By Brandon Martin
Driving by Morning Star Holy Church on the long, winding Stoney Mountain Road, most people may only see another brick church laden with crosses and perched on a grassy knoll overlooking the mountainside. That’s not what the Rev. Tyler C. Millner Sr., sees though.
When you enter the pearly white doors, it is clear that you not only have entered the Lord’s Sanctuary but you’ve also entered “The Rev’s House.”
“I have been in the church all of my life which means 73 years,” Millner said. “I know nothing else. The church grew up with me and I grew up in the church.”
Millner, or as he likes to be called “Rev,” is the second pastor at Morning Star. The first was a person way ahead of their time and he has built a display in their honor that sits in the church’s foyer–that person is his mother, the Rev. Almeda F. Millner.
“She went from preaching in the kitchen to preaching under the bush,” he said. “She put a tent here (Morning Star Holy Church). We came back and built the church where she originally built the tent.”
Millner’s mother was baptized in 1926, and was always deeply religious. The only catch was that at the time, “the church that she originally attended, they didn’t allow women to preach,” according to her son.
The stumbling blocks of that time didn’t keep her down though. After, what she described as a “deeper experience religiously,” Almeda Millner took a big step for women and African Americans by opening her own church.
“Her ‘calling,’ as she described it, was rather miraculous,” Tyler Millner said. “She said the spirit slapped her in the face. She said something told her to go to Moral Hill (Missionary Baptist Church) and ask ‘does anyone want to have a prayer meeting.’”
This is where she would meet a woman by the name Blanche Eggleston, who took Almeda Millner up on her offer – a surprise to Almeda Millner and yet, it almost seemed fated.
“She was greatly impressed by that because the lady stood up and said yes,” Tyler Millner said. “She had never been here. She didn’t even know where this area was.”
Even with the challenges ahead of her, Tyler Millner said her belief system helped her hit the ground running.
“She studied the scripture and she found the notion that you ought to be converted,” he said. “From there, you ought to be sanctified and then the gift of the Holy Ghost comes.”
As she acted on this belief, Tyler Millner and his siblings were all front and center to witness the matriarch in action.
“Services were usually two times on Sunday. She ran revival for five weeks. We went every night and went to school every day. It was pretty disciplined, but we understood that was the way it was,” he said describing his mother’s personal approach to preaching. “Mother was always more structured. She had a subject, text and three points.”
After listening to his mother for all those years, Tyler Millner decided to earn his credentials in the ministry.
“After I graduated, I went to college and then I went to seminary,” he said. “You can imagine that I had some wild ideas also. Sometimes we would talk at two or three o’clock in the morning. She was enlightening me and I was enlightening her.”
As he described his story, it felt like he was describing two bulls locked into their stances, but he said he was able to get his mom to cede some ground.
“I had a sense of ministry that you had to be involved,” he said. “She was more restricted to the pulpit, preaching and evangelism. Along the way, she opened up and she ended up on the education committee at Laurel Park High School, after my pushing.”
He said as he was collecting all the memorabilia for the table that he has dedicated in her honor, it dawned on him that his mother’s funeral in 1989 fell on Valentine’s Day. It was with the feeling of love that he said his mother approached life and ministry.
“I think her attitude that everyone was a creature of God so she never had a problem with race,” he said. “We never discussed it in our home.”
She passed this way of thinking onto her children and Tyler Millner said that it profoundly changed how he viewed his place in the world during a time period of such racial turmoil in the country.
“I think that allowed her to move about and not feel second class,” he said. “She said that ‘you are not better than anybody but nobody is better than you.'”
This discussion led us to the second segment of “The Rev’s House.” If the display in the foyer was symbolic of his personal history, the display in the basement represents the foundation of his African American history.
Spanning across the width of the church’s basement is a collection of tables, each representing a different theme regarding African American history.
The first table of the collection was dedicated solely to the Civil Rights Movement’s largest figure—Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
“What I meant to do was to pull out everything and show how to celebrate the holiday (Black History Month),” he said. “It all starts with Martin Luther King Jr.”
Another table represents the Civil Rights Movement overall.
“From there, it leads into civil rights,” he said. “There are two other big figures here–Rosa Parks and Wyatt Tee Walker. Walker was King’s executive secretary. He was kind of the brain of the whole era and everyone knows about the contributions that Rosa Parks had.”
The initial influence of these figures paved the road for future dreamers to make history.
“Civil rights led to political engagement, and that’s why it’s important that you vote,” he said. “Nobody ever thought, we only ever dreamed, that we would get an African American president.”
Following this line of thinking, it was only natural that the next table commemorated the country’s first African-American President — Barack Obama.
“I met him (Obama) when he came to Martinsville,” Millner said. “What he told me was ‘you’ve got to make it happen.’ He was very focused. He meant that I had to help get out the vote and help him get elected.”
Millner said this accomplishment, and most all accomplishments in the Civil Rights Movement, would not have happened without the press, which is why the next table in the collection is dedicated to newspapers in general and not just “Black Press,” as he put it.
“The statement that I always make is, Dr. King and Rosa Parks probably would have stayed in Birmingham if it were not for the newspaper,” he said. “Nobody would have known about it.”
This led to a larger discussion about how people with no political or social power can still make an impact.
“This exhibit is also a statement,” he said. “Part of what we want to figure out is how did all these people have such great achievements from which they got no support. You couldn’t sleep in a hotel. You were treated as if you had no rights. We have to figure out how they made such great strides with little to no support.”
Millner provided some answers on how he thought that was accomplished.
“You need to know this history so that you will have self-confidence and to know who you are,” he said. “You have to have a goal and say that you want to make the race proud. That’s what we were taught.”
One person that Millner was inspired by to make a difference was Carter Godwin Woodson.
“He (Woodson) started Negro History Week (later expanded to Black History Month) in 1926,” Millner said. “The purpose was to get out the eloquent fact that we have made an impact on history. He used to say if you really do history, then you would not have to have Black History (Month). Since they don’t do it then that’s why it’s important to do Black History Month.”
There were three things that help convey the theme that Millner was trying to convey, among them was Woodson’s iconic book “Mis-education of the Negro.”
“It’s accented with books, Carter Woodson’s ‘Mis-education of the Negro,’ and it’s accented with candles, which symbolizes that African American History ought to be an enlightenment,” Millner said.
He added that it took him between 25 and 30 years to collect all of the materials used in his Civil Rights display, which will remain in the church during the first few weeks of March.
“There’s a lot of information,” Millner said. “Each one of these things is a nugget and you ought to crack it open and see what’s inside of it.”
Those interested in learning more about African American History are encouraged to stop and see the displays in “The Rev’s House” at Morning Star Holy Church in Axton.