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Funkstown – Foggy Bottom’s Lost African American Churches and Community

By Frank Leone

During Black History Month, we recognize that Foggy Bottom is blessed to have St. Mary’s Episcopal Church [1] (728 23rd St.). Founded in 1867 by African Americans from St. John’s Church, the current building (1883) was designed by James Renwick and features Tiffany glass windows. But between 1900 and 1950, the area around the Historic District hosted more than ten churches with predominantly African American congregations. As Colbert King told us during his interview, the churches were an anchor, offering not only spiritual sustenance, but community, information, education, activity, safety, and comfort. As noted by historian Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr., “No pillar of the African American community has been more central to its history, identity, and social justice vision than the ‘Black Church.’”

The 1950s transformed formerly smoggy and industrial Foggy Bottom through renovation of historic row houses, construction of new apartments and government offices, urban renewal, highway construction, George Washington University expansion, and the resulting displacement of a significant African American community. With their parishioners gone, even African American churches that were not in the way of redevelopment sold their properties, most relocating within the city. Thus. the churches were “lost” to Foggy Bottom, but many continue to thrive at their new locations. Today, predominantly African American churches are still facing challenges associated with gentrification of their neighborhoods. Here is a map and brief descriptions of the churches:

Map of African American Churches near the Foggy Bottom Historical District

Just up 23rd Street from St. Mary’s was Liberty Baptist Church [2] (817 23rd St.). We discussed that church in an earlier post – it was built in 1914, but in 1960 the building was sold to George Washington University and the church relocated to SE Capitol Hill. GW demolished the former church building in 2015, but placed a plaque on the new Science and Engineering Hall.

Continuing toward Washington Circle, there were two churches located on New Hampshire Avenue, in the area now occupied by the new GW Hospital. Gethsemane Baptist Church [3] (925 NH Ave.) was established in 1912. It moved to 22nd and Virginia Ave in 1922 and eventually relocated to Brightwood Park in Northwest. As of 1939, the Church of God in Christ [4] (911 NH Ave.) was located nearby. To the north of Washington Circle was Union Wesley A.M.E. Zion Church [5] (1109-1113 23rd St.), a brick church built in 1846, that relocated in 1967 to North Michigan Park. The area is now West End high rises.

There were several churches within the four blocks that include the Historic District. The most prominent was Mt. Lebanon Baptist Church [6] (814 25th St.), which operated from 1905-1962 before moving to Capitol Hill. The Plaza Co-op now occupies that site. As of 1939, the Apostolic Holiness Church of God [7] (822 New Hampshire Ave.) was located on the site of the current Arc Hotel. The NW corner of 26th and I Streets contained a house and store in 1878 – by 1914, it was a saloon, but with the coming of prohibition, in 1923, it was a Universal Holiness Church [8] (901 26th St.). Universal Holiness Churches were associated with the Pentecostal Movement.

Mt. Lebanon Baptist Church, 1925 (D.C. History Center)

There are no records of a formal church building in Snows Court alley [9] but “alley missions” and home churches operated there, including Mt. Ararat Baptist Church (1901), a mission with a handmade sign asking, “Where will you spend eternity?” (1905), and the Charitable Baptist Church (1912).

At least two churches were demolished to make way for the construction of the Potomac Freeway in the 1960s.The current location of the 26th St. Park was the home of Morning Star Baptist Church [10] (932-934 26th St.) from approximately 1925-1961. Finally, St. Paul’s Baptist Church [11] (945-947 27th St.) stood from at least 1931-1952 at the current exit ramp, across from the also demolished Briggs-Montgomery Elementary School.

It is actually located just north of Foggy Bottom, but one of D.C.’s most historic African American churches was 19th St. Baptist Church [12] established in 1871 at 19th and I Streets. It relocated in 1975, taking over the B’nai Israel Jewish Synagogue space on 16th Street NW. A plaque marks its 19th Street location.

There is a lot more to learn and share about Foggy Bottom’s churches. For example, existing parishes may contain records that provide valuable insights into the lives of former residents. Please let us know if you would be interested in this project.

SOURCES: James Borchert, Alley Life in Washington, Univ. Illinois Press: 2004 at 197-98; Suzanne Berry Sherwood, Foggy Bottom 1800-1975, GW Washington Studies No. 7 at 24; Boyd’s Directory of the District of Columbia, 1914; Washington Star and Washington Post (especially obituaries), 1900-1970; FBA History Project. Histories provided by the specific churches are provided in links above. For a modern account of an African American church’s relocation, see H. Beecher Hicks Jr., On Jordan’s Stormy Banks, Zondervan: 2004.



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