pastor in 1970. He officially assumed the pastorate on April 20, 1981 upon the death of Rev. Ellis. As a native of Atlanta, his parents, Rev. Edward and Mrs. Sarah Lumpkin, raised him in the Summerhill community. He joined Reed Street Baptist Church as a child under Rev. Ellis. Rev. Lumpkin was gifted and talented with great vision, higher goals and fresh ideas. He established four objective of the church’s foundation: “Fellowship-Evangelism-Doctrine-Stewardship” which became popularly known as FEDS. Under his leadership, the Paradise Academy became a reality in September 1984. The academy was a full-time school for kindergarten through seventh grade. Rev. Lumpkin’s pastorate was terminated by vote of the congregation on June 4, 1989.
Reverend James Edward Bullard, 1990 – 1992
Reverend Bullard was called by vote of the church body on October 19, 1989 and officially assumed the pastorate on January 2, 1990. He and his wife, Mrs. Peggy Bullard, were responsible for organizing the men of the church. Their efforts resulted in several successful Men’s Day Programs. Reverend Bullard resigned on March 29, 1992. The church continued with the Deacons’ Ministry in charge under the leadership of the Chairman, Deacon Willie T. Pullen, Sr.
Reverend Stanley Calloway, 1992 – 1995
Reverend Calloway was called as pastor in October 1992 from the New Zion Baptist Church in Lanett, Alabama. He officially assumed pastoral leadership in December 1992. During his tenure, he was responsible for reaching out to many persons and saving souls for Christ. Rev. Calloway resigned on October 8, 1995.
Reverend Doctor Jesse J. Walker, II, 1997 – 2002
Rev. Dr. Walker was called to Paradise on May 4, 1997 and installed on August 24, 1997. He formerly served as the pastor of Calvary Missionary Baptist Church in Huntington, West Virginia and the Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church in Lanett, Alabama. Dr. Walker was a retired public school teacher and collegiate adjunct professor. He is a native of Alabama where he received his B.S. degree in mathematics from Alabama State University. He also earned the M.A. degree in Teacher Education from Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan, the M.A. degree in Religious Studies from Ashland Theological Seminary in Ashland, Ohio and a Doctorate of Ministry in Theology from Bethany Theological Seminary in Bethany, Alabama. During his tenure at Paradise, Dr. Walker developed several initiatives to increase church membership, revamp the Music Department, establish an after -school program and promote membership participation in regular Bible Study. Under his leadership, the church purchased a new organ and state of the art office equipment to support production of quality church publications. He organized the ministerial staff to enhance the mission of the church and implemented a monthly newsletter and church website. Dr. Walker is married to the former Linda Gilmore. They are parents to five children. Dr. Walker’s pastorate was terminated by vote of the congregation on November 2, 2002.
Reverend Doctor Charles A. Harper III, 2004 – Present
Dr. Charles A. Harper III, a native of Atlanta, was born to the late Charles A. Harper, Jr. and Bobbie Troutman Harper. He was educated at Oglethorpe Elementary School and graduated with honors from Booker T. Washington High School in 1970. He attended Morehouse College from 1970-1973. In 1973, he began a career with the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority and retired as General Superintendent of Rail Transportation in May 2002. In 1990, while serving at Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia, Dr. Harper acknowledged God’s Call to Christian Ministry and prepared for ministry through education. In 1992, he graduated with honors from Atlanta Metropolitan College with an Associate of Science degree in Education and an Associate of Arts degree in Philosophy. In 1994, he graduated from Georgia State University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Religious Studies. He was awarded the Master of Divinity Degree with honors in 1997 from the Morehouse School of Religion at the Interdenominational Theological Center (ITC). In May 2004, Dr. Harper earned the Doctor of Ministry from the Morehouse School of Religion at the Interdenominational Theological Center. One week after graduation on May 15, 2004, Dr. Harper was called to assume the pastorate of the historic Reed Street/Paradise Missionary Baptist Church. He was installed on August 29, 2004 as the eleventh pastor.
During his tenure, Dr. Harper has implemented God’s vision and Mission for the Church. He has also used his entrepreneurial skills to lead the church in repositioning assets to establish and support ministries. He further encouraged the financial support of church operations through membership tithes, offerings and gifts. Under Dr. Harper’s leadership, God has blessed the Church with tremendous change and progress: introduction and completion of new ministry initiatives, installation of a new air conditioning system in the Sanctuary and Fellowship Hall, acquisition of color reproduction technology, installation of a new phone system and new computer and server equipment, completion of the renovation of two church owned properties, and the purchase of additional property, introduction of a new Christian Education Curriculum (Learn-Link-Live), acquisition of online accessibility and the re-building of the Church’s web site, repair of the Church’s roof and painting of the Sanctuary and surrounding areas of the Church. Dr. Harper has used his networking skills to develop partnering relationships with community churches, schools, businesses and the Neighborhood Planning Unit (NPU), forming partnerships with various organizations enhancing community outreach and evangelism. Dr. Harper currently serves on the Board of Directors of various non-profit organizations. He is the Principle Broker of Mormen Realty and Development Corporation, Inc. which serves the states of Georgia and Florida and is the Director of Research and Planning for Ultimate Solutions Transit Group, Inc.
Dr. Harper’s believes his greatest accomplishment in life, however, is the “leading of his family to Christ”. He is married to his high school sweetheart, Evelyn Hines Harper. She actively serves as First Lady and lends her considerable skills to the Women’s and Children’s Ministries and Christian Education Advisory Committee. They are the parents of two children, Charles A. Harper IV (Leslie) and Erin A. Harper-Walk, PhD (Benny). However, their pride and joy is their grandsons, Charles A. Harper V, Christopher Heath II, and Bennie Harper Walk.
The following Ministers served at various times during the history of the Church in an Interim or Leadership capacity:
Reverend Doctor Nathaniel T. Young, Interim Pastor, 1980-1981
Reverend W. Thomas Pullen, Jr. Interim Pastor, June 1989 – January 1990
Reverend Lewis E. Baker, Sr., Associate Pastor, 1995 –1999
Reverend Charles W. Walker, Sr., Associate Pastor, 2002-2004
"The Church With His Spirit"
Watch an in-depth presentation on our history here: The History of Paradise: Building Lives (1865-1915)
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