By OLIVIA MINZOLA, The Daily Times
BERLIN, Md. (AP) – Nearly 200 years ago, the child who would grow up to be known as the “grandfather of the gospel” and the “prince of preachers” once called the quaint little town of Berlin , Maryland, home.
Born in 1851, at a time when slavery was common practice, Reverend Charles Albert Tindley faced impossible odds.
Born to Charles Tindley, a slave, and Hester Miller Tindley, a freewoman, he was denied a proper education. He was orphaned as a toddler when he lost his mother and separated from his father. Eager to go to school, Tindley took it upon himself to learn to read and write, a skill that would ultimately change his life in his rise within the church.
Today, Berlin has captured the historic charm of its downtown buildings and draws tourists to nearby beaches for a day of shopping and exploring the arts. But a gap in its historical recognition exists. Now the city seeks to honor the achievements of African Americans, including Tindley.
Tindley married Daisy Henry and moved to Philadelphia when she was 17.
There he worked as a sexton at Calvary Methodist Episcopal Church, a job that gave him access to the minister’s books. Determined to continue his education, he began studying books and taking night classes, later earning a doctorate in theology and becoming the pastor in 1902 of the aforementioned church, where he was formerly employed as a janitor.
Over the years, Tindley served in churches in Pocomoke City and Fairmount, Maryland; Odessa and Wilmington in Delaware; and Cape May, New Jersey.
The Methodist Episcopal minister was immortalized by the city of Philadelphia in 1924 when his place of worship was renamed Tindley Temple United Methodist Church, against his wishes.
Parishioners were drawn to Tindley’s powerful sermons and by the time of his death in 1933 church membership had grown to well over 10,000. His congregation became one of the largest Methodist churches in the United States in the early 1900s.
Preaching was not Tindley’s only passion. He was also a lyricist and devoted much of his time to composing powerful gospel music.
Some of his most popular songs include “Nothing between”, “What Are They Doing in Heaven?”, “Leave It There”, and “I Know the Lord Will Make a Way”. A hymn, “I’ll Overcome Some Day”, written in 1901, became the basis for the song called “We Shall Overcome”, the anthem of the civil rights movement. Today, the song remains one of the most revered and beloved songs in American history.
In 1905, according to the Washington Post, he released some of the oldest and most important songs in the black gospel music tradition: “Stand By Me,” “The Storm Is Passing Over,” and “We’ll Understand It Better By and By”. ”
Now Berlin honors Tindley for his legacy.
The Calvin B. Taylor House Museum, located at 208 Main Street, has officially unveiled a new exhibit centered on the prolific minister.
“We created what we call a community committee and invited people from the community to help us put together this exhibit,” said Melissa Reid, president of the museum. “We had so many voices that made it a lot more dynamic than it otherwise would have been.”
The exhibition features unique audio and visual elements, the first being a short film created by Bryan Russo, a local singer/songwriter and former journalist; and, the second, audio excerpts of Tindley’s hymns and sermons narrated by Gregory Purnell, a local historian.
Clara Small, a former history professor at Salisbury University, also brought her knowledge of Tindley to the museum.
“Take the time to visit the museum and learn as much as you can about individuals like Reverend Tindley,” Small said. “In many cases, people believe that African American history and American history are totally separate – they aren’t, they aren’t.”
“What we need to do is open our hearts and minds, think critically and analytically, and look at this shared history that we have. I think people would end up liking each other more. We can always learn the each other,” Small said.
Tindley’s image will soon adorn Berlin’s city center as well.
Tindley’s realistic mural, approved by Berlin’s Historic District Commission, will include the text of his hymns, as well as his name, year of birth and his famous nicknames, “Grandfather of the Gospel” and “Prince preachers”. The art will be created on Commerce Street on the Bruder Hill wall.
Passers-by can scan a QR code and take them to the Beach to Bay Heritage website to learn more about Tindley and his life story, as well as other African-American heritage projects on the Lower East Coast of the Maryland.
Jay F. Coleman, a Washington, DC-based muralist, painter and sculptor, will work on the project. According to his website, he specializes in realistic and arbitrary color murals. Lisa Challenger, executive director of the Beach to Bay Heritage Area and project manager for the mural, said Coleman should start painting soon.
Challenger thinks this project is long overdue.
“We need to do a better job of remembering him and honoring him,” Challenger said. “Philadelphia adopted Tindley as their own, but we felt it was time to acknowledge that he is from here.”
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