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First African Baptist Church

First African Baptist

First African Baptist Church
Virginia Department of Historic Resources

 

Built in 1876, First African Baptist Church housed one of the oldest African American congregations in Virginia, and all African American Baptist churches in Richmond trace back to this church. The current building replaced the original First Baptist Church dating from between 1799 and 1802, where a congregation of whites, slaves, and free blacks worshipped together for years. In 1841, First Baptist’s white members moved to a new church two blocks to the west at 12th and Broad Streets, and the black members of the congregation stayed at the old location. Torn down in 1876, the old church made way for the dedication of the “new” church in 1877, now known as Old First African Baptist Church.

In 1867, Reverend James H. Holmes became the first black pastor of the original First Baptist Church. He is said to have married 1,400 couples, attended 2,500 funerals, and baptized 5,800 persons during his 34 year tenure there. The church hosted sermons preached by Reverends Richard Wells, William Troy, and John Jasper. In 1878, 1,100 persons were baptized and welcomed as members of the new church. Reverend Holmes pastored the church 34 years before passing away in November of 1900. The church ranks high in importance in Richmond's African American history.

interior First African Baptist

Historic Interior of First African Baptist Church
Virginia Commonwealth University Libraries

The 1841 First Baptist Church was the inspiration for First African Baptist Church’s Greek Doric temple design. Architect Thomas U. Walter designed both buildings. Walter was a reported rival of Robert Mills, who designed Monumental Church one block to the west.

The congregation moved to a new location in north Richmond and sold the First African Baptist Church to the Medical College of Virginia in 1955. The congregation is still in existence. The church, which was originally stuccoed and topped by a cupola, had its steeple and stained glass windows removed when the congregation relocated. The college continues to use the church building for offices, classrooms, and laboratories for its Clinical Laboratory Department and now refers to the building as the Randolph-Minor Annex.

Plan your visit
First African Baptist Church is located on the northeast corner of College and E. Broad Sts., at 301 College St.  The building is open to the public during normal business hours. 
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