Rev. Moses M. Porter, who for 50 plus years was pastor of the Second Baptist Church, was during his lifetime one of the best known blacks in Bloomington. He was the best known preacher this town ever had, according to Howard “Doc” Lewis in a newspaper article from the Bloomington Sunday Tribune and Star Courier on September 19, 1971. Among other things, Mr. Porter built a limestone church and gave up much of his salary to help pay off the mortgage on it. He was also a man who liked to hunt, and an annual event at his church was the ‘Wilderness Feast’ of hundreds of pounds of cooked rabbit and squirrel.”
Little is known about Rev. Porter’s early childhood. He reportedly was born to William and Millie (Breedlove) Porter on December 20, 1869, in Macon County, Alabama, a predominately black community in which cotton was king. The population of the county in 1860 was 26,802 and of that number, according to a source at Rootsweb, 18,179 were slaves and 1, 020 were slave holders. Given those demographics, it seems likely that Rev. Porter’s parents probably numbered among the slaves, although that has not been proven.
With only $15 in his pocket Moses entered Selma University at Selma Alabama, a historically black school founded to train African Americans ministers and teachers. He worked his way through school as a bookkeeper and graduated as valedictorian of his class in 1891. Afterward he taught school a couple of years in Smithville, Chilton County, Alabama, and then entered the theological school of the State University in Louisville.
About 1901, Rev. Porter accepted a as position as pastor of the Second Baptist Church in Mitchell, Lawrence County, Indiana, but also provided ministerial services to a church in Vincennes. Several times a month he traveled by train between the two cities. During the course of one such journey in 1904, he was involved in accident when the passenger train on which he was riding collided with a freight train. Many were injured. Rev. Porter sustained a bad cut; one newspaper noted that he had broken his jaw.
Rev. Porter was a popular preacher. His name frequently appeared in print, a fact not overlooked by members of the Second Baptist Church in Bloomington. Three times they contacted him and asked him to be the pastor of their church. When it was announced in early November 1906 that he was having a house erected in Mitchell, it seemed that the pastor was putting down even deeper roots in Lawrence County.
Soon after the announcement about the house, newspapers all over the state began announcing Rev. Porter’s upcoming marriage to Lena M. Kirk of Marion County on November 28, 1906. Lena, a graduate of Shortridge High School and a teacher in Marion County, attended school at Indiana University in Bloomington as her schedule permitted.
Had Rev. Porter not married Lena, this story may have had an entirely different ending. As it was, however, Rev. Porter accepted the call to Bloomington sometime between 1907 and 1910. This made the church folks in Bloomington happy and made it a bit easier and less complicated for Lena to attend college classes. And had Lena remained in Bloomington with her husband rather than spending the majority of her time teaching school in Indianapolis, things might also have transpired differently.
At the time of Rev. Porter’s arrival in Bloomington, the congregation of the Second Baptist Church was small. They met in a dilapidated, frame church that was heavily in debt. Not many years passed before Rev. Porter called upon his friend, and by then a noted black architect, Samuel Plato, to design a new stone church. The cornerstone was laid in 1913, and in 1914 Porter borrowed nearly $4,500 to begin construction on the church that was dedicated on August 1, 1914.
Was Lena happy with the choices her husband made? Maybe not. The couple divorced sometime between 1910, when the couple made their home on W. Seventh St. in Bloomington, and 1918 when Lena married the principal of a “colored” school in Shelby County, Indiana. Not one word of the divorce, which probably was filed in Marion County, was mentioned in the news.
Rev. Porter married again as well. His second wife, Georgia E. McFarland, was a native of Rockport, Spencer County, Indiana. Nothing is known about when or where they married, but the deed was done by 1930 when the couple lived together at 509 W. 8th Street in Bloomington. It was a relationship that endured for the remainder of Rev. Porter’s life.
Georgia was employed as a teacher of the intermediate grades at the Banneker School. Rev. Porter focused on tending his flock. He also enjoyed a good walk. Most days he could be seen out and about on the square in a black dress suit with a stiff collar and shirt front and a black top hat. This continued until sometime in 1950 when he suffered a debilitating stroke. Two years later he died at his home on W. 8th St., the one he had shared with Georgia for more than two decades. It was early in the morning on November 22, 1952. At the time of his death he had been pastor of the Bloomington’s Second Baptist Church for 43 years.
For the next 15 years, Georgia continued life alone. She died November 10, 1967 at the age of 84. Burial was at the side of her late husband in Rose Hill Cemetery.
- Mitchell (IN) Commercial, June 23, 1904.
- Washington, Daviess County (IN) Democrat, June 25, 1904.
- Mitchell (IN) Commercial, October 27, 1904.
- Mitchell (IN) Commercial, November 1, 1906.
- Indianapolis (IN) News, November 20, 1906.
- Indianapolis (IN) News, May 18, 1918.
- Bloomington (IN) Daily Herald Telephone, November 22, 1952, p. 1.
- Bloomington (IN) Sunday Tribune and Star Courier, September 19, 1971.
- Georgia E. Porter Death Record, Monroe County, IN, digital image at www.Ancestry.com, viewed January 14, 2020.
- Forstall, Richard L., ed. (March 24, 1995). “Population of Counties by Decennial Census: 1900 to 1990”. United States Census Bureau. Retrieved January 12, 2020, at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Macon_County,_Alabama.
- Extracted information from the marriage record of Moses Mitchell Porter, Indiana Marriages, 1780-1992. Retrieved January 12, 2020, at https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:XFXM-DJD.