Editor’s note: The Urbana Black Heritage Festival will be held at Barbara Howell Park on June 18 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at 213 E. Market St. This article is one in a series of Heritage stories leading up to the festival.
Martha “Mattie” Cunningham was born in 1878 in Indiana. Her father had a successful clay tile business in the northeastern part of that state. Her father’s financial success afforded “Mattie” and her brother to become the first African American students to attend Manchester College (now Manchester University) in the Hoosier state. Martha would graduate with a degree in the Bible and English in 1903, and married Newton Dolby in 1907.
Martha’s family were members of the Church of the Brethren during the early part of her life. In 1911, Martha would become one of the first women, and first woman of color, to be ordained by the church. Martha and Newton Dolby were not welcome at their Brethren Church in Ohio where they had been attending. Newton was an engineer for Wilberforce University.
In 1926, Newton met an untimely death while the family was living in Urbana. She would return to Indiana to reside with family for a number of years, but eventually returned to Urbana where she began to preach to the Church of God congregation which met in the former Bethel A.M.E. Church location on East Reynolds Street. Eventually, Martha located to the 300 block of Hill Street where she established and preached at the Hill Street Church of God until her death in 1956.
Article from Urbana Black Heritage Festival, www.urbanaheritagefestival.org and by email at [email protected]