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Friendship Baptist is the oldest African American Baptist congregation in Southwest. It was organized in 1875 as First Baptist Church by Rev. R.S. Laws, who previously was pastor of Mount Olivet Baptist Church in Arlington, Virginia. In 1879 the congregation changed the name to Virginia Avenue Baptist Church, based on its location at the corner of Sixth Street and Virginia Avenue, SW, and because the African American Nineteenth Street Baptist Church also was known as First Baptist.

In December 1902 the congregation dedicated a new church at 734 First Street, SW (at H Street). The eclectic Victorian style structure, built by James A. Boyce over a 12-year period, had Romanesque, Gothic Revival, and Queen Anne elements. A name change -- to Friendship Baptist – in June 1905 followed the congregation's move.

Throughout its history the church has served as a community center, hosting a wide range of groups and activities. Among the organizations to meet at the church during its first decades were the First Washington Baptist Association, the Good Samaritans Lodge, the DC Republicans, and the Board of Managers of the proposed Colored National University. Civil rights, the representation of black people in the mainstream media, and temperance were some of the topics of community meetings held at the church. In 1906-1909 Emancipation Day festivities, organized by the Lincoln Emancipation League, were based at Friendship Baptist. Activities generally included speeches, a musical program, a demonstration, and a luncheon.

When most of Southwest DC, including a number of churches, was razed during the 1950s, Friendship Baptist remained – a symbol of resistance to the urban renewal that destroyed much of its old neighborhood. Under the leadership of Rev. Benjamin Harrison Whiting (tenure: 1926-1979), the church flourished. A choir loft was added in 1930 and a parish hall in 1952, but as the 1950s progressed, the congregation outgrew its space. In September 1965 it celebrated its 90th anniversary and dedicated a new building at 900 Delaware Avenue, SW.

The old Friendship Baptist Church at 734 First Street, SW, was designated a DC Historic Site on May 27, 2004.


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