First African Baptist Church

Spring 2021

“first african baptist church”

Thomas bordeaux

As the oldest Black church in North America, Savannah’s First African Baptist Church has been intertwined with Black history for at least the past 243 years. The current church building was built in the 1850s by a congregation of more than 2,000 slaves and freedmen. The church became the center of Black organizing in Savannah, being one of the few opportunities they had to meet with each other. It was under the floor of this meeting room that they began to shelter runaway slaves on the Underground Railroad, with airholes in the floorboards disguised as traditional prayer patterns. When the Union Army reached Savannah, Pastor William Campbell was one of twenty Black ministers who met with General Sherman to discuss “the negro question”, a meeting that became Special Field Orders No. 15, better known as Forty Acres and a Mule, the first case of reparations for Black Americans. A century later, the church was once again a center of black organizing in Savannah, holding weekly meetings and planning demonstrations during the Civil Rights Movement, under the guidance of Rev. Ralph Mark Gilbert, Rev. Curtis J. Jackson, and Dr. William F. Stokes II. Today the church remains a testament to the power of Black organizing in Savannah, the State of Georgia, and the American South.

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