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Sun, 04.13.1873

The 16th Street Baptist Church (Birmingham, Ala.) Holds Its First Service

*The first service at the 16th Street Baptist Church was held on this date in 1873. The church was organized as the First Colored Baptist Church of Birmingham, Alabama.

It was the first Black church to organize in Birmingham, founded just two years before. The first meetings were held in a small building at 12th Street and Fourth Avenue North. A site was soon acquired on 3rd Avenue North between 19th and 20th Street for a dedicated building.

In 1880, the church sold that property and built a new church on the present site on 16th Street and 6th Avenue North. The new brick building was completed in 1884 under the supervision of its pastor, William R. Pettiford, but in 1908, the city condemned the structure and ordered it to be demolished. Pettiford was pastor from 1883-1904.  

The black architect Wallace Rayfield constructed the present building, a "modified Romanesque and Byzantine design," in 1911 by the local black contractor T.C. Windham. The cost of construction was $26,000. In addition to the main sanctuary, the building houses a basement auditorium for meetings and lectures and several ancillary rooms for Sunday school and smaller groups.  As one of the primary religious institutions in the black community, the 16th Street Baptist has hosted prominent visitors throughout its history. 

W. E. B. Du BoisMary McLeod BethunePaul Robeson, and Ralph Bunche all spoke at the church during the first part of the 20th century.

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