I was talking with someone the other day, I said, “You know, we learned a lot in church.” I could not speak in church. But Mrs. Devan told me, she said, “When you get ready, you’re gonna talk.” And one day I got tired of being scared, so I said my speech.
Saint Paul was established in 1869, and that year would have been right after the 14th and 15th amendment allowed African Americans to be able to acquire property.
In 1902, this particular site was acquired by the congregation, and for a period of time they actually worshiped in tents. By 1925, a new basement structure was built. The congregation worshiped in that basement structure for a period of about 25 years. Then Dr. Gibson became the pastor, and within a matter of three years he actually built a sanctuary on top of that ancient downstairs basement. We even had a celebration, a number of the churches got together. I just remember walking up the steps and I asked my mother, I said, “Where are we going?” She said, “To the new sanctuary.”
15 years later, Dr. Joseph Lowery became the pastor. During the time that he was a pastor here, he was the president of the board for the JC CEO. There were meetings here with that. He also was one of the founders of the Southern Christian leadership conference that we know as SCLC. There were also NAACP meetings held on a regular basis in this church.
At that time there needed to be a mass meeting at one of the churches. Several churches were contacted, and they declined because of the climate. The night before the first mass meeting was held here at Saint Paul, Reverend Shuttlesworth’s house was bombed.
People were really concerned. They had heard what happened to a number of the people in Montgomery who had lost their jobs hired if they participated in marches. My mother was a school teacher with the Birmingham City school system and it was said that if we attended she would get fired. As SCLC began to discuss this, two young members of that organization said, “Why don’t we have children involved?” From this church, that’s where the birth of children as activists really began for the entire country.
Reverend N.H. Smith, Reverend A.D. King, and Dr. Porter led a march on Palm Sunday in 1963 from Saint Paul to City Hall to protest the fact that the bus system here was still segregated. The police commissioner Bull Connor objected to the marches and brought in the police and the fire department to try to break them up. The interesting thing about Commissioner Bull Connor, he was also a United Methodist. So here we had children marching from a Methodist church for equality and we had a United Methodist as the commissioner over public safety sicking dogs and having fire hoses turned on children.
I can’t forget it. We were in Sunday school and the bomb went off and knocked us up against the walls. And we said, “Where did they bomb this time?” And that’s when we found out it was 16th Street. Of course we thought our church would be next. So it was a slow process of us saying we’ve got to get out and do something.
This church has been a remarkable reflection of what has happened in this nation. From the onset, this church has been involved in human rights.
I love this church because I grew up in this church. It’s a family church. When we come to this church, we worship but we also think about the past members and it’s a church that we enjoy coming to.