First African Baptist Church in Savannah

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  • “This church taught me that we don’t we should never worship the building we are supposed to worship God. You know this is the church is the people. The building is just the temple.” recounts Karen Wortham

  • Plaque of Andrew Cox Marshall ( right)and Willis L. Jones (left) Andrew cox Marshall led the church for 44 years until his passing at 100 years old. Willis L Jones cleared all of the church depts. in his time as the 8th pastor.

  • Andrew Bryan – The second Pastor of First African Baptist who baptized enslaved people without permission from their captors and was whipped bloody for preaching the gospel Andrew Cox Marshall – The third Pastor of First African Baptist that facilitated building this place of worship out of brick though it was illegal for black people to build with brick at the time. He also created the first black Sunday school in America William J. Campbell- The fourth pastor of First African Baptist who was part of the 20 committee that requested 40 acres and a mule per person from General Sherman

  • George Gibbons – The 5th pastor of First African Baptist who notably installed the intricate stain glass windows Emanuel King Love – The first pastor of FIrst African Baptist with a PHD as well as youngest. He was president of the Georgia Missionary Baptist Convention and the National Baptist Convention. He also helped establish Savannah State university. Moorhouse and Paine college. James Wesley Carr – The 7th pastor of First African Baptist notably he installed oak pews crafted by enslaved Africans

  • The cieling of the chapel is adorned with nine patch quilting patterns signifying safety

  • Resident historian of First African Baptist Church and Journey By Faith owner Karen Wortham fell in love with the rich history of the church and the business of slavery after being hired on staff in 2003. Karren leads 1 hour lectures to groups of up to 450 people, primarily 8th graders, over the significance of slavery and this church.

  • the original solid oak pews built by enslaved people over 100 years ago welcome people from all over the world to worship together in unity regardless of slave status, race or income

  • Speakers and Leaders like Martin Luther King Jr, Coretta Scott King and Ray Charles are among the many who have graced First African Baptist

  • First African Baptist church was an inconspicuous stop on the underground railroad thanks to the use of 26 Congolese Cosmograms drilled into the thick floor boards doubling as breathing holes. The African prayer symbol was so commonly used by black people for meditation and worship that no suspicion was raised at the sight.

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The First African Baptist Church has opened its doors to the Savannah community and beyond since 1777. The resident historian, Karen Wortham, said the building and the congregation had played elemental roles in the Underground Railroad and the Civil Rights Movement.

Beginning in 2003, Wortham studied the history of the church. Before her staff position, she had been a congregation member since 1992.

Wortham also runs a business: Journey by Faith, that corresponds to her position within the church. It includes educating intermediate-level and middle-school students on the history of the church.

“Anywhere from 25 to 450 students; I open up the mic and I tell the history–I tell the history of the church, and I tell the history of slavery. And, I do it in an hour.”

Wortham was able to expand on what she knows about the church and what she shares with students as she revealed the church’s structure and archives.

“So the guy who actually organized the congregation is the first one [regarding a picture on the wall], but that is George Lowell. And George Lowell, actually was taught to read and write. He was owned by a Baptist Deacon by the name of Henry sharp, and Henry Sharp educated all their slaves. He and his wife, Mildred, they taught all their slaves how to read and write, although it was against the law, but they did it anyway.”

“E. K. Love was the first pastor of this congregation that had a Ph.D. He became the pastor at 35 years of age in 1885.”

E. K. Love also played an instrumental role in the foundation of Savannah State University: a meeting was held at First African Baptist Church to create a plan for a university for black students.

The social prevalence of the First African Baptist Church drew significant characters involved in the Civil Rights Movement.

“King [Martin Luther King Jr.] would come here and use this building as a place to have church revivals.”

The church holds a strong religious presence in the community, but Wortham also said that the church has served as a gathering space for the community. The church has hosted several musicians, such as Ray Charles, and opens itself up to students to educate them on the history of the church and slavery.

Wortham’s business is geared towards educating younger students, but she also opened up about the importance of college students knowing its history and Savannah’s history.

“It is important for the college students, number one,to know the history of the city. You know it’s not only just here. The history of Armstrong is so amazing.

College students, if they knew what the Civil Rights Movement was–the meat was the age that young college students are now. Those are the young people that sat at the lunch counters and actually did the leg work.”

“They stuck together, and it didn’t make a difference on the race of them.”

The First African Baptist Church is open weekdays from 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and closes at 2:30 on Fridays. They also hold service on Sundays.