JOPLIN, Mo. — More than two dozen churches were destroyed in the May 22nd, 2011 Joplin tornado, but it’s not the first time something like that has happened in Joplin’s history.

A tornado hit our region back in 1902, and like the 2011 storm, it destroyed several houses of worship, among them all three African American churches in Joplin, But thanks to one of the community’s founding fathers, mining magnate Thomas Connor, each of them where rebuilt the very next year.

Missouri Southern community historian Brad Belk says there’s a good chance Handy Chapel, Unity Church Baptist, and Trinity United methodist may not have been rebuilt for many years if it weren’t for Connor’s contribution.

“The rebuild was even more difficult as we can assume back there at the turn of the century and so a gentleman went in and got their money out of their wallet and started helping causes and one of them was to rebuild these African American churches were devastated from this horrific tornado,” said Brad Belk, MSSU Community Historian.

“I think it was very much needed, there was hardship on the blacks you know,” said Reverend Willie Rogers, Jr., Pastor, Handy Chapel.

Reverend Willie Rogers says the churches played a crucial role in preserving African American culture, music, and worship.

How much did they mean to parishioners back then?

Rogers says Unity Baptist, Trinity United Methodist, and his church, Handy Chapel are all three still in existence, but only his is still on the exact same grounds as the original.

“They really didn’t have too many places they could go and attend, so the church was a place that they can go fellowship, have activities, this and that, use it for educational purposes and all that,” said Reverend Rogers.

To show Connor just how much his generosity meant to churchgoers back then, they made sure everyone would see his name before they could go inside.