Local African-American church celebrates 160th anniversary

This month, the nation is celebrating accomplishments and contributions from African Americans. The tradition officially started in 1976, but a local church has been cultivating black history for a lot longer than that.

This Sunday, Washington Street Baptist Church will turn 160 making it the oldest black church in western Kentucky. The charter members, who were slaves, broke off from First Baptist Church in 1855 to organize their own congregation. It’s one that’s certainly changed over time, though they say their calling is still clear.

“Some of the history we have… some of this is falling a part, of course,” said Reverend Raynarldo Henderson. He is the 17th person to pastor over the congregation at Washington Street Baptist Church. Yellowed and tattered articles through the decades show the church has staying power. Henderson said it’s important to remember those who came before him. “We want to celebrate the men and women who have made Washington Street the church it is, but we want to celebrate even more the God who has has brought us through,” he said.

The church has lasted 160 years. “We’ve come through slavery, we’ve come through fires, through floods, but yet we’re still standing,” Henderson said. It’s local history, black history, and American history that church members say should be celebrated. 28 year member Sharon Nunn said, “It’s something we need to do.” Anniversary celebration chair LaKimbra Hart said, “My kids will learn from this rich history and continue the tradition of Washington Street.”

The church was chartered in 1855, but it wasn’t until two years later that they received their first African-American minister, Rev. George Dupee. The church still has the gavel he used back then to control the congregation. “It blows my mind,” Henderson said, “History says he actually ruled the congregation with a hickory stick. That’s how he kept order.”

It’s an old tradition of discipline, strength, and perseverance that Henderson said the church still stands for today. Washington Street Baptist Church’s anniversary celebration is this coming Sunday. The services are at 10:45 a.m., and 3:00 p.m. Two former pastors will also be part of the celebration.

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