Baptists and the American Civil War: October 31, 1865

Texas Civil War MapThroughout the South many black Baptist churches are now hosting schools for freedmen, both children and adults. White Southerners for generations prevented slaves from obtaining education via state and local laws. Many insisted that blacks were simply unable to learn.

Now, against the wishes of many whites who believe that blacks should remain in servitude, former slaves are eagerly learning reading, writing, mathematics and, for adults, job skills.

Among the many African Baptist churches hosting schools is the African Baptist Church of Galveston, Texas. One of the first churches in Texas to do so, the Galveston church is assisted by the Freedmen’s Bureau, a U.S. government organization supported by many white Baptists of the North.

Today a report from the Freedmen’s Bureau notes that 78 children and 87 adults enrolled the first day of the school’s operation. The children meet during the day, the adults at night. Hopes are high that education will open the door to economic well-being for a people for generations victimized through the stealing of the fruits of their labor.

A historical marker tells the story of the host African Baptist Church (later the Avenue L Baptist Church):

One of the oldest black congregations in Texas, this church grew from the slave membership of the First Baptist Church of Galveston, organized in 1840 by the Rev. James Huckins. By the early 1850s the blacks were worshiping in a separate building. In 1855 land for use by the fellowship, then known as the African Baptist Church, was purchased from Galveston City Company by First Baptist trustees Gail Borden, Jr., James Huckins, and John S. Sydnor. Following the Civil War, the property was formally deeded to the congregation, reorganized under the leadership of the Rev. I. S. Campbell as the First Regular Missionary Baptist Church. About 1903, during the pastorate of the Rev. P. A. Shelton, the present name was adopted. Prominent pastors here have included the Rev. H. M. Williams, 1904-33, moderator of the Lincoln District Baptist Association; the Rev. g. L. Prince, 1934-56, later president of the National Baptist Convention and of Mary Allen College in Crockett, Texas; and the Rev. R. E. McKeen, 1957-78, who also served as moderator of the Lincoln District Association. Since the 1840s, members of the Avenue L Missionary Baptist Church have played a significant role in the religious and civic development of Galveston.

Source: “Avenue L Baptist Church Among the First Freedman Schools,” Texas Roots, Texas African American Genealogy (link)