1st Baptist on 8th
CHATTANOOGA, TN (WRCB) There is a long standing question most of us in Chattanooga have heard a time or two when people come to visit. How many churches do you have in this town?
We do have a lot, but four of them downtown are especially unique. They are architectural masterpieces and community treasures.
Julie Edwards explores them for us and we begin with 1st Baptist on 8th.
Chattanooga's oldest church happens to be one of its least visible. Tucked away on East 8th Street, 1st Baptist on 8th is a Chattanooga jewel, not just for its architecture, but for its spirit.
Church member Doris Kelly remembers the stories her great grandfather would tell about the church.
"My great-grandfather could tell you so much about General Lee and General Sherman and the pontoon bridges they built across the creeks that sort of thing."
Doris Kelly is 92 years old, her great-grandfather one of many freed slaves who helped to build 1st Baptist in 1885, borrowing the money from white bankers, during reconstruction. Its stained glass windows, the original ones, its 124 year old brick walls now visible again after being covered up for years.
The basement of 1st Baptist is as historic as the sanctuary. Right now it's used as a warehouse primarily, they're trying to get things renovated. Over the years the church membership has held services here, city concerts have been held here. It was even the place for young African Americans to play basketball before they could play at the YMCA.
But perhaps the church's most famous decade was the 1950's, when they were looking for a new minister. Martin Luther King, JR and Herman Battle the top finalists, but it was Herman Battle who won the hearts of the church
Doris Kelly remembers when the church was looking for a new minister.
"Rev. Battle was an associate minister of Martin Luther King, Sr. and he said he thought he'd come to Chattanooga and apply for the vacancy and he said go ahead, and give it your best shot, but my son has it all sewed up. (laughs) At that time he had not made the name he made with the non-violent movement. He was just another young minister coming from Atlanta."
Still, King's reference to Lookout Mountain in his "I Have a Dream Speech", pulled from his time in Chattanooga. and 1st Baptist's decision a pivotal mark in history.
Today, the church embraces that history but does not want to be defined by it. Like Doris Kelly, they choose to live with these times and look ahead to tomorrow.
" I remember when they had that, but not this. but this is today, so I move with today."