The First African Baptist Church was listed in the National Register of Historic Places on August 16, 2019. The property is located at 405 Telfair Street in Dublin (Laurens County). The nomination was sponsored by the property owner, and the nomination materials were prepared by Deborah Stanley, Director of Grants & Community Development for the City of Dublin.
First African Baptist Church was established in 1867 at the site of the current church building. When the original wood building was demolished in 1914, the current building was constructed in its place, making First African Baptist the most longstanding African American congregation in the city. Constructed of red brick with a front-facing gable, the building is a one-and-a-half story, corner tower church, which occupies a corner lot.
First African Baptist Church is significant at the local level in the areas of architecture and black ethnic heritage as an excellent example of a defined church type displaying elements of an architectural style and as a stronghold in the African American community of the city of Dublin. As noted in Historic Black Resources: A Handbook for the Identification, Documentation, and Evaluation of Historic African-American Properties in Georgia by Carole Merritt, the church is an important resource within African American communities, as it serves the members’ spiritual needs and fosters their social interaction. Many members of the church have been active leaders in the community, fighting for equality since the 1880s. The church has always had an engaged congregation, with its pastors encouraging and inspiring members to participate and serve the community. In turn, the community appears to have flocked to the church, with an active membership of 301 parishioners in 1967, a century after the church’s founding. These members took part in multiple choirs, a missionary department, and clubs catering to all – from men’s fellowship and matron’s clubs to Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops. The church also hosted community events, such as an oratory competition in 1944 sponsored by the Colored Elks Club of Georgia, where a young Martin Luther King, Jr., won first prize for his speech, “The Negro and the Constitution.” The speech marked one of King’s earliest public discourses on race and the Civil Rights Movement and he noted the trip in his autobiography, released posthumously in 1998.
The church also represents the corner-tower church type with its prominent, square corner tower at the northeast corner of the façade. The corner-tower church type is defined in Church Types in Georgia, a guide to church building types found throughout the state. The corner-tower church type is generally found in small county seats, such as Dublin, and typically dates from the 1890s to the 1930s. The church is also a good example of the vernacular Gothic Revival style of the early 20th century, with its pointed-arch stained-glass windows, crenellated tower, and multiple buttresses, all of which are indicative of the style.
The National Register of Historic Places is our country's official list of historic buildings, structures, sites, objects, and districts worthy of preservation. The National Register provides formal recognition of a property's architectural, historical, or archaeological significance. It also identifies historic properties for planning purposes, and insures that these properties will be considered in the planning of state or federally assisted projects. National Register listing encourages preservation of historic properties through public awareness, federal and state tax incentives, and grants. Listing in the National Register does not place obligations or restrictions on the use, treatment, transfer, or disposition of private property.
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