Local church installs historical marker

Paul Robeson Ford, senior pastor of First Baptist, says the marker helps track the church’s history with the history of Winston.

Local church installs historical marker
October 14
14:46 2020

First Baptist Church on Highland Ave. held a dedication ceremony for their historical marker on Oct. 9 at the corner of 6th and Chestnut St. First Baptist was founded in 1879 and is the oldest Black Baptist congregation in the city.

The church predates the Twin City of Winston-Salem, as it was founded prior to the consolidation of Winston and Salem in 1913. The church has been a pillar in the Black community of East Winston-Salem for well over a century.

The short program for the unveiling of the marker included leaders and elected officials from the city, including Mayor Allen Joines. A brief history of the church was given, along with remarks as well.

“I have been wanting, since I got here and apprised of the history of the church and the way in which the history of the church tracks along with the history of Winston, to put a marker up,” said Paul Robeson Ford, senior pastor of First Baptist.

Through his research, Ford says the Black community of the city started out in the downtown area, along with many of the Black churches as well. He says the marker is a physical reminder that the church began there.

“As the markers become all that we have left of any sign that our community began there, I thought it was very important, especially as this new apartment and commercial complex got set up there,” he said. “That maker needed to go there to become part of this informal Black history trail that we as a community in this city have been building for years to make sure some of the important history of the Black community in the city is never forgotten.”

With the area around the marker undergoing a lot of development, the marker takes on that much more importance.  His hopes for the area are that the new development is equitable for all people, especially since the original Black community has been shifted to the eastern portion of the city.

“There is no Black community in downtown Winston and has not been for years,” Ford said. “What that area of the city has become is in a way a sore point. We have to have a clear sense of the history of where the communities were versus where they are now and how that points us back to and forward from some lessons about doing development in an equitable way, so communities have a governing say so in how their neighborhoods are impacted.”

Ford said he and others are pushing for an African American history trail in the city, not only for the younger generation, but also for elected officials, developers and businesses alike.

“It’s for everyone to understand that this is where Winston came from and this is where it has developed to,” Ford said about the downtown area. “Some of that is positive, but there is also this other side, like with the community that was torn up to plot a path for 52 being one of the most glaring examples.

“This is the other side, and we don’t have to repeat these same mistakes again. For our young people, it is very much an opportunity for them to appreciate a Sankofa moment. Our knowledge of past and the knowledge of our history is central to having a strong identity, in terms of knowledge of self, that will empower us for moving boldly in the future.”

Ford said the history of the church is deeply embedded in the history of Winston-Salem through business, education and the faith community.

“There are so many points of pride in terms of the Black community and its history in Winston that are either directly or indirectly connected to First Baptist Church,” he said.

Since taking over as senior pastor, Ford has made an intentional effort to keep history alive.

“It is an expression and reflection of my deeply held belief that knowledge of the past is central to us understanding where we are now, understanding the best of who we have been, that then gives us a critical frame of reference for aspiring to the best of who and what we can be,” Ford said about his dedication to history.

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Timothy Ramsey

Timothy Ramsey

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