The History of Mount Calvary Missionary Baptist Church
“So built we the wall; and all the wall was joined together unto the half thereof: for the people had a mind to work.”-

Nehemiah 4:6


The history of Mount Calvary Missionary Baptist Church is rooted in the rich and long history of African American churches on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. The barrier island was home to four other African American congregations, including the historic First African Baptist Church – the oldest. In 1914, under the leadership of the Rev. B. W. Williams, several members departed First African Baptist Church to organize a new congregation. Together, on March 14 of that year, they established Mount Calvary Baptist Church in its location in the Pope community of Hilton Head.   Along with Rev. Williams, founding members included seven men who accepted the responsibility as church deacons:  Matthew Jones, Joseph Green, Solomon Joiner, Thomas Milton, William Jones, J.W. Grant and Stephen Bryant. Other faithful members included Henry Ford Sr., James Frazier, Parris Holmes Sr., Rinah Lawyer, Josephine Jones, Mary Ford, Georgiana Barnwell, Lula Grant, Sarah Ann Joiner, Louise Williams, Jerry Barnwell, Sophie Walters, Katie Miller and Margaret Orage. Josephine Miller Jones and Katie Miller, two sisters whose family had obtained large parcels of land following slavery, donated 1.22 acres of property on Squire Pope Road for erection of the church building. Through the years, the church had a significant role in the community serving as the place for members and families to unite for religious training, worship, funerals, baptisms, marriages and church fellowship.


In the first half of its century, Mt. Calvary experienced some tragedies that tested the faith of its membership. The first church building, a wooden structure, was destroyed by a storm in 1940. That storm, though very damaging, didn’t deter worshippers. They built another structure in the very same spot and dedicated it to the glory and honor of God.  At the time of its construction, the church didn’t maintain records at the church. Important documents were kept at a church officer’s home for safekeeping.  However, the home caught fire in 1952 and damaged all early church records that had been kept since the formation of the church. From that point on, records were kept at the church office, which was added as part of its new building in the early 1960s.


Mt. Calvary’s congregation grew steadily over the years under the leadership of several pastors. Rev. B.W. Williams passed away in 1939. He was succeeded by the following ministers who served until their deaths: Rev. G.W. Lee (1939-1943); Rev. C. W. Ward (1943-1945); and Rev. J.W. Duncan (1945-1948). In 1948, Mt. Calvary was blessed with the pastoral leadership of Rev. J.C. Simmons. During his 26-year tenure, the church congregation grew to over 100 members. It had thriving church auxiliaries including the Charity Sisters, the Missionary Board, the Deacon and Deaconess Boards, Ushers, an Adult and Youth Choir, Sunday School, and Women and Men’s Fellowships.  At the time Rev. Simmons pastored, Hilton Head Island’s black community was still one that was evolving. Many ministers, including Rev. Simmons, lived off-island and, in some instances, pastored more than one church congregation. Rev. Simmons served until 1974, resigning as pastor due to illness. Upon his resignation, the church’s leaders named Rev. Benjamin Williams as its next minister. Rev. Williams, born and reared in rural Warrenton, North Carolina, had migrated to New York City where he met the love of his life, Elizabeth Patterson, a native of Hilton Head Island. During their courtship and marriage, the young couple made frequent trips to Hilton Head Island. On these trips, Rev. Williams learned about Hilton Head Island. He was given an opportunity to preach at Mt. Calvary and serve as its assistant pastor for a year under Simmons’ reign. Rev. Williams became the fulltime pastor of Mt. Calvary in 1975.

Williams, whose earlier desire in ministry was to serve as an evangelical preacher that would travel from city to city to deliver messages about God, came to Mt. Calvary at a time when it was still following many traditions of the local African American churches. Several of the churches only held service once a month; Mt. Calvary rotated Sundays with Central Oak Grove Baptist Church and only met for service every other month. In early years, members gathered in between those services at praise houses until those ended. Under Williams’ leadership, Mt. Calvary became the first of the black churches on the island to host services on a weekly basis.  Its Sunday School program and Bible study ministries expanded, and new ministries were started to accommodate member interest and participation in church activities. Membership began to grow. In the last 25 years, the church became more involved in meeting community needs. Williams spearheaded the development of the Mt. Calvary Achievement School, which provided early childhood education and a summer program for youngsters.

The church also has undergone several expansions and renovation work. It purchased additional property, expanding its original acreage from 1.33 acres to 3.22 acres. Building expansion work over the years included the addition of classroom space, a fellowship hall and offices.

One of the most vibrant spiritual traditions that Mt. Calvary continues to practice is River Baptisms, held on the shores of Skull Creek, near Hudson’s Seafood House on the Dock restaurant.  After proclaiming a belief in Jesus Christ, new church members don white baptismal robes and are escorted to Skull Creek, where they are baptized before other witnessing members, friends and family.


Across the nation, African American churches are known for their vision, faith and involvement in civic issues. On the local front, Mt. Calvary’s pastors and leaders were no strangers to what was happening in the world around them. In its 100 years, the world lost the dynamic leadership with the assassination of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who was a champion for non-violent change and rights for African American citizens. Church members became actively involved in making sure island blacks registered to vote in local, county, state and national elections. They became voter registrants, poll managers and poll watchers. They encouraged member participation in a historical referendum that led to the formation of the Town of Hilton Head Island in 1983 and its first town council and 2008 historical vote that lead to election of Barack H. Obama, the first African American President of the United States.  The church has opened its door to organizations that needed space for meetings to discuss important community issues or to provide services. Among them are the Hilton Head Bluffton NAACP, a local Property Owners Association and Literacy Volunteers of the Lowcountry.


Each year, Mt. Calvary celebrates its history and heritage as a way to glorify God and pass its legacy on to members who will continue to keep the church alive.  Church leaders are grooming young members who lead and participate in worship services and volunteer at church programs.