First Baptist Church, South Richmond

Historical Significance

First Baptist Church, South Richmond, is the oldest independent Black church in the current bounds of the city of Richmond. Since its founding, the church has been known by at least three different names. Organized in 1821 as The African Church of Manchester, in 1865, after the Civil War, it became known as The First Baptist Church of Manchester. When the cities of Richmond and Manchester merged in 1910, the church became known as The First Baptist Church of South Richmond.

The church was organized by Free Blacks 44 years before the end of the Civil War and was never part of a white congregation; between 1836 and 1865, the church was required to have white pastors. In 1849, The African Church of Manchester was one of two Black churches that became a member of the Middle District Baptist Association.

The congregation has worshiped in six buildings since 1821, when the first meeting was held in a private home on Decatur Street between Fifth and Sixth Streets. The next four buildings owned or built by the congregation were on 7th Street between Perry and Porter. These included: in 1823, a frame building donated by a Free Black merchant, Robert Smith, as evidenced by deed dated December 19, 1823, and recorded in the Chesterfield County Courthouse in 1825; the later purchase of a building formerly owned by a Methodist congregation; and between 1854 and 1858 a brick church constructed at Seventh and Perry Streets. The congregation, known then as The First Baptist Church of Manchester, worshiped at this site until July 2, 1892. The congregation first worshiped in its sixth building, located at 15th and Decatur Streets, in November of 1892.

Known since 1910 as The First Baptist Church of South Richmond, this church, its pastors and congregation have provided leadership in pre-merger Manchester and in Richmond for economic, social, and civic progress. 

Physical Description

The plans and specifications for the current and the previous building were drawn by Dr. Anthony Binga, Jr., pastor of the church between 1872 and 1919. The brick two-story structure includes a bell tower on the 15th Street side which once supported a steeple. Inside, there is a multipurpose room on the ground level and a worship sanctuary with a balcony. The steps leading to the balcony are made of lumber from the old church. All windows in the sanctuary are stained glass. The pews are set in a semi-circle and arranged in triangular sections. The pipes originally installed in 1919, for the only Estey Organ in a "colored" church in the United States at that time, remain in the choir loft. The keyboard of the original organ is in the church's history room. Seating in the main auditorium and balconies of the church accommodates 900. Other buildings added during the past 25-30 years include the Ransome Annex, an administrative annex, an intergenerational community center and an archway connecting the community center and the church.

Geographical and Contact Information

1501 Decatur Street
Richmond, Virginia
23224
Phone: 804-233-7679
Fax: 804-233-7683

Cite this Page:

Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, “First Baptist Church, South Richmond,” African American Historic Sites Database, accessed June 29, 2017, http://aahistoricsitesva.org/items/show/144.

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