St. John Baptist Church

Trail Marker

2000 18th Avenue, Meridian, MS

St. John Baptist Church was organized in 1884 and moved to its current location in 1912. As with many Black churches in Meridian, St. John and its members played an active role in the Civil Rights movement.

According to local activists, St. John is one of two locations where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was scheduled to make a speech. Dr. King came to Meridian after James Chaney, Michael Schwerner, and Andrew Goodman disappeared in 1964. However, locals do not agree as to whether he actually spoke at St. John. Some recall hearing him; others say the fire marshal stopped the meeting before he got to speak.

St. John was also the home church of Polly Heidelberg. Known as “Miss Polly” or “Mother” to many activists, she became a forceful voice in the Civil Rights movement. She volunteered with COFO (the Council of Federated Organizations, a coalition of Civil Rights groups) and participated in picketing businesses that discriminated against Blacks. Miss Polly was picketing a local grocery store when she was harassed and threatened by a Klansman. Locals recall a memorable encounter years later in which she was able to publicly confront him as he spoke at a campaign rally at St. John.

Directions to next marker (The Impact of Churches): Continue down 20th Street to 24th Avenue; turn left on 24th Avenue and continue to 13th Street; turn right on 13th Street and continue to 27th Avenue; marker located at intersection.

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