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2017-12-27 / Columnists

Dr. Adam Clayton Powell, Sr. visits North Amityville – 1939

by Sandi Brewster-walker

After the Civil War, when the Reconstruction Era (1863-77) ended, the Great Migration of Blacks from the south to the north slowly began. Many were the first generation born free after slavery. The Holy Trinity Baptist Church on Albany Avenue in Amityville, believed to have been organized in 1926, “to minister to the sick and needy,” operated during the peak years. Reverend William Plummer Alston (c.1876-1949), of North Carolina, who came to Long Island during the Great Migration would become the first pastor. At the same time, he also pastored the Evergreen Baptist Church on Spring Street, Huntington.

The Long Islander (Huntington) newspaper on May 7, 1926 reported that on Sunday at the Evergreen Baptist church, there would be a Union Services. Rev. Alston had become president of the local church Union organization, which included churches from Huntington, Bridgehampton, Bay Shore, Babylon and Glen Cove. It seems, this meeting might have led to the organization of the church in North Amityville. The following year on Sun. Oct. 9, Holy Trinity Baptist Church was dedicated, as stated on the churches’ web site http:// www.holytrinityamityville.org/.


Old Holy Trinity Baptist Church Building Old Holy Trinity Baptist Church Building The Amsterdam News (Harlem, NY) reported the Baptist churches on the South Shore held their annual convention on Sept. 27, 1928 in Amityville. The following fall, the Holy Trinity Church is said to have incorporated on Oct. 11. One year later, the original church building was opened, and the cornerstone laid.

The first congregation included Joseph Young, Matthew Kyles, Lettie (Davenport) Kyles, Mattie (Davenport) Cheatham, Adele Alston and Ella Greene, all from the south. Joseph Young might have been the man appearing in the New York State Death Index on Feb. 11, 1935. Matthew Kyles (1881) of New Jersey, now owned a home on Brewster Lane. The 1930 US Census gave his occupation as US Postal mailman, and enumerated him with his wife Lettie (1882).


Mattie Cheatham Mattie Cheatham Lettie’s parents were Emmanuel Davenport (1834- 1904) and Martha Hughes (1835-1908), and her sister was Mattie (Davenport) Cheatham. Her first marriage was to John Arrington of North Carolina, according to the Virginia Marriage Records on Dec. 28, 1899. The 1900 US Federal Census enumerated the Arrington couple living on Chapel Street, Norfolk, VA.

Eight years later, on Dec. 2, the Appomattox & Buckingham Times newspaper mentioned that in Spout Springs a telegram had reached the area announcing the death of Martha Davenport. Three of Martha’s sons and two daughters accompanied her body from Norfolk on train #3 back home to Appomattox County. By the time the 1940 US Census was taken Lettie was listed as a widow of her second marriage.


Holy Trinity Baptist Church Holy Trinity Baptist Church Ella Greene (1874) was born in Virginia, and was the widow of the George Green (1867), of New York. The 1900 US Federal Census enumerated Ella with her husband George, a farm laborers living in the Town of Oyster Bay with their three sons: Thomas (1893), William (1894) and George Greene (1899). Twenty years later, the 1930 US Census enumerated Ella and her family living on Smith Street in North Amityville. She was listed as a boarding mother, who cared for foster children. The connection between Rev. Alston and Amityville continued.

Adele (Branch) Alston, the wife of the Rev. Alston passed away at her home in Huntington, the Long Islander newspaper announced on Aug. 14, 1931. The funeral services were held at the First Baptist Church, of Amityville with Rev. Roper.

Earlier in the year, the New York Age newspaper on Feb. 7, 1931 announced, Holy Trinity Baptist Church will “now pursue the pathway of peace.” The Rev. Alston seemed to have a difference of opinion than the congregation. During a second election, the congregation voted to retain Alston, and at the same meeting elected Herman Cheatham as a new trustee. The year before Herman Cheatham had made the local papers.


Alfred Cheatham Alfred Cheatham The Patchogue Advance newspaper on August 26 reported Thomas, Joseph and Arthur Glynn found Herman Cheatham, “exhausted hanging to the side of his boat from which he had fallen into the water about 20-feet deep off Clocks Creek.”

They were the sons of John Glynn, and wife Mary (Smith), of Brooklyn NY on summer vacation in Amityville. John (1870) was the son of Irish immigrant parents, and was employed as a policeman according to the 1900 US Federal Census.

The article indicated, the young men were nephews of former New York State Governor Alfred Emanuel “Al” Smith (1873–1944), elected four times and was the 1928 Democratic presidential candidate. Governor Smith was the son of Alfred and Catherine, a daughter of Irish immigrants, and the brother of Mary Glynn. The governor as a young assemblyman would spend the summer with his family in the Louden house at the foot of Ocean Avenue (Amityville).


Lettie & Mathew Kyles Lettie & Mathew Kyles Herman Cheatham was rescued by the Glynn sons spending the summer at the Hyatt cottage on Clock Boulevard, West Amityville. Herman (1893) was the son of Alfred Cheatham, Sr. (1862) and his wife Mattie Davenport (1872-1951), both Virginians.

