Spruce Street Baptist Church, known as the "Mother Church" of Afro-American churches in Nashville, originally began as the First Colored Baptist Church. The First Colored Baptist Church began in 1841 when the congregation of First Baptist Church at 7th and Broad permitted its Negro members to hold a separate meeting under the superintendence of a Standing Committee on Negro Problems. After twelve years of an entirely separate existence, the spiritual charge of the Negro congregation was given to Nelson G. Merry, a mulatto slave of a Kentucky woman who was freed in 1845 and had worked as the sexton of the White Church. The call and ordination of Merry as pastor of the Negro mission marked the beginning of a period of unprecedented growth for the Negro Baptist congregation in Nashville. Formally this congregation would remain a mission of the White Church until the end of the War Between the States. In September of 1865, the First Baptist Church of Nashville agreed to the ecclesiastical separation rendered necessary by the war. Thus a new First Baptist Church came into being.
By 1873, the membership of the First Colored Baptist Church had grown to approximately 3,000 members and they were forced to seek more spacious quarters; they purchased land on North Spruce Street (8th Ave., North) and erected the largest church edifice owned by Negroes. This was one of the finest churches in the region. Eleven years later, Nelson Merry, who had served the church for 31 years died on July 14, at 60 years of age. Tom R. Huffman became pastor in 1885, serving the congregation for two years. During his pastorate the first "split of the Colored Baptist Church occurred." Reverend Huffman led out a number of members and they organized the Mount Olive Baptist Church. The remaining members continue to worship on 8th Avenue North under the pastorate of the Rev. M. W. Gilbert, who served the congregation from 1870-1890. Rev. Purdy came in 1891; during this time there was another division in the church and the building was lost by fire. This brought on of the most noted church lawsuits and led the court to divide the fire insurance between these two factions. In 1895 those worshiping under the spiritual charge of Rev. Purdy were incorporated as Spruce Street Baptist Church. This church has been served by some of the greatest preachers, theologians, scholars, orators, and financiers. The church has developed some of the denomination's outstanding laymen and laywomen who have held outstanding positions throughout America.
Spruce Street was led in two major building programs by Dr. A. M. Townsend. He was instrumental in remolding the church when it was located on Capitol Hill and in rebuilding the church on its present site when she was forced to give way to the Capitol Hill Re-development Program. Since 1956, communicants have been worshiping at the corner of 20th Avenue North and Pearl Street trying "to serve as a lighthouse drawing lost men to the arc of safety."
[From the church's website. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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