Sitting across from a lone bench in Barbre Park lies a placard: Historic Black Churches in Webster Groves. The unassuming sign shares a fraction of the story of African Americans in Webster.
Before Douglas High School educated African Americans in Webster, The First Baptist Church on Shady Avenue, now Kirkham, taught African American children. In 1866, one year after the education of African Americans was legalized in Missouri, the church opened a basement classroom.
Although the church has since been renovated, rebuilt and renamed, members still flow through its doors. One member, Sharon Coleman, talked about the importance and history of African American churches within black history.
“Historically, the Black Church played an important support role in the Civil Rights movement. Its role as the moral conscience in the community at large remains very important,” Coleman said over email.
North Webster’s history is rich, and churches play a large role in that history. The community built churches throughout the 1900s, including rebuilding the newly named Old Community Baptist church after a fire burnt it down.
Church members talked about how some of the proposed community housing projects would affect their church.
Deacon Frank Grant said over email that, “The proposed development was to guarantee economical and financial growth. Enhancing and attracting new residences, tax incentives and updated infrastructure. Approval of this proposal and moving forward has not come to fruition at this date.”
Coleman also weighed in on the proposed developments, saying, “The church is… mindful that in the past, and still today, the criteria/justification for locating new developments in black neighborhoods have not always been transparent, trusted and perceived as truthful.”
Coleman elaborated in her email, writing, “[The Church] also recognizes that there are often inherent pitfalls for the affected community: impact on all residents; resulting density issues; traffic flow; infrastructure impact; property values. This is especially true when the proposed development is commercial.”
Through fire and flood, the Old Community Baptist Church’s doors have stayed open, contributing to the Black History of Webster Groves.
This will be Joe Harned’s first year on ECHO Staff. He also made several contributions while taking journalism class his freshman year.