Olivet Institutional Baptist Church
As one of the largest African American churches in Ohio, the Olivet Institutional Baptist Church was a civil rights hub under the leadership of Rev. Odie M. Hoover who was known for his connection to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and his work to advance civil rights.
Hoover made Olivet the headquarters of Dr. King whenever he visited Cleveland. In 1966, it opened the O. M. Hoover Christian Community to provide fellowship and recreation services for its members and the community at large. In 1974, Civil Rights activist Rev. Otis Moss, Jr. became pastor at Olivet and worked continuously to improve the quality of life for residents in the Fairfax neighborhood.
Early Church History
As one of the largest African American churches in Cleveland, Ohio, the humble beginnings of Olivet Institutional Baptist grew out of congregants of the Triedstone Baptist Church. During the Great Depression Era, former members of Triedstone began holding worship services in 1931 in a small building on Quincy Avenue, which later became known as the New Light Baptist Church. Reverend A. W. Nix served as the church’s first pastor. Under the leadership of Rev. Nix, the membership grew from 40 to 150, and later increased substantially after Rev. N. H. Armstrong succeed Nix in 1933. During the pastorate of Rev. Armstrong, the congregation expanded to roughly 500 members. Also, during this time, the church changed its name to Olivet Baptist Church.
After the departure of Rev. Armstrong in 1937, the congregation moved to a new sanctuary on East 55th Street and Central Avenue, where it shared space with the Mount Zion Congregational Church. During this transition, the church membership declined drastically, to approximately 30 members. That same year, Rev. Eugene W. Ward became the pastor. Within a year as pastor, he greatly increased the membership. As a result, the shared space was too small and the church was relocated to a more spacious location. Bohemian Hall on Quincey Avenue became the home of the new church.
Amidst legal controversy concerning the name Olivet, because another church also claimed rights to that name, the congregation was forced to change the church’s name to Second Olivet Baptist Church. Within a few years, the church experienced more exponential growth. In 1950, members of the church raised enough money to purchase property on Quincey Ave and build a new edifice. Two years later, before the project was completed, Rev. Ward was succeeded by Rev. Odie M. Hoover.
Odie M. Hoover, Jr.
Born on September 21, 1921 in Bell Buckle, Tennessee, Rev. Hoover received his call to the ministry at a very young age. “As a child, he preached and sang around Nashville….” Seeking to advance his education as a minister, Rev. Hoover enrolled into American Baptist Theological Seminary in Nashville, Tennessee. After graduating in 1949, three years later he was invited to Cleveland to conduct a revival at Greater Abyssinia Baptist Church. Greatly impressed by his preaching, local pastors at the revival urged him to return to Cleveland to replace Rev. Ward who was retiring as pastor at Second Olivet.
Under the leadership of Rev. Hoover in 1952, the church changed its name to Olivet Institutional Baptist Church. In 1954, the edifice was completed and the members moved into their new sanctuary. Additionally, due to the astute financial acumen of Rev. Hoover, the church paid off its mortgage within seven years. During his pastorate the congregation grew greatly, and the church became increasingly involved in civil rights activities in the city of Cleveland.
Hoover and King
Committed to the belief that the church should play an active role in addressing the social ills that plagued society, and as an ardent supporter of civil rights, Rev. Hoover made Olivet a key voice in the civil rights movement. As a close friend of Dr. Martin L. King, Jr., dating back to Birmingham, Alabama, Rev. Hoover made Olivet a headquarters for Dr. King and his organization, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), whenever he visited Cleveland. Having supported the civil rights work of Dr. King, Rev. Hoover understood the importance of civil rights activism in breaking down racial barriers that relegated African Americans to second-class citizenship.
As a fierce supporter of Dr. King, Rev. Hoover accompanied him to Oslo, Norway when he received a Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. Two years later, Olivet opened the O. M. Hoover Christian Community Center in honor of their pastor. The center symbolized Rev. Hoover and the church’s commitment to community building to “provide fellowship and recreation services” to its members and the local community. Dedicated by Dr. King, the building stands as a lasting legacy to honor the civil rights activism of Rev. Hoover.
