First Baptist Church (West Main Street)
The First Baptist Church on West Main Street was formed on March 6, 1863 when approximately 800 African American members of the Charlottesville Baptist Church petitioned to form their own church, separate from the white congregation. They eventually purchased the Delevan building, where the congregation worships to this day. The new church, a National Register of Historic Places site, is now known as First Baptist Church. The Pastor of First Baptist Church is Dr. Jerome O. Lee. The church motto is "Grow in grace and give God glory."
The building is within the Fifeville and Tonsler Neighborhoods Historic District.  The church was originally built between 1826 and 1828 by Gen. John H. Cocke. The University of Virginia’s Board of Visitors originally built the Mudwall building— named for its hue from the Albemarle clay— as temperance housing for students. During the Civil War, the building was the triage site for the Confederate Charlottesville General Hospital, due to its proximity to the railroad.
Prior to the Civil War, Black people from Charlottesville-- enslaved and free-- worshipped under segregated conditions; African American Baptists in Charlottesville attended services in the balcony of the White Charlottesville Baptist Church (later known as the First Baptist Church on Park Street). Two months after President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, about 800 African-American churchgoers submitted paperwork to the City of Charlottesville to form their own congregation. On July 8, 1864, the church became a separate entity, but continued to hold services at the parent church until on or about August 20, 1864 when the congregation purchased the old Delevan Hotel at 632 West Main Street.
The Delevan building was condemned and razed in 1876, the congregation held services in the Presbyterian and Episcopal churches while they erected a new building on the Delevan site. On November 7, 1877, the cornerstone of the new church was laid by the Jefferson Lodge, a Charlottesville association of African American Freemasons. The new church was dedicated on January 2, 1884 and renamed the First Colored Baptist Church of Charlottesville on February 17, 1884.
|Pastor Name||Years Served||Notable Events|
|Rev. John T. Randolph||1863-1864||The new congregation began services apart from the White congregation.|
|Rev. James H. Fife||1864-1866||The Black congregation moved to the basement of the old “Mudwall” building.|
|Rev. John Walker George||1866-1868||The congregation purchased the old Delevan hotel on August 20, 1868. The church became known at this point as the Delevan Baptist Church.|
|Rev. William Gibbons||1868-1870||Reverend Gibbons became the first Black pastor of the congregation.|
|Rev. W.J. Barnett||1871-1872|
|Rev. M.T. Lewis||1873-1882||The “Mudwall” building was condemned and torn down, and construction of a new church began on the same site. A cornerstone for a new building was laid.|
|Rev. Alexander Truatt||1882-1889||On October 12, 1883, the basement was completed. Services began in the newly completed Sanctuary after its dedication on January 2, 1884. The church name was officially changed to the “First Colored Baptist Church of Charlottesville” on February 17, 1884. The Young Gleaners Club installed chandeliers in the Sanctuary.|
|Rev. R. Alonzo Scott||1889-1891||The pipe organ was installed in 1890.|
|Rev. L.B. Goodall||1891-1894|
|Rev. R.C. Quarles||1895-1902||The first missionary was organized. Eva Coles Boone became the first missionary, traveling to Africa in 1902.|
|Rev. L.A. Perkins||1903-1913|
|Rev. C.M. Long||1914-1924|
|Rev. C. L. Aiken||1921-1924||The choir balcony brass rails were installed. The Memorial Club installed the swinging doors in the Sanctuary.|
|Rev. H.E. Williams||1925-1943|
|Rev. Benjamin F. Bunn||1944-1980||Rev. Bunn was the church's longest tenured pastor. Renovations were made to the steeple. The basement was also renovated to make room for classrooms and offices, and the coal bin was converted into two restrooms. The church was instrumental in educating African
Americans during segregation, establishing the local chapter of the NAACP, and integrating patients at the University of Virginia Hospital. The first women deacons were ordained. In 1979, the First Baptist Church joined the Southern Baptist Convention, becoming the only African American church in Charlottesville or Albemarle County to hold a membership. That same year, First Baptist also joined the Baptist General Convention of Virginia.
|Rev. Lavert H. Taylor||1982-1986||First Baptist Church was added to the National Register of Historic Places. The historic landmark plaque was installed. The old paint was removed from the woodwork in the Sanctuary to restore the natural wood. Cables were attached to strengthen the ceiling trusses in the Sanctuary. Joint services with sister churches were initiated.|
|Rev. Arthur James Only||1987-1991||The central air conditioning unit was installed. The grand piano was purchased and the mass choir album “Doing It in His Name” was produced.|
|Rev. Dr. Bruce A. Beard||1993-2009||A new parsonage and a new church van was purchased. The Annex Building next door to the church was also purchased. The first church library was formed and the Fellowship Hall and the Sanctuary were both remodeled. The Disciple newsletter was created.|
|Rev. Hodari K. Hamilton||2011-2017||The Senior Choir, Children’s Choir, and the Youth and Young Adults Choir (YaY) were formed as well as multiple activities for children. The FBC leadership team greatly expanded. The African American Teaching Fellows made its home at FBC. FBC also became a host for the Charlottesville Chapter of the NAACP.|
|Rev. Dr. Jerome O. Lee||2018-present|
History Week Celebration
On May 29, 2012, First Baptist opened its doors to the community as part of the city's 250th celebration. The program included a brief presentation on notable First Baptist attendees and their relationship to the community (John West, Benjamin Tonsler, and Rebecca McGinness), hymns sung by both young and old current church members, and a reading from Rebecca Shelton's diary from 1863.
Pat Edwards reads from Shelton's diary.
- Web. [ 156th Anniversary First Baptist Church Bulletin], Ruby Patterson, Church Bulletin, First Baptist Church of Charlottesville, 2019, retrieved July 12, 2021.
- Web. National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form - Fifeville and Tonsler Neighborhoods Historic District, Maral S. Kalbian, Architectural Historian; Margaret T. Peters, Historian, October 8, 2008, retrieved December 9, 2018.
- Print: First Baptist Church Celebrates 148th Anniversary, Florence Bryant, The Tribune, 1 Dec 2011, Page 1
- McKinney, Richard I., Keeping The Faith, The First Baptist Church, 1981, pp. 38-53.
- Walker, Corey D. B., A Noble Fight, University of Illinois Press, 2008, pp. 211-15.
|This is a featured article. Learn more about Charlottesville's 250th Anniversary in cvillepedia.|