Two months after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in January 1863, around 800 Black members of Charlottesville Baptist Church completed a petition asking to form a separate congregation. Over 160 years later, Charlottesville City Council has marked the occasion with a proclamation.
“The story of First Baptist Church West Main Street of Charlottesville began before the Civil War when congregants worshiped together under segregated conditions,” said Vice Mayor Juandiego Wade.
Wade said the request was granted and five years later the new congregation was able to purchase what was known as either the Mudwall Building or the Delevan Hotel. That structure was demolished in 1876 and a new building was completed in 1883.
“After the Civil War, First Baptist Church was instrumental in holding instruction within its walls, whereby hundreds of formerly enslaved people were educated,” Wade continued. “Members have been in the forefront of race relations for nearly a century, instrumental in establishing the local NAACP chapter, integrating patients at the University of Virginia, serving on local boards and commissions, and remaining actively involved in the community.”
The proclamation was received by Dom Gathers, a member of the church.
“The church has only been there for 160 years through God’s grace and influence,” Gathers said. “We are truly thankful and we would like to actually officially invite each and every one of y you all to come out and join the 160th anniversary next week, Sunday the 12th.”
For more information on the anniversary service, visit First Baptist Church West Main’s Facebook page.
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