march 2011

Roberts Temple COGIC 95th Anniversary:

Music, History and Fellowship

The church where Emmett Till’s funeral was held marks a milestone birthday


By Bob Marovich

The saints sure know how to have church.

But it wasn't just members of the Church of God in Christ who gathered Monday night, May 16, to kick-off the 95th anniversary year of Chicago's historic Roberts Temple COGIC.

robertsA multi-denominational service, chaired by Rev. Eric Thomas, Pastor of Greater Harvest Baptist Church, brought together religious leaders such as Rev. Dr. Clay Evans of Fellowship M.B. Church, Dr. Charles G. Hayes of Cosmopolitan Church of Prayer, Bishop Cody V. Marshall, Jurisdictional Bishop of the Northern Illinois District of COGIC, and many others.

Pastor DeAndre Patterson of Destiny Worship Center and announcer on Inspiration 1390 served as master of ceremonies for the three-and-one-half-hour service. The program included singing by Roberts Temple alumni Vernon Oliver Price and her sister, Loretta Oliver, Dr. LuVonia Whittley, the Carson Sisters from Pastor Maceo Woods' Christian Tabernacle Church, and the 200-voice Chicago Salutes Mass Choir directed by Dr. LouDella Evans Reid.

templeEven 97-year-old Mother Alva Roberts, widow of "Brother" Isaiah Roberts, rendered a congregational song. Mother Roberts' father-in-law, the late Bishop William Roberts, founded Roberts Temple, formerly known as "Fortieth," in 1916. It was the first, and at one time the largest, Church of God in Christ in Chicago and considered the Mother Church for COGIC in Illinois.

Event co-chair Pastor Mack C. Mason and The Black Gospel Blog’s Bob Marovich presented on the church's history and music, respectively, and gospel music historian Nash Shaffer imitated the legendary Sister Minnie Pearl Roberts' classic opening announcements to Roberts Temple church broadcasts on WSBC, while the choir sang the church's theme, "Just Jesus."

Musicians included gospel music producer Bryant Jones on the Hammond B3.

The Rober-etts of Roberts Temple COGIC, ‘Whiter Than Snow’

In addition to musical selections, congregants were treated to a snippet of a documentary work-in-progress about the church and its historic roots, including its role in launching the modern Civil Rights Movement when it held the funeral of Emmett Till, the young Chicagoan brutally murdered in Money, Mississippi in 1955. It was this event that helped earn the church historic status from the city of Chicago.

From Eyes On the Prize: the murder of Emmett Till, with footage from the funeral at Roberts Temple COIGC.

Four rows of Roberts Family members were present, including Sharon Walker Roberts and her daughter, Sharon Hayes, who helped organize the event, and Lora Branch, who is working on the documentary.

Superintendant Cleven Wardlow, Jr. is Pastor of Roberts Temple COGIC.

Photos by Bob Marovich:
(top) Rev. Dr. Clay Evans happily joins in the choir's rendition of "It Is No Secret." Far left: LouDella Evans Reid (in white) and seated below her, COGIC Jurisdictional Bishop Cody V. Marshall.  Seated at right and reading the program is Dr. Charles G. Hayes.

(middle) Mother Alva Roberts sings while Pastor DeAndre Patterson (left) and Roberts' daughter, Sharon Roberts Walker (right), one of the event organizers, listen with delight.

(bottom) Sister Vernon Oliver Price, who is best known for her work with St. Paul COGIC, grew up in Fortieth.

(feature courtesy Bob Marovich's The Black Gospel Blog

Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Laura Fissinger, Christopher Hill, Derk Richardson
Logo Design: John Mendelsohn (
Website Design: Kieran McGee (
Staff Photographers: Audrey Harrod (Louisville, KY;, Alicia Zappier (New York)
Mailing Address: David McGee, 201 W. 85 St.—5B, New York, NY 10024