Reverend Mozel Sanders
Reverend Mozel Sanders
(5/24/1924 – 9/1/1988)
Rev. Mozel Sanders summed up his life with these words: “I once made a recording entitled ‘A Meeting with God,’ because I feel that as often as I meet someone in need, I have a meeting with God.” His name lives on today in the community-wide outreach that served 10,000 hot meals through its 2022 Thanksgiving Day outreach.
Born in East St. Louis in 1924 to Moses and Bertha Sanders, Sanders grew up in Canton, Mississippi. At age 19, he accepted the call to the ministry, and after his ordination in 1943, Rev. Sanders spent the next several years traveling the country as part of gospel quartets and preaching at revivals. In 1945, he made Indianapolis his home base, working in a foundry by day and singing and preaching at night and on the weekends. On the first Sunday of 1959, Rev. Sanders became the pastor of Mount Vernon Missionary Baptist Church, a post he held until his death in 1988. The church grew to an active body of over 700 members and is located at 709 North Belmont in the Haughville neighborhood.
It was as pastor of this church that Rev. Sanders began to take his calling from God to the streets to address the economic needs of the community. He led numerous boycotts against stores and industries to promote the hiring of Blacks not just as laborers but also to management positions. Along these lines, he participated in some of the more famous civil rights events of the ’60s, the march to Washington, the march to Selma, and the march to Montgomery.
As founder and chairman of the Indianapolis (and later the Indiana) Opportunities Industrialization Center, Rev. Sanders helped develop many programs to provide employment opportunities. He worked tirelessly as a liaison with the police department and courts to help temper the need for justice with mercy and fairness. When I-65 was built through the city, cutting its way across many Black neighborhoods, he served as chairman of the Homes Before Highways Committee, which fought for better prices for the property of those forced to leave their homes. For 17 years, Rev. Sanders also hosted a daily morning program on WTLC called “The Way Out” with a mixture of gospel music, prayer, scripture, and commentary.
The Thanksgiving outreach for which he remains most widely known today started from very humble beginnings when he and fellow church members served a traditional Thanksgiving dinner to 20 needy people at his church. The ministry outgrew the ability of his congregation to provide, and Rev. Sanders organized a network of cooking facilities, places where the food could be served, and people to deliver meals to those unable to come, in an attempt to match the ministry to the need. His vision is being continued today under the direction of the Mozel Sanders Foundation using 40 satellite distribution locations around Marion County with food preparation done primarily at Butler University.
Among the many awards he gathered during his years of community service were a 1976 Father of the Year Award, a 1979 Indiana National Guard Award for Outstanding Patriotic Civilian Services, and the 1988 Indianapolis Star Man of the Year Award. A park near the church in Haughville as well as the street in front of it have also been named in his honor, and his portrait hangs prominently in the Crown Hill Funeral Home.
Location: Community Mausoleum, Aisle 2A, D-13