In December 2014, the late Honorable Ralph D. Abernathy III spoke to congress on behalf of his foundations and the Vine City community and stakeholders desire for the preservation of the Historic West Hunter Street Baptist Church. On December 19, 2014, Congress passed Public Law 113-29, setting in motion a study. The Vine City NPU-L Historic Westside News featured an article on these efforts in a 2008 edition of the paper. Now nearly ten years later with the exemplary leadership of our brother Ralph D. Abernathy III foundation and his family a dream deferred will be realized. I attended the National Parks Service (NPS) Special Resource Study for the historic West Hunter Street Baptist Church located at 775 Martin Luther King Jr., Drive SW in Atlanta, GA. The study is being conducted to determine the site’s suitability as a potential national park unit by examining the historic context and national historical significance of the church, noted individuals affiliated and civil rights organizations affiliated with the site. The session was very informative and provides additional support for the need for historic preservation of our Beloved Community legacy. The presenters shared the history of the site and the historic contribution of its pastors. They also provided the attendees with a clearer understanding of history and legacy of the man who walk with Martin Luther King Jr. Rev. Ralph David Abernathy Sr. Here is some of the insight provided:
The Legacy of the Historic West Hunter Street Baptist Church
The Historic West Hunter Street Baptist Church was founded in 1881 as Mount Calvary Baptist Church, the congregation moved in 1906 to a Gothic Revival stone sanctuary on West Hunter Street, in Atlanta, GA. Throughout the modern civil rights movement, the church served as a headquarters for many civil rights workers and organizations, was the site of important leadership meetings, and doubled as a school for nonviolent protest during initiatives such as the Voter Education Project and the Freedom Summer of 1964. It was also a spiritual refuge for the men and women who devoted their lives to the cause.
During the Civil Rights Movement church leaders such as Rev. A. Franklin Fisher were actively engaged in activism and community organizing. Rev. Fisher along with several other pastors including Dr. Borders (Wheat Street Baptist Church) and the elder Rev. Martin Luther King Sr. (Ebenezer Baptist Church) organized a desegregation initiative that integrated Atlanta’s public transportation. Fisher also reconstructed the sanctuary, making additions such as the floral stain glass window that has come to symbolize the historic building.
Following Fisher’s death in 1960, the Rev. Ralph David Abernathy Sr. took over as pastor of West Hunter. Rev. Abernathy, a leader of the modern Civil Rights Movement and confidant of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., served as pastor of the church from 1961 until his death in 1990. Under Rev. Abernathy’s leadership the church membership rose to over 1,000 congregants. During his tenure the church’s financial operations were restructured resulting in the acquisition of new properties, including a gymnasium and senior housing facility, and relocation to the current sanctuary on 1040 Ralph D. Abernathy Blvd., SW in 1973.
While pastoring West Hunter, Abernathy continued his work as a civil right activist. Subsequent to Dr. King’s passing in 1968 Abernathy took over as President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and carried forth national initiatives such as Operation Breadbasket and the Poor People’s Campaign. Throughout his life Abernathy organized economic justice and labor initiatives as well as served as a peace negotiator during times of national social conflict (i.e. 1973 siege at Wounded Knee).
Following the congregation’s relocation in 1973, the building continued to be used as a site for community development and civil rights programs. Civil rights leader Hosea Williams used the site as the home office for his Feed the Hungry Program during the late 1970s. Today the site is owned and maintained by the Ralph D. Abernathy III, Inc. a non-profit developed to preserve the cultural history of the site and surrounding community, and the legacy of Rev. Abernathy
You Can Help Support Preservation of the Historic West Hunter Baptist Street Church National Parks Service (NPS) Special Resource Study want to hear your stories, share your memorabilia, photos and input by March 31st, 2017
For more information or to submit comments please see:
http://parkplanning.nps.gov/WestHunterBaptistStudy or, submit comments through the mail to:
West Hunter Baptist Church Special Resource Study
Attn: Keilah Spann
National Park Service – Southeast Regional Office
100 Alabama Street, SW.
Atlanta, GA 30303
Vine City Resident