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South Bend’s oldest Black church seeks recognition from National Register of Historic Places

The exterior of Olivet AME Church in South Bend. It's a large brick building with a flight of steps up to a wooded door.
Gemma DiCarlo
/
WVPE News
Olivet AME, South Bend's oldest Black congregation, is seeking recognition from the National Register of Historic Places.

South Bend’s Olivet AME — or African Methodist Episcopal — Church is seeking recognition from the National Register of Historic Places.

Church trustee Venita Roberts said the congregation celebrated its 150th anniversary last weekend, making it the oldest Black church in South Bend.

“We were formed five years after the city was incorporated,” she said. “We were the only one for a long time, and so as a result, we were a hub for different civil rights activities.”

That includes a visit from abolitionist Sojourner Truth and meetings of the city’s Better Homes movement, in which Black residents formed a co-op to evade redlining.

“This group got together and had secret meetings, and I’m sure one of them probably was at Olivet because that was a meeting space for that type of thing,” Roberts said.

The church is already on the state’s historical register, but Roberts said joining the national register could help secure much-needed grant money to maintain the current building.

The 53-year-old facility recently had a new roof installed, but interior damage remains from the roof’s period of disrepair.

“Being on the registry would help us get the funds in order to address those needs,” Roberts said. “We’re kind of a small congregation now — we’re not as big as we once were — so it’s just difficult to maintain the day-to-day activities and the crumbling infrastructure.”

Roberts said that preservation doesn’t just protect the church’s past — it could also help safeguard its future.

“Over the years, we were able to build several buildings that housed the congregation,” she said. “Right now, we have a food pantry and we have a clothing pantry, so we’re still serving the community. And we’re only able to do so as long as we have a building in order to do it.”

Contact Gemma at gdicarlo@wvpe.org or follow her on Twitter at @gemma_dicarlo.

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Gemma DiCarlo comes to Indiana by way of Athens, Georgia. She graduated from the University of Georgia in 2020 with a degree in Journalism and certificates in New Media and Sustainability. She has radio experience from her time as associate producer of Athens News Matters, the flagship public affairs program at WUGA-FM.