The First Baptist Church of Selma was organized on May 29, 1842, with Rev. Solon Lindsey as pastor. However, it was not until June 15, 1850 that the congregation had its first permanent building. That building faced Church Street on the northeast corner of the intersection of Alabama Avenue and Church Street.
First Baptist’s pastor Noble Leslie DeVotie resigned his post to serve as chaplain to the Selma troops leaving for the Civil War. He drowned in Mobile Bay becoming the “first casualty of the Civil War.” After the battle of Selma, First Baptist was the only church open for Sunday services. Therefore, during the federal occupation of Selma, federal officers attended these services. During World War I, First Baptist’s pastor John A. Davison followed DeVotie’s example, resigning his post to follow the troops to France. Unlike DeVotie, he survived the war and later served a second time as pastor during World War II.
After the Civil War in 1866, African-American deacon, Alex Goldsby asked and received permission from pastor J.B. Hathorne to open Selma’s first school for African-American youth in the church’s basement. The church later contributed $2,000 to help the black members start their own church.
On April 5, 1900, our church purchased a lot on the corner of Dallas and Lauderdale Streets. On May 3, 1901, a contract was made for the construction of our present auditorium building. The first two contractors encountered difficulties with the building, and the architects, Wilson and Edwards, recommended the contract be canceled. Finally, Ernest Lamar, the chairman of the Building Committee, took charge of the task himself. The third Sunday in September, 1904, was set as the first day of worship in the new building and a former pastor, A. J. Dickerson, was invited to preach the first sermon in the building. However, it was not until 1909, that the costs were paid off and the church could finally be dedicated.
The building’s architecture represents high gothic. In the original construction, the Gargoyles served as rain spouts on the massive stone tower. The original slate roof was replaced in 2004. One of the splendid windows and the magnificent mosaic were both designed by Selma artist, Clara Weaver Parrish, who had a studio in New York. They were made by Tiffany & Company of New York. A Mr. McKibbon was contracted to build the splendid woodwork within the church. The pulpit furniture is also of gothic design.
There have been many additions to the church over the years. The Mallory Room, added in 1917, was originally built for additional Sunday School space, but was refitted for use as worship seating.
On August 5, 1923, the construction of our first Sunday school building (now known as Old Education Building) began. The Sunday school building was occupied by the late spring of 1924.
In 1956, balcony seating for 166 was added. In June, 1957, the church purchased property on Lauderdale Street between Dallas and Parkman Avenues for the construction of an educational building. On July 8, 1962, the church unanimously adopted recommendations to begin construction of a new three-story educational building. Ground breaking ceremonies were held on August 5, 1962. Open house for the new educational building was held on January 12, 1964, and immediate use of the new building began.
Over the years, there were several minor upgrades to each of the church’s buildings. The lighting in the Sanctuary was replaced in 1989. The largest effort, however, was the 2001-2004 campaign and renovation to replace the slate roof at a cost of over $1 million.
In May of 2005, a renovation committee under the leadership of Jon Moore went forward with the daunting task of renovating the Old Educational Building. At that time the building was eighty one years old. The building was completely gutted and rebuilt at a cost of almost $2 million. This state-of-the-art facility was dedicated in May of 2011.
There was a concern that our sanctuary had not been updated in over thirty years. The undertaking was designed to be unparalleled in its planning and efficiency. The entire project from beginning of construction until completion had to occur in just ten weeks! Under the leadership of Harold Speir and the renovation committee much work was done before the beginning of construction. Construction was started on June 4, 2013. The original heart pine floors were restored, as well as the addition of a custom-designed chandelier and sconces. The pews were restored and a new screen for the organ pipes was installed. On August 18, 2013 we moved back into our newly renovated sanctuary.
First Baptist’s energy is such that it has produced a rash of sister churches over the years. Among these are First Baptist Church on MLK, Jr. Street (1894), Central Baptist (now Valley Grande) (1896), West End Baptist (1943), Northside Baptist (1944), Water Avenue Baptist (1945), Selmont Baptist (1946), Elkdale Baptist (1952), Fairview Baptist (1956), and Summerfield Baptist (1973).