Otis Moss, Jr. Arrives
After serving as pastor of the Olivet Institutional Baptist Church for 21 years, Rev. Hoover died on November 7, 1973. Seeking to continue the activist work of Rev. Hoover, the congregation selected Rev. Otis Moss, Jr. as their pastor in December 1974. Born in rural Georgia, Otis Moss, Jr. attended Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia. While at Morehouse, influenced by activism of his peers and the school’s leadership, Rev. Moss became actively involved in the “sit-in movement to integrate lunch counters and public buildings.” During his stay in Atlanta, Rev. Moss and his wife Edwina H. Moss developed a close relationship with Rev. King. Edwina served as the executive administrative assistant for SCLC. Additionally, she participated in all the important leadership meetings for the organization. Furthermore, Rev. Moss served as co-pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, the home church of the King family.
After serving as pastor of several churches before arriving in Cleveland, Moss became more deeply involved in the civil rights movement. For example, in Cincinnati, he served as regional director of SCLC, challenged discrimination in workplaces and organized an Operation Breadbasket program. A year after arriving at Olivet as pastor, Rev. Moss “founded the Olivet Housing and Community Development Corporation (OHCDC),” which symbolized his civil rights work in Cleveland. Through this nonprofit organization, the church “worked to develop and improve the Fairfax community as well as other Cleveland neighborhoods by sponsoring local services, programs, and projects aimed at enhancing the physical, educational, and economic well-being of local residents.”
Not only did Rev. Moss work to improve race relations for Black Americans, but he also promoted gender equality in the ministry. Establishing Olivet as a model that other black churches could imitate, he ordained Rev. Margaret Mitchell as the church’s first female minister in 1989. That following year, Rev. Moss appointed the “church’s first four women to the Trustee Board.”
The University Hospital medical facility offered “inner-city residents quality outpatient care, including primary care, pediatrics, obstetrics/gynecology, and podiatry, and spiritual counseling, attending to their souls as well as bodies.” In efforts to continue community building, “the Olivet Housing and Community Development Corporation and the Olivet Health and Education Institute in 1999 co-sponsored the National Conference on African American Health, Spirituality, and Healing,” a conference that gathered the religious and medical communities to address these issues.
Upon Rev. Moss’s retirement, Rev. Jawanza Karriem Lightfoot Colvin became the pastor of Olivet. A native of Washington, D.C., Rev. Colvin continues the activist work of Dr. Moss. Olivet provides “more than 50 spiritually-based programs and ministries to the Greater Cleveland community.” Several programs offered through the church ministry include “an annual summer enrichment college tour, an athletic ministry, an investment club, a prison ministry, an after-school program, and Alcoholics Anonymous.” The legacy of Olivet Institutional Baptist Church serves as a model in the role and importance of the black church in the civil rights movement.
Patricia Hoover, daughter of Rev. Odis M. Hoover, discusses her upbringing, her father’s tenure at the church, and the evolution of Olivet in its leadership and customs.
The Trinity United Church of Christ put together a retelling of Otis Moss, Jr. father’s attempt to vote in the Jim Crow South. It also features Moss’ son and grandson.
Patricia Hoover donated several recordings of her fathers sermons that she had in her personal collection. They were recorded in the late 1960s and early 1970s. She granted the Cleveland Restoration Society permission to make them public.
Fountain, Aaron,. “Olivet Institutional Baptist Church.” Façade, issue 108, Spring 2022.
BHM: CELEBRATING HISTORIC CLEVELAND LEADERS, https://codemmagazine.com/bhm-celebrating-historic-cleveland-leaders/.
“Edwina Hudson Smith Moss,” https://lifenstilettos.com/2018/04/06/edwina-hudson-smith-moss/.
Interview on Rev. M. Odie Hoover,” interviewed by Thomas L. Bynum, Aaron Fountain, James Robenault, and Donna Whyte, Cleveland Restoration Society, Zoom video recording, April 8, 2022.
Olivet Institutional Baptist Church, Encyclopedia of Cleveland History, https://case.edu/ech/articles/o/olivet-institutional-baptist-church.
“Otis Moss Jr., senior pastor of historic Olivet church, retires,” April 6, 2008, https://www.cleveland.com/metro/2008/04/otis_moss_jr_senior_pastor_of.html.
“Rev. O.M. Hoover Heads for Oslo with Dr. King,” Call and Post, December 5, 1964, 1A.