Founded in 1867 under the leadership of Reverend Fred Robinson, the First African Baptist Church has stood in the same location in Dublin city center for over 150 years.
DUBLIN, Ga. — To celebrate Black History Month, we’ll visit places across central Georgia that speak to the heart and soul of the African-American community.
Founded in 1867 under the leadership of Reverend Fred Robinson, the First African Baptist Church has stood in the same location in downtown Dublin for over 150 years. This makes it the oldest African-American church in the city.
At the time, black people worshiped on the balconies of predominantly white churches, but that changed with the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863.
“At the end of slavery, after black people found they were free, some of the leaders of the black community decided they wanted to form their own churches,” Deacon Jerry Davis said.
The church was originally founded with the help of the predominantly white First Baptist Church, located just three blocks north. They helped by donating the land and funds for the construction of the church. There is also a window in the far corner of the church given to First African by its parent congregation.
The stained glass windows in the church were imported from an artist in Italy and they feature many founding members of First African Baptist whose families still worship in the church of their ancestors.
“There weren’t many churches then, so it was a place where people could come and they could worship. I am quite sure that at the time they needed a lot of services and this church would be able to provide the services needed at that time,” Davis said.
Deacon Earnest Wade Jr. has been a member of First African Baptist for over 50 years.
“It was the mainstay of the community and at that time it was basically full every Sunday because it was basically the only place you could go for social life and also religious life,” Wade Jr said.
The church not only has an impact on the community of Dublin, but it has also had an impact on our nation.
In the spring of 1944, a young Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his first public address from the pulpit of the First African Baptist Church.
King was just a student at Booker T. Washington High School in Atlanta when the Colored Elks Clubs of Georgia held a public speaking contest. He read an essay titled “The Negro and the Constitution” where he addressed the contradiction between the nation’s ideals of freedom and the current oppressions faced by black people in America.
The podium where King first spoke continues to stand in the First African Baptist pulpit.
Wade says King’s speech was like a rocket for black advancement. He says it was the start of a better world when it comes to race relations.
“When I got to Dublin it was all separate, but he gave that speech…and he took us as far as he could take us,” Wade said.
Davis says he feels he has a duty to keep the history and impact of the church alive.
“I feel a huge responsibility to make sure that we keep this church going in the present day to preserve the history that our forefathers, our mothers and fathers, just took a lot of sweat to establish and we feel a huge responsibility towards them as good to propel it forward,” Davis said.
Across the street, visitors can see a monument to King’s historic speech that includes a mural and sculpture by Georgian artist Corey Barksdale.
There is also an audio tour where visitors can hear a young man read King’s speech.
First African Baptist plans to continue the tradition of holding a public speaking contest (virtually) in April.
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Macon high school students participate in a public speaking contest in honor of Martin Luther King Jr.