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Talk at First Baptist Ensley

Marjorie L. White

Sunday, August 19, 2007

At Birmingham Historical Society we work to develop an understanding of and appreciation for Birmingham history, particularly its landmarks.

It's been 50 years since First Baptist Ensley, and other Birmingham churches and churchgoing pastors and members, played major roles in the most important social movement of the 20th century:  the civil right movement of the 1950s and 1960s. . . the climax of which took place in the churches and streets of Birmingham in the spring of 1963 when 4,000 folks stood up for their rights winning rights for all.

People are beginning to recognize the role of Birmingham ... and of its historic sites, many are now listed in the National Register of Historic Places and Bethel and 16th Street Baptist Churches are National Historic Landmarks and under consideration for World Heritage.

We have appreciated the opportunity to work with members of First Baptist Ensley and the Village Creek Society to document First Baptist Ensley' parsonage-the A. D. King House for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.

It wasn't just Martin Luther King Jr. that enthused 4,000 folks to go to jail for freedom, it was Fred Shuttlesworth and his Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights and his network of 60 churches and churchgoing members that rallied the troops to fight the cause to "hasten sincere brotherly love and undying peace . . . all over the world."

"Hasten sincere brotherly love"   ... these are the words a dynamic and eloquent preacher, a little known brother and the pastor of First Baptist Church Ensley: the Rev. A. D. Williams King who with his wife Naomi Barber King and their five young children came to pastor this stronghold church for civil rights in December 1961. 

There are no serious scholarly studies on A.D. Williams King. Here's a bit I learned in researching the parsonage.... 

  • First Baptist Church of Ensley held 12 Mass Meetings of the ACMHR . . . only St. James Baptist and New Pilgrim Baptist hosted more  recorded meetings...  and 5 mass meetings took place here during the spring 1963 campaign ... to prepare folks for the freedom fight.

  • Your pastor served on the Central Committee that met each day to coordinate activities of the Birmingham Movement.

  • Your pastor led two now famous marches:  Palm Sunday April 7. Easter Sunday April 14. 

  • Your pastor ... significant enough that Connor put some water on him.

  • Your pastor . . .  significant enough that the Klan bombed his residence following the peace accord that ended the marches May 10. 

In December 1963, your pastor wrote to you:  "We as a race of down-trodden people were recipients of many good things last year (1963) and, we witnessed many, many experiences that were not so favorable....   At that time, he did not know that the U. S. Congress would pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that next summer guaranteeing equal access to public accommodations... nor would he live to see the impact of that act upon the American democracy.

But even though he did not understand that he helped win a great victory for mankind, your Pastor counseled you:  we must work diligently toward a set goal for a better peoples here on earth and in the world.

We live 50 years later. We can know and tell the story. The story is that First Baptist Ensley, its pastors and people, worked diligently for the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s ... and they did help make America a better place for all peoples. I appreciate the opportunity to join you today ... to help tell your story.

In conclusion, I quote your pastor ... the Rev. A. D. Williams King ... as he addressed you in December 1963:

I pray God's blessing on you, and I earnestly pray that God will richly bless each and every member of First Baptist Church. May we move forward ... with a strong determination to put God first in all that we do, to live in peace and harmony with mankind, and to strive toward making First Baptist Church "God's Little Kingdom Here in Birmingham".

 Sources for this talk include: A Walk to Freedom-The Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth and the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights, National Register of Historic Places nomination for the First Baptist Church Parsonage-A. D. King House (both authored by Marjorie L. White for Birmingham Historical Society, in 1998 and 2007 respectively) and "A Christmas Letter to the Members of First Baptist Church of Ensley," December 1963, by the Rev. A. D. Williams King, from the collection of Robert Holmes Sr., Birmingham, AL. Marjorie White is Director Birmingham Historical Society, One Sloss Quarters, Birmingham, AL 35222,

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