Selma, Alabama’s First Black Church Is Still Going Strong. Take A Look At Its Amazing Legacy By Christine Weerts for The Federalist
First Baptist has always had strong members whose faith, tested and tried with slavery, Jim Crow segregation, intimidation, violence, and even a devastating tornado, triumphed over all.
Now let us have a little talk with Jesus
Let us tell Him all about our troubles
He will hear our faintest cry, He will answer by and by
Now when you feel a little prayer wheel turnin’
And you know a little fire is burnin’
You will find a little talk with Jesus makes it right.
Warren William “Billy” Young can still hear his father Woodrow’s deep bass voice whenever his home church sings his dad’s favorite hymn, “Just a Little Talk with Jesus.”
“We sang that hymn about three weeks ago, and people couldn’t believe I sounded just like my dad,” he says. “I can hear his voice when we sing that hymn, and sing it just like he did.”
First Baptist Church was the center of family life for the Young family. Billy’s father served as deacon, trustee, and treasurer, and his mother, Alice, as deaconess, senior choir director, and president of the missionary society.
“All the time growing up, I’d only be in three places: home, church, or school,” Young said. Perfect attendance at school and church was expected. Choir was the center of their church life, as everyone in the family sang; later, even spouses and grandchildren joined in. Only one family member doesn’t sing, and that’s Billy’s sister Wanda Young Lowe, who plays the organ. She has been playing for services since she was 11. Each played an instrument, too: saxophone, clarinet, trombone, and trumpet.
As First Baptist prepares to celebrate its 175th anniversary this year, the Young family — the four adult children of the now-sainted Woodrow and Alice Young, and their spouses and children — will all be standing with the choir or seated on the organ bench as they celebrate their commitment to the church their father’s family started in 1845, while they were still slaves.
First Baptist’s Beginnings
Established as First “Colored” Baptist Church, it is the oldest black church in Selma and one of the four oldest in Alabama. The church, renamed First Baptist in the 1880s, holds a prominent place both physically and historically in the Selma community. It is the mother church of black baptists in Selma, started the first public and private schools for newly freed slaves, and played a key role in the voting rights movement in Selma, beginning in 1920.
During the 1960s, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), led by now-Rep. John Lewis, set up headquarters at First Baptist and held many nonviolent training sessions and youth mass meetings in its historic building. Lewis leads a congressional civil rights pilgrimage to Selma each March.