The Journey Through Hallowed Ground

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First Baptist Church (Charlottesville)

Empowered by the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed slaves in the states in rebellion effective January 1, 1863, around 800 black members of Charlottesville’s biracial First Baptist Church (1833) in essence declared independence. On March 6, 1863, they petitioned to separate and establish their own church, where they could worship on the main floor and participate in decision-making. In 1864, church leaders consented and allowed the new black congregation to use the same building. As still required by Virginia law, they hired a white minister. Before long the new congregation met in the basement of the Delevan Hotel, which served variously since the 1820s as a temperance hotel for college students, a classical academy, a military hospital, a Freedmen’s Bureau school, and the site of the city’s first biracial political meeting (1867). In 1868 the then-called “Delevan Church of Charlottesville” purchased the deteriorating building and called their first black minister in 1870. When the Delevan was condemned in 1876, they demolished the building and laid the cornerstone for a new sanctuary in 1877. When completed in 1884, the congregation changed its name to First Colored Church of Charlottesville and is now considered one of the city’s “premier Victorian Churches.” Now known as Transformation Ministries First Baptist Church, it has continued its tradition of activism over time, with members involved in formation of the local NAACP branch and integration of public schools and the University of Virginia hospital. The church motto is “Where God is Praised and Disciples Are Made.”

Designations

National Register of Historic Places

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