(May 24, 1924-Sept. 1, 1988). Mozel Sanders was born in East St. Louis, Illinois. His father died when he was five years old. He and his mother then moved to Canton, Mississippi. He enrolled in the New Deal Civilian Conservation Corps, then moved to Cleveland, Ohio, to become a minister. In 1945, he arrived in Indianapolis, where he worked in a foundry by day, sang with a religious group at night, and preached at church meetings. In 1959, Sanders became pastor of the Mount Vernon Missionary Baptist  Church on the Indianapolis westside and served there until his death.

Rev. Mozel Sanders (seated to the right) receives a donation from Indianapolis Power and Light officials on February 21, 1981.
Credit: Indianapolis Recorder Collection, Indiana Historical Society

Sanders joined in the 1960s civil rights movement and marched four times with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He sought to aid the poor and those with addictions through job training, leading him to found and chair the Indianapolis chapter of Opportunities Industrialization Centers, Inc. (OIC), a national job-training organization. He hosted a radio program, The Way Out, which aired weekdays on WTLC FM. The program was a mixture of gospel music, prayers, scripture readings, and social commentary.

Sanders is best known for serving a traditional Thanksgiving dinner to needy Indianapolis families. He served 20 people in his church’s neighborhood in 1974. By 1987, more than 200 volunteers served over 16,000 people.

Sanders’s son, Reverend Roosevelt Sanders (1946-2010), continued as pastor of Mount Vernon and founded the Mozel Sanders Foundation (MSF) in 1998. MSF operates as a year-round ministry serving Thanksgiving dinners. In 2020, the event served more than 40,000 meals across Marion County.

MSF also distributes groceries, hygiene, and household cleaning supplies to families. MSF has 40 distribution locations including churches and community centers. The Reverend Roosevelt Sanders Empowerment Scholarship provides financial assistance to local students, especially minority and low-income students.

Mozel Sanders was named the Indianapolis Star’s Man of the Year for 1988. haughville Park is named Rev. Mozel Sanders Park in his honor. A section of North Belmont Street, where Sanders’ home and church are located, is named “Rev. Mozel Sanders Memorial Way.” Mozel Sanders Homes, near Martin University, provide affordable housing.

Revised February 2021
 

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