FIRST AFRICAN BAPTIST CHURCH

 

(Part 2 of 3)

Previously: Linda and her husband are touring Savannah, Ga. She has discovered an old church that has a “Nine Patch” ceiling. Her tour begins.

My husband and I were running late by a few minutes and barely made it to the church in time.

A young lady collected the fees for the guided visit.  We entered the sanctuary and listened for two hours as the church’s historian explained the building’s significance.  We were mesmerized. 

The original congregation formed in the late 1700s, but the building was not built until the 1800s.  It was completed in 1859 by a majority slave congregation. The members would walk 3 miles to work on the building during the only day they were given rest from labors, Sunday. 

     The pews in the balcony were handcrafted by those people and African Hebrew lettering is scratched into the row ends.  Unfortunately, no one has been able to interpret the meaning!

The church’s historian later showed us some of the original sanctuary pews,

African Hebrew cursive letters on the pew end.

African Hebrew cursive letters on the pew end.

  which were being stored for preservation in the basement auditorium room.  He said that they were appraised at $50,000 each.  A Steinway grand piano in the sanctuary was appraised at a half a million dollars. It has been played by famous visitors throughout the years.

     Everywhere I looked in this building, items had a deep history. For example, the pipe organ, built in 1832, is the oldest in Georgia.  The basement auditorium’s original lectern is also rare: made of gopher wood –the same material as Noah’s Ark, according to the website. 

     Members of the congregation handcrafted the stained glass in the church. They depict prior church leaders. 

Even with all this, one of the more unremarkable features of the church, its floor, holds one of the greatest stories.  Diamond shaped patterns called “Congolese cosmograms” (According to the church website: “In Africa, it also means ‘Flash of the Spirits’ and represents birth, life, death, and rebirth.”) were drilled into the church’s wooden floor. The holes provided air for the escaping slaves hiding beneath it.  The runaways stayed for only a day or two in the 4-foot high sub-floor space before they fled to freedom on the Underground Railroad. 

Linda Rosenthal (Apr. ‘17) adds, “The church kept no records of how many escaped this way or who they were.”

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