top of page

Mount Olive Baptist Church

201 Lenox Avenue at 120th Street

Established in 1876

Moved to Harlem in 1925

“The church’s mandate to glorify God and save souls has always been coupled with its work to address issues of social injustice, homelessness, housing, education and political activism.”

– The Reverend Dr. Charles A. Curtis.

Mount Olivet Baptist Church, first organized in 1876 as Gethsemane Mission, was officially recognized as a church in 1878 after its founding members overcame stern resistance from the white religious powers. Its original building on 53rd Street and 6th Avenue, where the New York Hilton stands today, was praised as the most beautiful black church in New York City.  

In the 1920s the church housed the followers of Marcus Garvey as they prepared for their voyage to Africa. In 1925 Mount Olivet migrated from midtown to its present site on Lenox Avenue and 120th Street in Harlem. Its beautiful structure, formerly known as Temple Israel, was one of New York City’s most elegant synagogues. The building was purchased for $450,000, the largest amount ever paid by a black congregation for a house of worship at that time. 

Mount Olivet’s first pastor Rev. Daniel Washington Wisher organized the Original Grant Guards, New York State’s first colored militia. He led the church to purchase land in Bellport, Long Island to spur the growth of a colored colony and establish an orphanage and home for the elderly. Rev. Wisher was actively involved with the New York Anti-Slavery Society. He was the youngest person ever elected president of the New England Baptist Missionary Convention, the oldest convention representing African-American Baptists. 

Other Mount Olivet pastors were also known for their social and political activism. Under its second pastor Rev. C. T. Walker, Mount Olivet founded the Harlem YM and YWCA. The fourth pastor Dr. William Preston ran for the 21st Congressional District and spearheaded the church relocation from midtown to Harlem. The fifth pastor Dr. O. Clay Maxwell opened the first after-school program in Harlem, and organized the Council of Churches and the National Congress of Christian Education of the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc.  

The church’s current pastor Rev. Dr. Charles A. Curtis carries on the tradition of active involvement in community affairs and civil justice issues. Rev. Dr. Curtis was instrumental in New York City Council’s passing of the Global Sullivan Principles, which advocates economic, social, civil and political justice in the business sector. Through his leadership, Mount Olivet has been dubbed “the Community Church.” It now operates a food program three days a week and provides clothing to the needy, and continues to supply a forum for leading political personalities to address the Harlem community on issues impacting African-American life.

Adapted from information provided by Rev. Dr. Charles A. Curtis and additional historical resources.

bottom of page