PETERSBURG, Va. — A Virginia historical highway marker is being issued to highlight one of the nation’s oldest African American congregations.
A public dedication and unveiling ceremony for the First Baptist Church marker will be held today in Petersburg.
The church traces its origins to 1756, when worshipers known as New Lights began meeting outside Petersburg, according to the marker. The congregation moved to Petersburg about 1820 and opened a sanctuary there in 1863.
The marker says the original building burned in 1866, “during a wave of arson targeting Petersburg’s black churches.” In 1872, the congregation built the current sanctuary.
During the Civil Rights Movement, First Baptist was a center of community organization. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke at the church in 1962 during a regional meeting of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
Speakers at the dedication will include representatives of the church, the Department of Historic Resources and the Cameron Foundation, sponsor of the marker.
Virginia’s historical highway marker program began in 1927. There are now more than 2,600 official state markers.