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#TBT - Black churches in the CD have thrived for over 130 years. The BHS encourages you to stay.

The #TBT series is a collaboration between the Black Heritage Society of Washington State and Africatown Seattle to give historical insights and perspectives into Black history and Black contributions in the Seattle area and Washington State as a whole.

By Stephanie Johnson-Toliver

This week in local media we read more about the effects of how the Central Area black community faces the impacts of the changing environment in both real property and its spiritual sustenance. There has been a slow but steady decline of black churches as parishioner’s leave the Central Area for more affordable housing outside the traditional black neighborhoods, and in some cases the church buildings are aging but there is no capacity to maintain them. So, not because black people have “lost the faith” or don’t look to “restore their souls”, it is with some duress that church leadership finds that selling the valuable property is more advantageous.

But guess what? Enter the Nehemiah Initiative, a collaborative led by Bishop Garry Tyson of Goodwill Missionary Baptist Church with the support from the University of Washington College of Built Environments. Together they are exploring the future of two church sites, Ebenezer AME Zion Church and Goodwill Missionary Baptist Church as models to retain ownership of the property that would utilize underused land, most of which is parking lots. A creative approach that requires the churches to evaluate their business plans and consider other means of income generation.

Why Stay?

You might ask, why stay? Why would black churches want to stay in the community that has a dwindling black population? Black people are rooted in the Central Area and the church has always been the trumpeter, the open door that invites united worship, a place that serves the needs of the community and room to plan the civil action that lifts us all. None of this doctrine has changed.

First African Methodist Episcopal Church (FAME), Seattle’s oldest black church was established in 1886 and shortly to follow was Mount Zion Baptist Church in 1890. Both churches are designated as historic landmarks. It is estimated that the seven largest Seattle black churches have combined property wealth appraised at more than $65 million. Stay. Claim the footprint, sustain and build Central Area congregations that are emblematic of the resiliency that is at the foundation, the root of what lifts each individual spirit to be representative of the greater good, the humanity and strength that is historically the rock that we swim to.

Photo: First African Methodist Episcopal Church, 1522 14th Ave Seattle, WA 98122, c. 1990 📷

Photo: First AME Church cornerstone dedication in 1912

Preserving the historic importance of Central Area black churches benefits all people…the scholarly, the congregations, the neighborhoods that make up a community, the every-day people who may or may not realize how they are touched or influenced by the service that the churches provide.

Photo: Mt. Zion Baptist Church congregation gathered at entrance on July 22, 1934

At the Black Heritage Society of Washington State, we are committed to supporting the historic black churches identify and preserve their history. BHS will soon embark on a project to collect oral history and work as a liaison to church archivists for the care and best practice to maintain their memorabilia as an asset.

Embrace the history of Seattle’s black churches.)

Grace Presbyterian Church, Seattle, WA, c. 1925

Grace Presbyterian Church had its beginnings in 1912 as the Presbyterian Colored Mission. It moved to a building on 22nd and Cherry and was chartered in 1914 with 55 members. For many years it sponsored joint picnics with the other large African American churches in Seattle, Mt. Zion Baptist and First AME. The church was dissolved by the Presbytery in 1953, closing the only African American Presbyterian church in Seattle. The members merged with the Madrona Presbyterian Church2) Grace Presbyterian Church Ladies’ Aid posing outside the church, c. 1922

The Ladies’ Aid was formed in 1912 for the purpose of raising funds to support the church. They raised the first $150 for the church building.

Inclusive and Creative Economics

Real, dedicated and funded efforts are happening every day in Seattle’s Central Area to raise consciousness and support economic development in the form of affordable housing, strategies for success that are afforded to existing homeowners and new ownership, arts and culture, and entrepreneurship.

Standing at an intersection of economics and a healthy and vital community is the spirit and faith of it.




●Black Heritage Society of Washington State, Inc., Seattle, WA, www.bhswa.org

●Crosscut, Opinion: The Central District has lost over a dozen of its Black churches.

The rest may still be saved., contributor, Donald King, UW affiliate professor,

December 9, 2019.

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