Established as First “Colored” Baptist Church, First Baptist is the oldest black church in Selma and one of the four oldest in Alabama. Renamed First Baptist in the 1880s, the church holds a significant place both physically and historically in the Selma community.
After the Civil War, the congregation built its own church and housed the first public school for black children. In 1878, the congregation helped found and house the Alabama Baptist Normal and Theological School, now Selma University, for training black teachers and pastors. The institution had an African-American president beginning in 1881, a rarity as at the time, most black colleges were headed by white men. Most of the school’s presidents were also pastors at First Baptist.
First Baptist was the mother church to Second Baptist in 1869, Green Street Baptist in 1881, and Tabernacle Baptist in 1884. These churches and schools played a key role as safe havens and centers of community and identity for African Americans in Selma.
In 1894, the growing congregation needed a larger sanctuary, and member David Benjamin West designed and built the Gothic Revival-style brick building which has remained as the church’s present home. The design featured a Victorian-styled sanctuary and chancel raised 8 feet above the first floor fellowship room and housed beneath a steeply pitched cross gable roof.
First Baptist is considered “one of the most architecturally significant late-19th-century black churches in the state” and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, In 2018, it was one of four Selma structures named to the watch list of the World Monuments Fund, an organization committed to preserving global historic sites.