For black settlers who migrated to Lawrence in the city's early years, the churches they formed offered much more than simply a place to worship.
They offered a haven for the expression of culture, opportunities for leadership and education, as well as a place for social, political and civil rights activities.
"African-American churches are important in every community, especially if you go back in history," said the Rev. William Dulin, pastor of Calvary Church of God in Christ, 646 Ala. "There was a time when blacks didn't have much of a social role outside the church. They needed some place of stability, some place that they felt was their own.
"If it hadn't been for the black churches that offered a feeling that they belonged, blacks who came to this area probably wouldn't have stayed here. Churches gave them a sense of spiritual guidance, as well as some roots. The city might have been different today if we hadn't had some of those churches."
Dulin will be among several black pastors who will participate Wednesday in a panel discussion, "African-American Churches in Early Lawrence: Citadels of Faith, Hope and Community," in the auditorium of the Lawrence Public Library, 707 Vt.
The program will address the many meanings and functions of the churches Lawrence's black residents have formed through the years, especially those they founded in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
The event is one of 12 projects planned by community organizations and funded by grants from the Lawrence Sesquicentennial Commission to celebrate the city's 150th anniversary.
In conjunction with the panel discussion, a series of photographs of Lawrence's historically black churches will be on display at the library.
The panel discussion and the photo display are co-sponsored by the Kansas University department of African and African-American studies and Lawrence's Ecumenical Fellowship, Inc., an association of eight historically black churches. Dulin is president of the Ecumenical Fellowship.
Other panelists participating in the program are: Dorthy Pennington, associate professor in KU's departments of African and African-American studies and communication studies; the Rev. Leo Barbee Jr., pastor of Victory Bible Church, 1942 Mass.; and the Rev. Verdell Taylor, pastor of St. Luke AME Church, 900 N.Y.
The Rev. Reginald Bachus, pastor of First Regular Missionary Baptist Church, 1646 Vt., will serve as program moderator.
Pennington, who has spent years researching black churches and their sacred, social and cultural roles in the community, had the lead role in organizing the events at the library.
"Our focus will be on early Lawrence, because that is also the focus of the sesquicentennial observation. In addition to looking at the early history of the (black) churches here, we are also going to look at how some of those values and traditions have carried over to us now," she said.
The earliest black churches in Lawrence that have maintained continuous congregations -- despite name changes and physical relocations -- date back almost to the founding of the city itself.
St. Luke AME Church and Ninth Street Baptist Church, 847 Ohio, were both founded in 1862.
Other black congregations founded in the city's early years are: St. James AME, Seventh and Maple streets, established in 1865; First Regular Missionary Baptist Church (originally located at 416 Lincoln), founded in 1868; and Second Christian Church, 1245 Conn., (it has also changed locations), organized in 1897.
Black churches such as these played a role that extended well beyond simply being a place of worship or social gatherings.
"What I learned in my research was the richness of some of the cultural activities that went on at the churches," Pennington said. "In terms of good music, over at St. James AME Church (in the 19th century), they had something called the Beethoven Mandolin Concert. For some people, it might be surprising to know that African-Americans were doing that kind of music back then.
"A second thing I found really interesting was the relationship between town and gown. At one time, there was a relationship between the School of Fine Arts at KU and St. Luke AME, such that if KU students sang in the choir at St. Luke, or participated in organized music, they could be given credit back at KU."
Sense of belonging
Bachus leads a congregation that has a venerable history. The church will celebrate its 136th anniversary in October.
He reflected on the meaning of churches to Lawrence's black residents, particularly during a time when they were largely shunned by the city's whites.
"In the life of the African-American community -- especially 150 years ago, the church was really the only place that they could feel comfortable, express themselves and have a sense of belonging in society," Bachus said. "Many times, people could exercise their talents and leadership abilities, which they couldn't do in a secular setting."
Alice Fowler, historian of First Regular Missionary Baptist Church, as well as a member of the congregation for the past 50 years, agreed with her pastor's assessment.
"The (black) church was the social and political outlet, the congregating place of African-Americans. It was a church, a school and a way to inform people of events that were going on in the community," she said.
"There was very large participation in events in the church, such as vacation Bible school and church picnics. There weren't a lot of activities that African-Americans could take part in (in the wider community). So churches provided their own resources for African-Americans during the early years."
|A panel discussion, "African-American Churches in Early Lawrence: Citadels of Faith, Hope and Community," will be at 7 p.m. Wednesday in the auditorium of the Lawrence Public Library, 707 Vt.In conjunction with the panel discussion, photographs of Lawrence's historically black churches will be on display at the library.Panelists will be: Dorthy Pennington, associate professor, Kansas University departments of African and African-American studies and communication studies; the Rev. Leo Barbee, Jr., pastor, Victory Bible Church, 1942 Mass., the Rev. William Dulin, pastor, Calvary Church of God in Christ, 646 Ala.; and the Rev. Verdell Taylor, pastor, St. Luke AME Church, 900 N.Y.Moderator will be the Rev. Reginald Bachus, pastor, First Regular Missionary Baptist Church, 1646 Vt.The event is co-sponsored by the KU department of African and African-American Studies and Lawrence's Ecumenical Fellowship Inc.The panel discussion and photo display are free and open to the public.|
|Here is a list of the historically black congregations that have been established in Lawrence and when they were founded:¢ St. Luke AME Church, 900 N.Y., 1862.¢ Ninth Street Baptist Church, 847 Ohio, 1862.¢ St. James AME Church, Seventh and Maple streets, 1865.¢ First Regular Missionary Baptist Church, 1646 Vt., 1868.¢ Second Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), 1245 Conn., 1897.¢ Lawrence Pentecostal Church, 19th and Tennessee streets, 1929. Now defunct.¢ Calvary Church of God in Christ, 646 Ala., 1931.¢ Overcoming Church of God in Christ, 14th and Rhode Island streets, 1975. Now defunct.¢ Church of God, 851 Elm, around 1967¢ Victory Bible Church, 1942 Mass., 1983.¢ Community Church of God (Holiness), 2300 Anderson Road, around 1994.¢ Praise Temple Church of God in Christ, 315 E. Seventh St., around 1997.|