Bishop Walter L Morris and Mother Ava Morris
At the time of their coming, there were only two other black churches in Racine, Wayman AME Methodist and St. Paul Baptist Church. When this Church came, things were very difficult for them. It seemed that no one wanted the “sanctified” church here. But one thing those in opposition did not understand; Brother Morris had stepped out on faith, with one goal in mind… to labor for the Master. They were unable to find a building in which to start the church. Doors were closed in their face. But by God’s guidance, much prayer and fasting, a door was opened for them. A believer, by the name of Mrs Rosetta Vault, opened up her home for worship.
Later they were able to rent a house on Racine Street and worship there with just a very small membership. In 1933, when a two story house at 1321 12th street went up for sale, Elder Morris could see the possibility of a combination of a church and parsonage. They decided to buy the house. In a short time, they were able to renovate it. The lower part of the building was converted into a church and the upper part was used as the parsonage.
Elder Morris preached and prayed until God began to save and send in. Revivals were conducted by spirit-filled evangelist. People were saved and joined the church. Others of the faith moved to Racine to work, and for other various reasons; and also joined the church. Their work and the church, continued to grow.
In the years to come, Elder and Mother Morris became founders of churches in Kenosha, Milwaukee, Beloit and Waukesha, Wisconsin; Sioux Falls and Yankton, South Dakota. In 1947, Elder Morris was appointed overseer of the State of Wisconsin. In 1954, he was consecrated to the Bishopric. In 1959 Bishop Morris health failed him when he was stricken with double pneumonia, seeing his determination to carry on, the mothers, ministers and members sustained him.
Bishop Morris actively pastured Twelfth Street until his sight began to fail him in 1960. By that time, other Elders had joined or been ordained. Elders Louis Kemp, Nesbie Allen, Thomas Elmore and Jettie Cornett were his assistants in the ministry at the “House on the Hill”. Eventually, the House, known as the Twelfth Street Church of God In Christ, became too small to hold the entire congregation. Bishop Morris started a Building Fund drive for a new church. With the help of the Fasting and Prayer Group, $ 27,000 was raised within one year’s time for the new building.
The members found a church on North Memorial Drive that was up for sale. The sanctuary was three times bigger, and it had a balcony. There was a fellowship hall with a kitchen, separate bathrooms for the men and women and an office. It was not without conflicts that the congregation was able to purchase this building. Apparently those in opposition of the sale did not know Bishop Morris’ motto, “Have Faith in God”. The congregation did, and they put their faith into action. They turned their plates down and claimed their building. Although blind and ailing, Bishop Morris led his membership into negotiations to purchase the building at 522 North Memorial Drive. God truly blessed them, for in August 1965, the congregation marched into their new building.
The church was renamed, Grace Temple. First for the unconstrained and undeserving divine favor that God had bestowed upon His people; and for a Mother of the church who had relentlessly labored, fasted and prayed for the church, and the body as a whole, the late Mother Grace Alexander.
In 1970, the Lord called Bishop Morris home. Elder Jettie L. Cornett was appointed pastor of Grace Temple in 1971 by Bishop Louis H. Ford, the Jurisdictional Leader.
Mother Grace Mae Alexander
On May 28, 1937 she moved to Racine, Wisconsin and became a member of Twelfth Street. She was baptized and received the gift of the Holy Ghost, with the evidence of speaking in tongues.
She was appointed Junior Church Mother by Bishop Walter Morris and worked untiringly for the Lord. Her desire was that men and women, boys and girls turn to Jesus will all their hearts. Mother Alexander was an example of Holy living and prayed for people everywhere. She taught people to be filled with the Holy Ghost.
As a Missionary she declared the unadulterated Gospel on street corners, hospitals and in churches all over the United States. Many souls were saved through her ministry. She sought no fame or fortune. She wasn’t looking for a big reputation, but was seeking to please the Lord in all that she did. One of her favorite scriptures was,
“And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus:
for he shall save his people from their sins.” Matthew 1:21
Because of Mother’s dedication and her willingness to cooperate with leadership, Bishop Morris felt it would be an honor to name the new church after Mother Grace Alexander, hence: Grace Temple.
In her commitment and love for God she served as President of: Home and Foreign Mission, Pastor’s Aide, The Hospitality Committee, The Women’s Department, Sewing Circle, and Prayer and Bible Band. She also served as Deaconess, Church Mother, District Missionary, Y.P.W.W. State Chairlady, Assistant State Supervisor for Southeastern Wisconsin Jurisdiction, and as National Evangelist.
Mother Alexander had contributed over fifty five years of Christian community service to the Racine area and has inspirationally touched the lives of people everywhere. Her genuine love for people and her desire to see them do better is what kept her going for many years. In 1991, Mother was awarded the Black Excellence Award in Racine. It was her desire that the entire city of Racine would be saved, and the people would love to serve God and give His name the glory.
Mother’s great big smile tells it all; it says it loud and clear, “I Love People”.
Her last words of exhortation to the people of God were on Sunday, May 24, 1992, where she admonished them “to put on love, because we are one big family; get off criticism street and get on love street; and pray for men and women in every walk of life.”
In her own handwriting, Mother penned in these words: “that the saints be true to God; people are watching you; and let Christ live in you always. I hope to meet you in heaven.” One of Mother’s well known phrases was, “We all have a ticket in the box and one day it will fall out, so make sure, so very sure you are ready to meet the Lord”.
The Lord called Mother Grace Mae Alexander home on June 30, 1992.
Members of 12th Street