MILTON — The Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce Leadership Class explores issues facing the county and regularly attends educational events, including a July 20 lecture by Milton Councilwoman Mary Ellen Johnson at Mount Pilgrim Baptist Church.

Johnson educated the 38 community members about the history of African-Americans in Milton and the history of Mount Pilgrim Baptist Church. Johnson is a member of the church and was baptized there. Rev. Jamie Smith began the event by singing “Steal Away,” a traditional hymn slaves sang about escaping to freedom.

In 1866, former African-American members of the First Baptist Church of Milton constituted chapter membership of the Mount Pilgrim Baptist African Missionary Church. In 1880, their first church was built on Canal Street.

In 1911, the congregation purchased land on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, which was then called Clara Street. Architect W.A. Rayfield drew plans for the current building in 1916; Mount Pilgrim was the first brick church in Santa Rosa County.

Mount Pilgrim was placed on the National Registry of Historic Places in 1992. The church recently received a $60,000 Special Category grant from the Florida Division of Historical Resources for renovations.

The city of Milton administers the grant and has $30,000 in the project, according to Milton Public Information Officer Pamela Holt. Mount Pilgrim also has $30,000 in the project for a total of $120,000. Eddie Todd, a local architect, is working with Milton Planning Director Randy Jorgenson to plan the renovations, which Todd said will start with the basement and work upward.

One of the members of the class was County Commissioner Sam Parker, who received a book from Jean Jones, local author and a member of the church, to give to his son who is entering kindergarten in the fall.

Vivian Rose, local artist and a member of Mount Pilgrim, also attended the lecture and displayed two of her paintings. Rose returned to school after retirement and received a degree in Fine Arts from Florida A&M University.

“As we move through this journey of life, we all have difficulties day by day, minute by minute, but it’s the way that we approach it,” Johnson said. “We don’t know all, but we do know who does know and who has the blueprints for everything we need do to.We need to be patient and be guided by the spirit as we go through our daily life."