Selma to Montgomery March Byway
First (Colored) Baptist Church (AL)
The First (Colored) Baptist Church has a rich history. Constructed in 1845, the church initially served white and Black populations. Shortly after the end of the Civil War, the white congregation bought out the claims of the blacks who then constructed a new church house on St. Phillips Street. In 1894 the congregation built the church house that is still used today, on Martin Luther King, Jr. Street.
During segregation, the church served as a meeting place for African Americans. School graduations, concerts, and other cultural activities were held here. Home demonstration agents, set up through the Agriculture Department, worked with struggling share croppers and taught them how to can goods and perform other self-sufficient practices.
During the Civil Rights Movement, the church came to be known as the Voting Church or Movement Church. In 1963 under the leadership of Reverend M.C. Cleveland, the church became the first in the city to open its doors for activities and meetings of the Dallas County Voters League. Mr. Boyton was the president of the league, and the group met in the church's basement. During the next two years, the church was a focal point of the mass meetings and non-violent teaching sessions sponsored by the Student Non-Violent Coordination Committee, and in late 1964, meetings were held in the church to plan the mass rallies and demonstrations of early 1965 which culminated in the Selma-to-Montgomery March. During the early months of 1965, Martin Luther King, Jr., Ralph Abernathy, and other leaders of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, headquartered in Brown's Chapel half a block away, spoke nightly to the youth gathered at First Baptist Church.
On January 2, 1965, Martin Luther King Jr. visited the church. He gave two speeches that night -- one at the First Baptist Church and another at the Brown Chapel. At the First Baptist Church, King spoke to a younger crowd -- to the people leading the Civil Rights Movement. He then spoke to an older crowd down at the Brown Church. Truly the First Baptist Church was a hub for civil rights activities.
Today the church is on the National Registry of Historic Places and was actually the first Civil Rights Movement building to be put on the register.
In 1978, the church was struck by a tornado; the congregation is currently attempting to restore the church to its original appearance.
- Public domain. Photo by Elvin Lang