Five Most Famous Black Churches of Civil Rights Movement
Here are the houses of worship that helped play a central role in shifting our national conscience.
Black churches have long been considered the nucleus of the mid-20th century’s Civil Rights Movement. Today, these churches live on in new iterations and under younger generations of leadership.
The following list is by no means complete or all encompassing. However, many of churches listed are registered as historic state and or national landmarks, with storied reputations for being at the center of the movement’s biggest flashpoints.
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Olivet Baptist Church -- Chicago
This church has the distinction of being the oldest, and once the largest, African American Baptist congregation in the Windy City. The church played a major role in the Great Migration of the early to mid-1900’s, when blacks moved from racially segregated southern states in droves. The church is credited for providing jobs and housing for blacks who chose to relocate. Last year, the church celebrated it’s 161st anniversary. (View church’s website)
First Baptist Church -- Montgomery, AL
The church was once pastored by civil rights activist Rev. Ralph D. Abernathy, and became associated with the Montgomery bus boycott and Freedom ride of the 1950’s and early 1960’s. The church was located just a few blocks from Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, where Abernathy’s close friend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. preached and helped plan the bus boycott. In 1961, First Baptist was the site of a siege. An angry white mob had surrounded the church and threatened to burn it down, while Freedom riders and other worshippers were trapped inside.
Dexter Avenue Baptist Church -- Montgomery, AL
A young Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. pastored this church in the early 1950’s. King is said to have planned the Montgomery bus boycott from his office in the church’s basement. Today, the church is registered as a national historic landmark and is adjoined by a museum, which housed several of the church’s pastors over an 80-year span. (View church’s website)
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Ebenezer Baptist Church -- Atlanta
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s father led the church’s activism efforts before the son joined as co-pastor. In the 1960’s, the church grew to fame after King’s successful demonstrations caught the world’s attention. Post Dr. King, the church has instituted several community-oriented programs addressing the needs of its metropolitan congregation. (View church’s website)
Sixteenth Street Baptist Church -- Birmingham, AL
The site of a 1963 racially-motivated bombing that killed four young girls and injured nearly two dozen more, this church was visited by many prominent black thinkers and activist figures. It’s said that reactions to the bombings forced then President Lyndon Johnson to seriously consider the Civil Rights Act, which was signed into law the following year. Reverends Fred Shuttlesworth and Martin Luther King, Jr. were frequent speakers at the church. (View church’s website)