Rev. Foxwell preaching to a partially integrated congregation

Integration

The integration of the Whatcoat Mission and the Christ United Methodist Church happened over time. Beginning in the 1940s, the separate congregations began to share a building at Calhoun Street. There is some indication that there may have been prior attempts at integration. At the time that the Christ United congregation was housed on Schroeder Street in Baltimore, there was an effort to share the building between both groups. However, oral history by Charles Waters indicated that “…some of the white people complained…” and instead they were moved to another church building on Orchard Street.1 This is unsurprising as “Deaf clubs, like most associations of the time, were divided along ethnic and racial lines. The National Association of the Deaf had bylaws that limited membership to ‘any white deaf citizen,” and local clubs followed suit.”2 The segregated practices institutionalized at deaf residential schools appear to have been reproduced in the behaviors of adult deaf people.

A Halloween party at Christ UMC
Fig 1: Halloween party at Christ UMC, Calhoun Street, October 1948.

In the 1940s, after the Christ Methodist congregation purchased a building on Calhoun Street, the separate congregations began to share a building. Though they worshipped in the same physical location, Moylan would provide separate services. “Rev. Moylan would hold a service for the Whatcoat Mission in the morning and for Christ Church in the afternoon.”3 Further, Waters recalled that they did not worship in the same spaces. “White people had a room upstairs in the church and the Black Deaf met downstairs… not together, [we] worshiped separately.”4 Thus with the move to the Calhoun Street location, “The African-American congregation met in the basement on Sunday mornings while the white congregation worshipped in the sanctuary on Sunday afternoons.” 5

Shortly after this change Rev. Daniel Moylan died. Without a minister the future of the church was uncertain. A rotating group of hearing ministers attempted to serve the congregations until a replacement could be found, but attendance at the church dwindled. Church history refers to this as a transitory period, but oral histories indicate that, in particular, black deaf church members took a much more active role in keeping the church alive.

"White people had a room upstairs in the church and the Black Deaf met downstairs like in a dining room. We used that, not together, [we] worshiped separately."6

In an attempt to keep the congregation from declining, two deaf black members, Waters and Horsey, led worship among the remaining congregants.7 They would visit deaf black members in their homes, hosting bible study and encouraging their participation at the church. Waters recalled, “We could preach, but we couldn’t conduct communion because we weren’t ordained.”8 It is unclear whether the men pursued ordination. At this time, however, several deaf men had been ordained in the Episcopal and Methodist churches. These men engaged in a lay-ministry that encouraged black deaf congregants to continue attending the church and provided important religious support.

In June 1943, the loss of a church leader and the shrinking attendance at both missions tool a toll. Unable to support their position, the move was made to merge Christ Methodist church with a neighboring church in order to preserve the parish. Throughout this period of uncertainty, the white and black congregants worshipped together on opposite sides of the room.9

After Rev. Foxwell took over the ministry of the church, he worked with members of the Whatcoat Mission to revive the failing parish. After four years ministering to the segregated congregations, in 1955, Foxwell formally joined the Whatcoat Mission with Christ United Methodist Church for the Deaf. In his letter to the bishop he described the church as “the first Methodist Church in Baltimore, to have negro folks join our congregation.”10

Oral histories indicated that the transition toward integration was not always a smooth one. Waters recalled that Foxwell issued an ultimatum the congregation: "Leave if you want to.”11 In an effort to encourage the congregants to integrate, he adopted the practice of rotating where he sat in the church.12 He “would sit with the whites one Sunday and the blacks the next until it got all mixed up.”13 Under the encouragement of Foxwell, the congregation began to sit together and the congregations were fully integrated. One year later students from the Maryland School for the Colored Deaf were transferred to the Maryland School for the Deaf in Frederick.


Sources:

Header Photo, (undated photo, likely between 1970-1974) red binder, Christ United Methodist Church for the Deaf Archives.

Figure 1: "Methodist Church for the Deaf, Calhoun Street, 1948" green binder, Christ United Methodist Church for the Deaf Archives.

1. The Best Is Yet to Come; The History of the Whatcoat Mission for the Colored Deaf.

2. Baynton, Gannon, and Bergey, Through Deaf Eyes, 104.

3. Moylan, “Souvenir of the Christ M.E. Church for the Deaf.”

4. The Best Is Yet to Come; The History of the Whatcoat Mission for the Colored Deaf.

5. Johnson, Interview with Bishop Peggy Johnson; Snyder, “United Methodists Celebrate Historic Black Deaf Church.”

6. The Best Is Yet to Come; The History of the Whatcoat Mission for the Colored Deaf.

7. Snyder, “United Methodists Celebrate Historic Black Deaf Church."

8. Lauber, “Deaf Church Celebrates a ‘Glorious’ Centennial.”

9. Ibid.; Ruth Foxwell, “80th Anniversary Christ United Methodist Church for the Deaf, 1895-1975” (Christ United Methodist Church for the Deaf, April 1975), 2, Folder: Fulton Siemers Memorial/ Christ Church of the Deaf - Folder 8/8, Lovely Lanes Archives.

10. Louis Foxwell, “Letter: Foxwell to Dr. Trett and Members of the Quarterly Conference,” Correspondence, February 6, 1955, Red Binder, unlabeled, Christ United Methodist Church for the Deaf Archives.

11. Snyder, “United Methodists Celebrate Historic Black Deaf Church.”

12. Ibid.

13. Integration for residents of Washington, D.C. began in 1952. The process of integration at the Baltimore school does not appear to have been a smooth one as the Frederick school “di[d] not want to be the first to integrate in their county.” Integration was delayed until the Fall of 1856. Harris, Stull, and Baker, “Beginning of a Legacy: History of the Maryland School for the Colored Deaf: 1872-1956,” 14.