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Our History


Sonnie Hereford


W.A. Donaldson


Billy J. Jones Sr.

A Triumphant History of
St. James Primitive Baptist Church

God moves in a mysterious way

His wonders to perform

He plants his footsteps on the sea

and rides on every storm

In the early years, prior to World War I, the voice from the pulpit sounded; The people rose to action, but not without a struggle from the chief enemy of all progress, opposition.


Down through the years of the early teens, the people gathered for Sunday School and Worship Service at Brother Bevel Jordan's framed house that was located on Race Street. From this house, the voices of men and women could be heard from miles away; the melody was beautiful.

While struggling and gathering at this house, a church was organized under the leadership of Elder Richard Hall. It was named Pilgrim Rock Primitive Baptist Church. As progress demanded, it was moved to the Pall Bearer Lodge Hall No. 1 on Meridian Street. A few years later they moved to another lodge hall on Howe Street.

Prior to World War I, Elder Sonnie Hereford was called upon to serve as pastor of the church. Elder Hereford was born in September 1895 and graduated from Madison County High School. While serving in the U.S. Army during World War I, he attained the rank of sergeant. He was a charter member of Taylor's Chapel under the pastorate of Elder W. M. Taylor. Elder Hereford conducted a revival at Taylor's Chapel and Sister Janie Burell was converted and later became his wife. To this union three children were born:Thomas; Jimmie, who preceded his father's death; and Dr. Sonnie Hereford, III. When Elder Hereford was called to the Army, Elder Richard Hall carried on services until his return. In 1918 when World War I ended and all soldiers returned home, Elder Hereford was called upon to resume his responsibilities as Pastor.

During the late teens or early twenties, the church name was changed from Pilgrim Rock Primitive Baptist Church to Saint James Primitive Baptist Church. Through the efforts of Elder O.D. Boone and Elder Hereford, the church was united into the Mallard Creek Primitive Baptist Association. Progress continued.

We do prayerfully cherish the memory of Elder Hereford. He's gone but not forgotten. Under his pastorate the following men were called to the ministry:

  1. Late Brother Charlie Battle

  2. Late Brother Alvin Sullivan

  3. Late Brother Son Phillips

  4. Late Brother Hubert Gordon

Under Elder Hereford, much was added. Deacons and Mothers were added to the boards; auxiliaries were organized - The Choir, Sunshine Club and Sisters Aide Society. As years passed, Elder Hereford's health began to fail. In 1944 he became ill and was unable to serve as pastor. Elder W.A. Donaldson was winding up for Elder Hereford; on August 29, 1944, he had a date with the Master and was called from labor to reward.

Elder W.A. Donaldson, the youngest child of the family was born to the late Eddie and Carrie Bell Donaldson on July 15, 1915. He was converted on the third day of September 1937 and accepted his call and responded on the third Sunday in August, 1943. Elder Donaldson preached his first sermon in September of the same year.

Thursday night before the second Sunday in November 1944, Elder W.A. Donaldson was elected pastor of Saint James Primitive Baptist Church.

During the years from 1944 to the present, progress has continued. The Sunday school and Training Union were revamped to become more meaningful, and Deacons and Mothers were added to the boards. Saint James was the first Black church in Huntsville to have an indoor Baptismal Pool, and Brother Oliver Craighead was the first person to be baptized in the pool in 1946. Sister Lucille Baker Powell was the first person to join the church in its present location. Prior to the sixties, Elder Donaldson organized the first Usher Board and the South Side Club. In the sixties, Usher Board Number 2, the Chorus and children's Choir were organized. After the sixties other auxiliaries were organized: The Junior Aide Society, Choir Number 3, the Male Chorus and the Pastorate Committee were organized. Through the auxiliaries many good projects were initiated and completed.

In the late fifties, the members and Pastor became dissatisfied under certain circumstances with their location. In making plans to relocate, a Trustee Board was organized; Brothers George Garner, R.B. Young, Milo Clay, Ollie Johnson and Elder W.A. Donaldson were members. Rallies were held and plans were made to rebuild Saint James Primitive Baptist Church. On the third day of October 1960, land was purchased at the present location, 1093 Fairbanks Street.

On the third day of October 1966, the first service was held at the present location. More members have been added.

Elder Donaldson is a man of strong determination, ambition and straight forwardness; under his leadership progress continues to be made. The church has moved from its first location (Howe Street) to Sylar Tabernacle, to Fairbanks Street (its present location). His ministry has been characterized by spiritual and physical growth. The membership has grown from sixty-eight to four hundred and forty-eight. Realizing the need for continued growth, an Educational Building was erected in 1980. Enlargement of the sanctuary and remodeling of the main entrance began in June 1985.

There are still ministers, Deacons, and Mothers who have replaced those that have gone on to the great beyond.

Saint James Primitive Baptist Church, as you see, stands out as a living landmark. She has produced Mothers, Deacons, Teachers and Preachers. She has come over the rough roads and traveled unpaved streets. Without the bright glare of the electric lights, she climbed the rough side of the mountain and is still moving forward. Thank God for the old pioneers who suffered through the rain, cold and heat. Saint James can be counted as an existing body today in the name of our Lord. We look to the future with confidence that God will bless the efforts of his people as they labor to hasten the kingdom of God on earth.




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