SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) – A historical marker, the Civil Rights Trail historical marker, was unveiled for the First African Baptist Church, Savannah’s First African Church, the Savannah Morning News reported. The memorization took place June 14 outside the church, which is one of the oldest continuously operating African American churches in North America.
The church dates back to 1773 and organization of a congregation at nearby Brampton Plantation by the Rev. George Leile. The church’s current building was built in 1859, “constructed of Savannah Grey brick by congregants, both free and enslaved.”
“There is such rich history at this church, and we are glad to be able to be a part of this,” Mayor Eddie DeLoach said.
The Georgia Historical Society unveiled the marker as many, including city and community leaders, turned out for the event at the Franklin Square in downtown Savannah. The church’s younger congregants read the marker aloud as applause rang out.
The church has original pews built by slaves and the stained glass windows date to 1885. A museum inside the church holds memorabilia from the 18th century.
Some of the noteworthy speakers to walk the halls of the church include Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and politician Adam Clayton Powell.
“It has definitely been a long time coming,” said the Rev. Thurmond N. Tillman, pastor of First African Baptist Church. “Everyone always thought that we already had a marker, but we never actually went through the steps to get one. But to get a marker you have to make sure that the history is correct and that the proper research is done.”
The research was completed with the help of Georgia Historical Society and Christopher Hunter, a doctoral student at Texas A &M University, who stumbled across the church and decided to keep digging into its past.
“I was sitting in my dorm room one Friday night, and I was looking for some topic that I could wrap my thesis around,” Hunter said. “I came across this church and I literally fell out of my chair. I got so excited about it and wrote (Tillman). And we went through everything from the oral history passed to the published research.”
The marker is the latest addition to the Georgia Historical Society’s Georgia Civil Rights Trail, which is an initiative focused broadly on the economic, social, political, and cultural history of the Civil Rights Movement.
“Historical Markers are a great way to help tell the complete story of Georgia history,” said Christy Crisp, Georgia Historical Society director of programs. “Our mission is to collect, examine and teach Georgia history.”