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16th Street Baptist Church - National Fund For Sacred Places
2018 Cohort

16th Street Baptist Church

Birmingham, Alabama

The 16th Street Baptist Church, organized in 1873, was the first Black church in Birmingham, Alabama.

 

16th Street Baptist Church courtesy 16th Street Baptist Church

16th Street Baptist Church courtesy 16th Street Baptist Church

2018 Cohort

16th Street Baptist Church

Birmingham, Alabama

The 16th Street Baptist Church, organized in 1873, was the first Black church in Birmingham, Alabama.

W.A. Rayfield, Alabama’s first and only Black architect at the turn of the 20th century, designed the current church building, completed in 1911. The 16th Street Baptist Church congregation played a major role in the Civil Rights movement and was unfortunately targeted as a result of its organizing efforts. On Sunday morning, Sept.15, 1963, a bomb exploded, killing four young girls attending Sunday school and injuring more than 20 other members of the congregation. In response to this tragedy, the global community raised money to help restore the church building. Notably, the people of Wales provided the funds for a memorial stained-glass window to replace one of the windows that was lost.

Over 100,000 visitors come to 16th Street Baptist every year to witness the legacy of activism that has been cultivated by the congregation, with daily hour-long tours provided by church member volunteers. The church is now a National Historic Landmark and an active member of the Alabama African American Civil Rights Heritage Sites Consortium. In addition to its tourism-related outreach, the church hosts numerous community events, and offers a Benevolence Ministry that provides emergency financial support to those in need, a Fatherhood Ministry to educate and mentor young fathers, and a Wall Builders program to help with addiction recovery.

The congregation has completed many critical and expensive repairs to its main building in recent years. A $250,000 National Fund grant with $500,000 in matching funds raised by the congregation supported critical work on the roof, foundation, and exterior of 16th Street Baptist’s adjacent parsonage, along with installation of a ramp compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The parsonage building ultimately will house a visitors’ center and museum dedicated to the life and work of the church’s architect, W.A. Rayfield, which will be a significant addition to the Birmingham Civil Rights District. It will also function to relieve some of the daily visitor traffic and wear-and-tear on the historic church building. 16th Street Baptist has also received funds from the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund.

A Look Back At Birmingham’s Civil Rights Efforts

In January 2017, President Obama officially designated the Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument, which encompasses several sites. Each one represents the courage, determination, and hope witnessed in the Alabama city, then and now.

16th Street Baptist Church by Mark Sandlin

Stories and Media Coverage

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Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church by Luis P. Gutierrez