Last year, Rehoboth Baptist Church, a venerable Congress Heights institution celebrated its 150th anniversary. The congregation marked the occasion by assembling and organizing its cultural and historical resources. The two year effort resulted in the publication of 150 Years by Faith: History of Rehoboth Baptist Church, Washington, D.C. 1864-2014, a documentary survey of the manuscripts, photographs, and stories the church’s historical committee collected.
Written collectively by a group led by Church Historian Merion Kane, and Public Historian Dan Acker, 150 Years by Faith traces the history of Rehoboth back to the church’s founding in 1864 in the front parlor of Hannah Johnson. (Other members of the church historical committee include: Eraine Farmer, Marjanette Feagan, Mitchelle Goodman, Delores Henderson, Rose Miller, Earl Mitchell, TeWanna Palmer, Annissa Stanley, Cynthia White, and Samuel Williams.) According to the book, the early congregants were a diverse group of African Americans including some who were born free in the District of Columbia and others who had come as refugees to the city after escaping slavery in the wake of Union Army advances in Confederate territory during the Civil War. For over 100 years, the church flourished in old Southwest near 1324 1st Street. The massive urban renewal experiment which engulfed that neighborhood during the 1950s and 60s led to the eviction of many of Rehoboth’s congregants. In 1969, the church left its “first new” church building built in 1898, following its members over the Anacostia River to Congress Heights at 621 Alabama Avenue, SE.
Approximately half of the book is a researched or remembered account of the church as it was. Pages celebrate growth, economic accomplishments, and the many ministries within the church that were formed to have a positive social impact on the community. The latter half of the book seems aimed at preserving the present for future generations, especially the stories of the congregation’s oldest or most involved members.
150 Years by Faith can serve as a model for other DC congregations seeking to preserve their history, or to make it accessible to a wider audience. Like many project’s funded through the DC Community Heritage Project, the work functions both as a labor of love for its creators, and a window into remembered past of a distinct group of Washington residents. It is, at once, a memory book for Rehoboth’s congregation and an artifact of their experience, giving researchers a glimpse of what the church community has chosen to celebrate and memorialize about their past.
The DC Community Heritage Project is a partnership between Humanities DC and the DC Historic Preservation Office. For more information, please contact Humanities DC Director of Grants Louis Hicks at firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn how you can order a copy of 150 Years by Faith, contact Rehoboth Baptist Church at 621 Alabama Ave, SE Washington, DC, 20032.