On Hilton Head Island on the coast of South Carolina a convention of Colored Baptist churches assembles this day at Mitchelville.
The South Carolina coast since 1862 has been home to tens of thousands of freedmen. The initial free blacks in the area were liberated during the war by the Union Army during the war and given land upon which to live and grow food. Northern philanthropists and missionaries worked alongside soldiers in assembling infrastructure to educate and vocationally train the freedmen. Following the liberation of Savannah, Georgia and South Carolina by Sherman‘s army in late 1864 and early 1865, many more freedmen journeyed to the coastal villages seeking land and job opportunities.
Now, black Baptist leaders from the coastal areas of South Carolina and Georgia convene in order to organize their various local churches into a denominational body. Represented are four churches from Savannah and three from South Carolina’s Beaufort District. Rev. Ulysses L. Houston, pastor of the First Bryan Baptist Church of Savannah, presides over the assembly. Together the churches establish the first Negro Baptist Association in the two states, bestowing upon their fledgling organization the name, Zion Baptist Association.
Savannah’s First Bryan Baptist Church receives recognition as the oldest Negro Baptist church in the states, while the Zion Baptist Association ushers black Baptists into a new era of spiritual freedom and vitality.
Source: James M. Simms, The First Colored Baptist Church in North America: Constituted at Savannah, pp. 141-143 (link)