Church celebrates black trailblazers

Minister Kelsey Lodge (far left) looks on as Rev. Michael Page recognizes the enduring relationship of Junior and Dorothy Kelly. (Staff photo by Travis Butler)

Antioch Baptist Church hosted its fifth annual African-American History Celebration to honor five African-American leaders and educate the community of their works.

The event was held on Feb. 28 and is meant to teach youth about the significance of black leaders, according to Antioch pastor Rev. Michael D. Page.

“We have this event because we want to help our young children understand the importance of contributions from African-Americans in our community,” Page said.

The celebration opened with a brief message from worship leader Joseph King Davis Jr. and then transitioned into a sermon, with various songs performed by the Ebenezer Baptist Church Hymn Choir from Charlotte.


Rev. Page (right) gives an award to James H. Speed Jr. for his business career that has been vital to Durham. (Staff photo by Travis Butler)

The day featured several performances. Antioch Anointed Praise Dance Ministry performed a special dance and a church member read a poem about Black History Month. The Hillside High School Alumni Choir, many of whom attend Antioch, performed two historically significant African-American songs.

Toward the end of the event, Antioch honored five African-American members of the Durham community for their contributions in the area.

“We really wanted to honor history makers and trailblazers here in the Durham community,” Page said.

The church honored Ervin Lee Hester Sr., the first African-American inducted into the North Carolina Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame in 1996, for his work as a journalist over five decades, according to the event’s program.

The celebration honored former Judge Carolyn Lucille Denton Johnson for her political career in Durham. In 1983, Johnson became the first black woman elected to the Durham City Council. Three years later she became the second black woman elected to a District Court in Durham, according to the program.

Rev. Page said Black History Month reminds him that people like Hester and Johnson are the reason African-Americans in Durham can be successful.

“It is very special to us here at Antioch,” Page said. “They paved the way for us to have the opportunities that we have.”

Antioch honored Junior and Dorothy Kelly for their local community service work, and congratulated them for their relationship of 61 years.

The event also recognized James H. Speed Jr., the former president and CEO of North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company. NC Mutual is the oldest and largest African-American owned insurance company in the nation. Speed serves on the Board of Directors for various organizations, including AAA Carolinas, and has worked for Hardee’s Food Systems Inc.

Antioch usher Edwin Smith said that African-American history is vital to Antioch and the Durham community. He also said that Durham needs more positive celebrations of African-Americans.

“This part of Durham, I think it needs more events like this, especially on black history,” Smith said.

Val Hannah Murphy, a member of the Hillside High School Alumni Choir, said that celebrations like the one at Antioch will be instrumental in bringing the community closer.

“I was in this community as a child, and I knew how important church and family values were,” she said. “Everything in the community was centered around the church, and things like this bring the community in the right direction.”

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