Enslaved and free blacks found ways to establish their own churches and schools despite laws restricting their ability to meet in groups. Founded in 1818 in the Bottoms, Alexandria's oldest African-American neighborhood, Alfred Street Baptist Church was a center of black efforts to circumvent the legal limits imposed by white society.
Alfred Street Baptist Church was started by black members of the city's First Baptist Church, an integrated congregation formed in 1803. Possibly weary of the constraints the church put on black preachers, one - Jesse Henderson - and two other black members leased land on Alfred Street and built a small wooden meeting house the following year. In 1820, the church started a Sabbath School with classes for children and adults and opened a formal school in the early 1830s. White fears in the wake of the 1831 slave revolt led by Nat Turner -an unordained Baptist preacher, or "exhorter" - soon forced its closing.
After Alexandria retroceded from the District of Columbia to Virginia in 1847, stricter laws concerning gatherings of blacks put even the Sabbath School in danger. Church leaders maneuvered to keep it open by accepting the presence of a white supervisor. Thanks to their negotiations, Alfred Street Baptist Church remained one of the few places in Alexandria where blacks could attend school before the Civil War.
Like many other black antebellum congregations, Alfred Street Baptist Church had a white minister. Some denominations required this, and after Alexandria's 1847 retrocession to Virginia, its churches would have been subject to the state statute prohibiting enslaved or Free Blacks from conducting religious services. But establishing a separate congregation did give black members more control over their religious lives. Black craftsmen almost certainly designed and built the brick sanctuary constructed in 1855, which was used as a hospital during the Civil War. As soon as it could, in 1863, Alfred Street Baptist appointed its first black minister, the Rev. Samuel Madden. In the 1870s the church changed its name from First Colored Baptist Church to its modern name, Alfred Street Baptist Church.
After the war Alfred Street Baptist's library became one of the first to serve the city's African-American population. In the 1920s longtime pastor Rev. Andrew Adkins extended the church's educational legacy by helping to create and then teach the first high school curriculum for black students in the city's public school system.
Still an active congregation today, Alfred Street Baptist also helped establish Shiloh Baptist Church in 1863 and Ebenezer Baptist Church in 1881.
An 1880's enlargement included the distinctive stained-glass windows, decorative brickwork and arched entryways that distinguish the building today - design elements echoed in a new sanctuary built in 1994.
The two story brick structure was built in 1885. The church has a gable roof, but the facade (added in the 1880's) has Romanesque Revival influences. While the exterior shell of the historic sanctuary was preserved during the 1994 improvements, the historic interior spaces have been extensively modified several times since the church was originally constructed.
Geographical and Contact Information
313 S. Alfred St.