Throughout February, in honor of Black History Month, Exploring Durham is featuring articles about some of Durham’s interesting African-American features.
Durham played an important role in our country’s struggle for civil rights.
One site in particular where history was made is White Rock Baptist Church, a community gathering place that influenced generations of Durham residents for more than 140 years. It is a veritable landmark in the civil rights movement.
Organized in 1866 by Margaret Faucette and founded in 1875, the congregation was led for many years by Augustus Shepard, father of NCCU founder Dr. James E. Shepard. The first building site was purchased in 1877 for $75 at the corner of East Pettigrew Street and Coleman Alley. When the building was completed, it was named White Rock Baptist Church because of the large white flint rock found in the front yard. Later, a brick building was built on the corner of Fayetteville Street and Mobile Avenue in the late 1800s to seat 350.
It was in this building that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. addressed the congregation on February 16, 1960, with his historic “Fill up the jails” civil-rights speech, following the famous Woolworth sit-in only eight days earlier.
Five of Durham’s churches were the training grounds for members of the civil rights movement. The congregations of Union Baptist, Ashbury Temple, Mount Zion, St. Marks, and St. Josephs, all paved the way, and eventually White Rock followed suit as a place where training and organizing meetings occurred.
The congregation moved to its current building in 1977 after urban renewal demolished the building to make way for the Durham Freeway in 1967. The current church building is located on Fayetteville Street on a six-acre tract of land. The sanctuary has seating for 1,300 and has a historic 32-rank Moeller pipe organ and stained glass windows. White Rock Baptist Church holds weekly worship services on Sundays at 9:30am under the teaching of the current pastor, Dr. Reginald Van Stephens.
Did You Know? The North Carolina Collection at the Durham County Public Library contains an extensive archive of information about White Rock, and other important civil rights landmarks in Durham.
The Durham Convention & Visitors Bureau (DCVB) is Durham’s official marketing agency. For more information about things to see and do in Durham, visit www.Durham-NC.com and www.DurhamEventCalendar.com, or stop by the Visitors Information Center at 101. E. Morgan St. in Downtown Durham and pick up the Official Durham Visitor & Relocation Guide.