The 1910 US Federal Census enumerated Alfred, a laborer on the railroad living in Norfolk, VA; however in 1920, he was a farmer living on Stonewall Road, Appomattox, VA. But, 10-years later, the Cheathams were living on Albany Avenue, North Amityville.


Herman & Irene Cheatham Herman & Irene Cheatham The 1930 US Federal Census enumerated Herman Cheatham (1894), and his wife Irene (1898) living in the north. During the Great Migration, the Cheatham couple rented a home on Brewster Lane, North Amityville. Herman was an employee of F. D. Homan Boat Agency, a boat broker, and Irene worked as a domestic servant.

Herman’s employer Frank Homan (1875), and his wife Florence (Donnelly) lived on Riverside Avenue, Village of Amityville.

In Virginia, Herman and Irene had been married in 1911, and lived in Norfolk according to the 1927 Norfolk City Directory. The Cheathams would move to North Amityville during the peak years of the Great Migration!

The Cheatham, Collins, Caldwell, Kyles, Leftenant, Lawrence and Davis families were all part of the more than 6 million blacks from the south to mass relocate. They left North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia between 1910 and 1930 to escape an oppressive environment, and for the promise of a better life!

Rev. Alston would serve as pastor for five years until Reverend David Brown succeeded him in 1932. Irene Cheatham was still involved with the church on June 7, 1933, the Amsterdam mentioned, the Woman’s Auxiliary met at her home.

The Amsterdam News on Oct. 25, 1933 mentioned Etta Marshall (1902), a white female servant of John and Sadie Louden, was baptized by Reverend Brown on Sunday at Holy Trinity Baptist Church. Etta is buried in the Amityville Cemetery on Harrison Avenue.

The Amsterdam continued, the Senior Choir of Holy Trinity Baptist Church had been entertained at Mrs Annie Fowler’s home. Annie (1907), of Virginia, was the wife of Jobe Fowler (1908), a Montaukett Indian. She worked as a servant for a private family.

The article continued, “Dr. Graham of Manhattan was the guest speaker of the Get-Together Club on Thursday, when it presented a program at the Holy Trinity Baptist Church”.

On Feb. 21, 1934, the Amsterdam reported, “A business meeting of members of Holy Trinity Baptist Church was held…” The newspaper continued, Alfred

Cheatham, Sr., “one of its deacons is seriously ill.” By April 7, 1934, the Amsterdam News showed concern, “Alfred Cheatham is still on the sick list.” Lat e r, the Amsterdam News told readers on Dec. 10 1938, the Eastern Baptist Association would hold its 18th annual session at Holy Trinity Baptist Church with Rev. A. A. Wood(s).

During this period, Matthew Kyles was in charge of the building fund, and Major Braxton was elected treasurer. Major Braxton (1906- 1983), of Richmond, Virginia, was the son of William Braxton, and Lucy (Cottrell). Later, Braxton would become superintendent of the Sunday school for 46 years until his death. Major Braxton was a PFC, US Army, World War II. He is buried in the Long Island National Cemetery.

“The Junior Choir of Holy Trinity rendered the musical selections,” was reported by the Amsterdam News on Aug. 5, 1939. By Thursday, “An inspirational address was delivered by Dr. A. Clayton Powell, Sr. former Pastor of Abyssinia Baptist Church, NYC. During Adam Clayton Powell Sr. (1865- 1953) tenure 1908-36, Abyssinian Baptist Church (Harlem NY) became the largest Protestant congregation in the country with 10,000 members. He was an author, activist, and father of Congressman Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. He was a founder of the National Urban League, active in the NAACP and served as trustee of several historically black colleges. He was a Virginian like Herman Cheatham going north during the Great Migration of Blacks. Three-years after retirement, he was a speaker at Holy Trinity Church in North Amityville.

“Honorable Charles Duryea spoke for the Village of Amityville, Hon. Frederick Wood, district supervisor, spoke for the Town of Babylon, and Hon. Barron Hill, County Judge, spoke for the County.” On Friday greetings were delivered by the president of the NY Colored Baptist State Convention.

By Nov. 11, the Amsterdam News report, a turkey supper will be served at the home of Mattie Cheatham for the benefit of Holy Trinity Baptist Church with Rev. Wood(s).

As the Great Migration was slowing down, Reverend Epperson became pastor from 1941 to 1946. He was followed by Reverend R. L. Smith (1946-1949), who was leader until his tragic death. The Great Migration of Blacks from the south to the north slowly began with the Reconstruction

Era. During the peak years , the Holy Trinity Baptist Church would be organized in North Amityville by families that left to escape an oppressive environment, and for the promise of a better life! The church would spend its early years hosting other former southerners, like Adam Clayton Powell, Sr., who made a difference!

Sandi Brewster-walker is an independent historian, genealogist, freelance writer and business owner. She is the chair of the Board of Trustees and acting executive director of the Indigenous People Museum & Research Institute. She has served in President Bill Clinton’s Administration as deputy director of the Office of Communications at USDA. Winner of the Press Club of Long Island’s 2017 Media Award – 3rd Place for Narrative: Column. Readers can reach her in c/o the LI.Indiginous.people.museum@gmail.com

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