Second Baptist Church, the second oldest African Baptist Church in Washington, was started fourteen years before the slaves in the District were freed. It was one of the few “colored” churches in Washington that had a “colored” minister prior to President Lincoln’s inauguration.
In 1848 a company of believers was dismissed by the First Colored Baptist Church (now the Nineteenth Street Baptist Church) for the purpose of organizing the Second Colored Baptist Church of Washington, District of Columbia. This new organization began its existence on K Street between Seventh and Eighth Streets, N.W. with Licentiate Henry H. Butler as acting pastor. On Sunday evening November 12, 1848 after a council of existing churches that had been convened on October 24, 1848 gave approval for that day, and after the minutes of the council proceedings were read, Brother A. Samson gave the Right Hand of Fellowship to William Bush, Lucinda Bush, Susan Bush, Samuel Watts, Eliza Stanford, William Rhone, and Lewis Patton. Reverend Clayton of Baltimore, Maryland, preached from Psalm 122, Verses 7 and 8, “Peace be Within Thy Walls and Prosperity Within Thy Palaces”.
Since the beginning in 1848 with Licentiate Henry Butler, Second Baptist Church has had fourteen pastors with one having been recalled. They are listed below along with the year each started:
Before coming to its present location, Second Baptist Church was in several locations. According to Church history they were K Street between Seventh and Eighth Streets, N.W; a home on Capitol Hill under Reverend Asher; the 600 block of B Street, S.W; in a broom factory at the corner of Ninth and D Streets, N.W. over Ryan’s grocery store in 1853; and finally in a permanent location in the 800 block of Third Street, N.W.
The Church home was referred to as a “large red brick building”. Reverend Alexander was recalled in 1856 to assist in paying for the structure. During this period, Church history indicates that this structure was used as a station for the Underground Railroad.
After Reverend Alexander went back to his church, now First Baptist Church of Georgetown, the Reverend Woodward and then Reverend Mays were pastors until 1864.
In 1865 with things at a standstill, Reverend Sandy Alexander was recalled to service as counselor. He built a strong congregation and assisted in erecting a “small frame building” after the old structure had been torn down.
Church records state that “The Church … was hampered by internal dissension and strife” and that in 1876 two hundred seventy-five members left to form Mt. Carmel Baptist Church. A law suit over the property occurred since more members left than stayed. However, the court awarded the property to those who stayed. Later the “small frame building” was burned down and a “little red brick building” was erected and dedicated in 1879. During this period, Reverend Gaskins was pastor.
In 1883 Reverend Gaskins was replaced by Reverend Dr. W. Bishop Johnson, and the structure for the current building was begun in 1894. The present Second Baptist Church building was completed in 1904.
Reverend Dr. J.L.S. Holloman who succeeded Dr. Johnson in 1917 got many of the property debts paid off and was directly involved in the establishment and operation of the Washington Baptist Seminary which met in the Second Baptist Church building for more than twenty-five years. Reverend Holloman served as president of the Washington Baptist Seminary until his death in 1970.
The name of the Church at the Office of the Corporation Counsel was changed from the Second Colored Baptist Church to the Second Baptist Church in March of 1958.
Under the Church’s next pastor, Reverend Bartley, several improvements were made such as air conditioning, gas furnaces, public announcement system, a passageway between the Church and the Memorial Building, and the replacement of the pipe organ with an electronic organ.
The current pastor, Reverend Dr. James E. Terrell, has a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism, a Master of Arts in teaching and a Doctorate in Education. He also holds the Master of Divinity Degree from Howard University. He is in constant contact with the Church members offering them prayers, encouragement, and guidance. Several unique classes have been started in the Church to appeal to the different needs of the members. Reverend Terrell is a significant influence on the Church.
The Second Baptist Church has been officially designated a historical site and enjoys the protection of the local and national registries. In the summer of 2008, the Church was named a part of the National Heritage Trail and a freestanding sign was placed in the northeast section of the front yard to mark this recognition.