Black History Month Spotlight – First Missionary Baptist Church

The new Arkansas Civil Rights History Audio Tour was launched in November 2015. Produced by the City of Little Rock and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock allows the many places and stories of the City’s Civil Rights history to come to life an interactive tour.  This month, during Black History Month, the Culture Vulture looks at some of the stops on this tour which focus on African American history.

Established in 1845, First Missionary Baptist Church is one of the oldest black congregations in Arkansas. The first church building was completed by 1847, with the current Gothic Revival building constructed in 1882.

In 1891, more than 600 blacks gathered here to protest the state’s recently enacted Separate Coach Law that required racial separation in passenger cars and separate waiting rooms in train stations. They marched from the church to the then state capitol, now the Old State House., to dispute laws that denied black people their constitutional rights. Historians cite that black boycotts in Little Rock, Pine Bluff, and Hot Springs on May 27, 1903, the first day of the streetcar law, caused a 90 percent drop in black patrons on Little Rock streetcars.

In May 1958, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., traveled to Little Rock here to attend the graduation ceremony of Ernest Green, the first African American to graduate from Central High School. In 1963, four months before the famous “I Have a Dream” speech, Dr. King visited Little Rock to provide the First Missionary Baptist Church’s 118th anniversary sermon.

The app, funded by a generous grant from the Arkansas Humanities Council, was a collaboration among UALR’s Institute on Race and Ethnicity, the City of Little Rock, the Mayor’s Tourism Commission, and KUAR, UALR’s public radio station, with assistance from the Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau.