Early Black Churches Nurtured Faith, Hope, and Community

TAYLOR REGIONAL ARCHIVE CENTER / Bethel A.M.E. Church, circa 1877

When African slaves were brought by ship to this country, they came with the religions of their continent. This provided fertile ground for Baptist and Methodist missionaries who came south preaching Christianity. Their message of equality — though obviously not widely practiced — resonated with enslaved populations.

God’s rescue of Israel from Egyptian bondage and dreams of a Promised Land inspired the writing of Negro spirituals — written with a dual message of religious salvation and freedom from slavery — mixed freely with native African rhythms.

Slaves in Taylor County were usually allowed to attend church services, which in the beginning was often the same church as their white owners. Seating was generally segregated.

Some were given opportunities to attend all-black church gatherings as they developed. History is clear that blacks broke away from white churches as soon as it was physically and economically possible. Bonding together as a community of faith — especially following emancipation — helped blacks work together to face new challenges: finding jobs, new places to live, reuniting families, and navigating the boundaries of freedom that did little to erase community restrictions.

According to Kentucky historian Lewis Collins, a black congregation was meeting in Campbellsville as early as 1847. While we have no other document elaborating on this, it may be the beginnings of what would become First Baptist Church.

Pleasant Union Baptist Church was established around 1850 on the Lexington-Nashville road — an area home to Taylor County’s largest plantations and slave populations.

The history of Good Hope Baptist states that Pleasant Union was formed when a group of slaves left their church and purchased a piece of property from Lewis Winston, a member of Friendship Baptist. In April, 1867, letters of dismissal for 51 former slaves were granted by Friendship Baptist to those wishing to move their membership to Pleasant Union.

The original Pleasant Union church was made of logs and Rev. George Gaddie was their first pastor.

First Baptist Church was established on the Sam Bass farm, three miles northwest of Campbellsville on Pitman Creek. Their first pastor was Rev. Aaron Graves. Membership grew and the church soon moved to the area which is now the 200 block of Cherry and Fisher streets.

First Baptist shared space with a Methodist congregation in a log structure. The two churches met on alternating Sundays.

While each group had their own preacher, in reality, the congregation for each service was the same.

Both denominations attended both services. This log church would become a pivotal foundation of a newly freed black population, as it also provided space for school on weekdays and community gatherings at night.

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Source: Central Kentucky News-Journal