First Baptist Church of Baltimore
4200 Liberty Heights Avenue
A precise date of the first meeting of individuals to consider the feasibility of establishing a Baptist church in what was then "Baltimore Town" is uncertain. What is certain is that in 1773, or three years before the Revolutionary War, "A group of eight men, mostly from the Hartford County Baptist Church, on mission, paid 150 pounds for a half acre of land suitable to contain a house of worship and a graveyard and accessible to the Jones Falls for baptism. Shortly after the land was purchased a meeting house was built and the First Baptist Church of Baltimore Town (As it was known until its charter was amended in 1922 to The First Baptist Church of Baltimore) was born. During its formative years, the church
consisted of former members of Hartford County Baptist on mission. They were regularly supplied preaching and ministrations once a month by its pastor, Elder John Davis. This arrangement continued until the arrival in Baltimore of Reverend Lewis Richards in 1784. With his arrival, it was determined that the Baltimore mission should become a separate church.
Application for "letters of dismission" was made on the first day of January 1785, which were at once granted, and January 15, 1785 was appointed for constituting a "regular Baptist church in Baltimore Town." In accordance with this appointment on this day of January 1785, Reverend Lewis Richards (Elected Pastor the previous year), David Shields and Jean Shields, his wife, George Pressman and his wife Frances, Thomas Goals and his wife Rachael, Richard Lemmon, Alexander McKim, William Hobby and Eleanor Thomas were constituted a regular Baptist Church by Reverend John Davis, pastor of the Hartford County Baptist Church. The church was incorporated with five men as Trustees, who with the pastor, were constituted a body corporate by the name of "The Committee of the Baptist Church in the City of Baltimore." A missionary society was formed which was among the first of the kind in the Baptist denomination in this country. In the same year a Bible society and Sunday school society were formed. Pastor Richards served the church for thirty-
The church has had sixteen pastors over its long and continuous history (Register of Pastors). Reverend Robert M. Johnson, Sr., Bachelor of Arts, Master of Theology, and Doctor of Ministry has served the church since 1984. He is the first pastor of African American descent appointed by the church.
The March of Time
"To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven." (Eccl. 3:1) For too long the city, state, and the nation held to views and practices that were exclusionary ... that kept certain segments of its population at a distance, "separate and unequal." It was unfortunate that the church which "had seen a great light" should put that light under a bushel, not to be seen, but hidden by its racist practices.
A letter from the Trustees of First Baptist to the Trustees of Liberty Heights Baptist Church, December 27, 1921 gives "A Dark , Night" of the soul of this great institution.
"For some years past the negroes have been buying up property in the immediate vicinity of the First Baptist Church, and they now occupy the adjoining house on Lafayette Avenue and practically all the houses in the block to the east of the church. The residence at the northwest corner of Lafayette and Fremont Avenues has recently been purchased by a Jew, and we should not be at all surprised if he should turn the building into a negro tenement. If this should be done our church will then have negroes on both the east and west sides.
Since the decision of the United States Supreme Court that laws, such as the West Segregation
Ordinance, which were designed to prevent negroes from moving into white neighborhoods, are
unconstitutional, the neighborhood has been rapidly changing from a white to a colored one.
The Trustees of the Church have been keeping in close touch with the situation and the negro
invasion has now reached a point where, in the opinion of the Trustees, it is absolutely certain that the present location of First Church must ultimately be abandoned and a new location sought where the activities of the Church may be carried on. "
This letter led to a consolidation of Liberty Heights and First Baptist at its present location. The old neighborhood and its people had been rejected! Ironically, "The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This was the Lord's doing; it is marvelous in our eyes: (Psalm 118:22-