Black History: First African Baptist Church

First African Baptist Church on Franklin Square in downtown Savannah.
First African Baptist Church on Franklin Square in downtown Savannah.
The red doors signify property ownership and sanctuary.
The red doors signify property ownership and sanctuary.

By Dawn Baker - email | bio

SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - Rich in history and tradition, First African Baptist Church stands tall on Franklin Square in downtown Savannah. As we continue our celebration of Black history, we're taking you inside the doors of one of the oldest Black congregations in the nation.

There's no denying First African has a very striking architectural design, but it's also hard to miss the red doors. This color is about a lot more than just paint.

"When African people in particular used to paint the doors red that meant that they owned the property. When church doors are also painted red that means that it is a sanctuary. First African is a spiritual sanctuary but also a sanctuary for freedom," explains Jamal Toure', the owner of Day Clean Journeys Tour Company.

Members of the congregation, slaves, built this church back in 1859. All of their work was done at night when they could slip away from the plantations where they worked during the day.

"They built this church because it is tied to the belief that when they came from Africa, if you build a house on this side, God will build a house for you on the other side. They built their church at night under lantern. It has been said that African women would come here with Savannah gray bricks in their aprons. They say that African men would roll wheel barrels of Savannah gray bricks up here to build this church sometime after they had worked 10 hours, 12 hours, 16 hours on water front, plantations in the city," Jamal tells us.

Even though the sanctuary has been renovated through the years, the church held on to the stained glass windows that date back to 1880s and the original pews downstairs in the basement and in the balcony.

"These original pews again were made by members of the congregation. It goes back to the 1850s. The markings that you see, you are looking at west Africans writing down in their original tongue how they wrote. These are actually an African language being written on the pews that go back to the 1850s. Many don't realize that Africans were writing in Arabic back in the 1850s in Savannah," says Jamal.

These are just some of the treasures in plain view at First African Baptist Church in downtown Savannah. The church also played a major role in helping runaway slaves escape from bondage.

Friday, we'll show you how and what other areas were stops along what was called the Underground Railroad right here in our backyards.

To learn more about history in the Low Country and Coastal Empire go to,