23 Montgomery Street
National Historic Register
The First African Baptist Church and the First Bryan Baptist Church came from the oldest Negro congregation in the United States. The present building dates from 1859-1861 and was built by members of the congregation, many of whom were slaves. It is said to be the first building constructed of brick in the State of Georgia that was owned by African Americans. The beautiful stained glass windows depicting George Liele and other early church leaders were installed 1885. The original lectern and pews are still in use. The pews are marked with African symbols etched in their ends by African-American carvers. The church lost its original bell tower in a hurricane and it was never rebuilt.
The church history dates back to 1774, when George Liele, a Virginia-born slave, began making missionary visits to plantations up and down the Savannah River after he was baptized at his master’s Baptist church. Liele was freed to preach the gospel to slaves in 1777 and formed the First Colored Church of Savannah the next year. He was ordained as the first pastor of the church that was renamed the First African Baptist Church in 1882, the oldest continuously active African-American Church in North America.
The church was a haven for runaway slaves during the turbulent years of the Civil War. The runaways were hidden in a 4-foot high space between the basement and foundation below. The air holes can still be seen in the basement floor. During the 1960s, the church served as a base for the Civil Rights Movement.
Currently the church houses a museum containing archives and memorabilia that date the church back to the 18th century.
For more information:
For additional reading:
Emanuel King Love, 1850-1900, History of the First African Baptist Church, from its Organization, January 20th, 1788, to July 1st, 1888. Including the Centennial Celebration, Addresses, Sermons, etc. From: Savannah, Ga.: The Morning News Print