A lot of the people in the church were in the community and you knew them all they were your teachers, they were your neighbors. You know everybody kind of lived around the same place, the postman, the doctor, the dentist, this was a great neighborhood when I was growing up. A wonderful neighborhood. You know people look at it now and they talk about Parramore. You know it is not always positive. But I grew up in this area and in my history it was a wonderful place to raise a family. And I think that’s why my mom [Georgia Woodley], she was a homeowner and Mrs. Drew, and she knew that history; and so instead of moving she decided she would try to make the environment better because she remembered it the way that it was…
Orlando native Pamela Woodley reflects on the legacy of church and community life in this oral history interview at Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Institutional Church in downtown Orlando, December 5, 2012.
Ms. Woodley grew up in the neighborhood of the church, went to Callahan Elementary School, Jones High School, and thanks to her mother, Mount Zion church secretary, Georgia Woodley, was very involved in church life.
In fact, Ms. Woodley credits Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Institutional Church with giving her a great foundation for her professional development. Today she leads others as a leadership coach in the MBA Program at Rollins College.
She recalls the phenomenal leader, her pastor, Reverend Nathaniel Green Staggers, who worked for the desegregation of Orange County Public Schools. All of the plaintiffs in the case came from Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Institutional Church including Pamela Woodley, an original plaintiff in the Orange County School desegregation case.
Reverend Staggers also had the vision of moving the church across the street and building a majestic brick church which today is a beautiful downtown landmark. She says, “Reverend Staggers was the first in this area who really took church outside of the four walls. He was really involved in the community.”
When Ms. Woodley thinks back on the church leaders at a pivotal time in history, she shares the legacy of her mother who was the first to sign up in the desegregation case and served as Mt. Zion’s Missionary Baptist institutional Church secretary for 45 years. She says it was through Reverend Staggers’ community involvement and working as his secretary that her mother, Georgia Woodley, became a community activist.
Working with mentor, Sister Teresa McElwee, a Catholic nun, who started the Apopka Family Learning Center, Georgia Woodley learned about applying for penny grants to get paved roads in the neighborhood, ways to work for neighborhood improvements, and how to form a neighborhood association. Georgia Woodley served as president of the Callahan Neighborhood Association for 25 years.
Pamela Woodley also credits church and civic leader L. Claudia Allen, who was the director of religious education at Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Institutional Church, with the development of the youth at the church. She remembers Ms. Allen instructing the kids on how to give speeches and not to be afraid. L. Claudia Allen’s educational work in Orlando is well known, for example, she started Eccleston Elementary and the Girl Scouts in the black community. Ms. Woodley says they had a wonderful Girl Scout troop at Mt. Zion.
She delights in the memory of the big picnic they would have at the end of Bible school when the group would go out to what is today the medical center near the airport.
She names the Sunday School teachers she had over the years that kept her on the right path and made the Bible engaging…
When asked about the future of Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Institutional Church, Ms. Woodley says:
I think it will always be here as a place that will help ground people because it is the first African American Church in Orlando. And, I think, it will evolve, you know a church that’s a 132 years now, I think that’s what it is, it’s seen a lot of change and its gone through lots of growing pains, but in spite all of that, I think that it will be, what I hope it will be, is a safe haven for people and that it will continue to be a role model for reaching out, advancing the community, that’s my hope for this church.
We invite you to listen to this four part oral history interview of Pamela Woodley’s Legacy, Faith, Future at Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Institutional Church:
LISTEN Part I (14:56) School life, Reverend Staggers, Desegregation, Georgia Woodley, Community Activist, Mary Alice Drew, Sister Teresa McElwee, Callahan Neighborhood Association
LISTEN Part II (14:59) Neighborhood Associations, Mayor’s Biracial Committee, A T & T Discrimination, Valencia Community College, Rollins College, Leadership, L. Claudia Allen, Bible School
LISTEN Part III (11:16) Baptist Training Union, Bible School Picnics, African American Churches, Sunday School, Teachers, Neighbors, Callahan Neighborhood, Ann Brown
LISTEN Part IV (7:50) Community, History, Faith, Vision, Leaders, Future