West Hunter Street Baptist Church was founded in 1881 as Mount Calvary Baptist Church. The congregation’s Gothic Revival stone sanctuary was constructed in 1906 at the corner of West Hunter Street (now Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive) and Chestnut Street (now James P. Brawley Drive). Beginning in 1961, under the leadership of Rev. Dr. Ralph David Abernathy, Sr., it served as a strategic and emotional headquarters of the Civil Rights Movement.
RALPH DAVID ABERNATHY
The partnership of Rev. Dr. Ralph David Abernathy and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. began in Montgomery, Alabama, on December 6, 1955, after Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus. Together they led the Montgomery Improvement Association during the year-long Montgomery Bus Boycott and forged a lasting friendship and partnership.
After the boycott, King moved to Atlanta to join his father as associate pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church. King and Abernathy spoke nightly, with King encouraging Abernathy to join him in Atlanta. In 1961, with the help of “Daddy” King, Abernathy visited the West Hunter Street Baptist Church, which was in need of a new pastor. At the age of 35, the Reverend Ralph David Abernathy moved to Atlanta to become Senior Pastor at the West Hunter Street Baptist Church.
WEST HUNTER STREET BAPTIST CHURCH
With Abernathy at the helm, West Hunter Street Baptist Church became a central fixture in the Civil Rights Movement. Most organizations (including schools and churches) did not want to take an active role in the movement. West Hunter accepted Dr. Abernathy’s pastoral charge to become agents of change. The church provided space for non-violence training, the Poor People’s Campaign, and other civil rights activities.
The congregation later provided key support for the election of Maynard Jackson as Atlanta’s first black mayor and for Andrew Young as Georgia’s first black U.S. congressman.
Under Dr. Abernathy’s leadership, the congregation continued to grow and needed more room. As they were ready to begin construction to expand the church, a sanctuary on Gordon Street (now Ralph David Abernathy Boulevard) became available at an affordable price. Dr. Abernathy led members of the West Hunter congregation on a 1.7-mile march to their new home, where the church continues today.
Do you have memories of West Hunter Street Baptist Church, Dr. Abernathy, or Atlanta’s Civil Rights Movement? Please share them with us!