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'She was the gatekeeper': Bethel Church pastor reflects on life of Jacksonville historian Camilla P. Thompson

Thompson was the lead historian at the Bethel Church, the oldest Baptist church in Florida. She created an archive in the church to preserve historical artifacts.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The Bethel Church in Jacksonville has history oozing out of every corner.

"There's everything in there from a purchased deed in the 1800s to a cornerstone from the first church that the Blacks built," Bethel Church lead pastor, Bishop Rudolph McKissick Jr., said. 

Bishop McKissick described Camilla P. Thompson as the keyholder to the time machine that is the church.  

Thompson, a long time member of the church and a Jacksonville historian, recently passed away at the age of 99.

Like every good historian, she made sure to leave a piece of her behind.

"She put in print all of the history of our church, and I would periodically get a call from her, 'Have you read the book yet?'" McKissick said with a smile.

The scripts live inside an archive in the church, one Thompson, its historian, built to educate generations to come.

"You cannot go in to that area of the church and not think of Camilla Thompson because she made sure for posterity's sake no matter how old or contemporary Bethel may become that we would never leave our history behind," McKissick said.

In addition to her role at the church, McKissick also taught math and science at several area schools from 1944 until 1976.