Tour Abilene’s Historic Black Churches
By LORETTA FULTON
In April 2020, local historian Jay Moore put together a self-guided tour of historic churches in Abilene, all but one of them serving predominantly Black congregations, as an answer to the question everyone had–What can we do during this COVID-19 shutdown?
Unfortunately, almost a year later that’s still a good question. And Moore’s tour is still a good answer. With Black History Month being observed during February, this is an especially appropriate time to drive by the churches and learn about their history. A printable map can be found here.
Moore’s tour of historic churches includes some familiar names–Mt. Zion Baptist, Antioch C.M.E., and Macedonia Baptist to name a few. Moore is a retired Abilene High School history teacher, and his interest in the churches reflects his interest in history, as well as the role of the church in society.
“I’ve always been drawn to the connecting power of churches and I believe the churches centered east of downtown are central and vital to the lives of many Abilenians,” Moore said. “I also feel most folks aren’t aware of how long many of those congregations have existed.”
Moore added historical information about each church on the printable map. The first church on the tour, Mt. Zion Baptist, was organized in 1885, just four years after Abilene was founded. Initially, the congregation met in a building at South Fourth and Cherry streets. In 1940, the congregation built a new church at 841 Ash St.. That building burned in 1968 and the congregation relocated to its present location on Stafford Street, named in honor of Mr. and Mrs. Robert Stafford. Mr. Stafford was principal of Woodson school and the couple were longtime members of Mr. Zion.
When the tour first was posted last April on the Grace Museum website, local physician Dr. Gary Goodnight took notice. Among the things he learned was that Abilene’s first Black physician, Dr. William Butler, was a member of Bethel A.M.E Church. Goodnight learned more about Butler and was so impressed with his story that he painted a portrait of the doctor from one of the few photos remaining of him.
In September, Goodnight donated the painting to the Curtis House Cultural Center, which houses the history of Black Abilenians’ contributions to the city. Read more about the painting and donation ceremony here.
Top left, Mt. Zion Baptist Church; top right, Mt. Zion historical marker; bottom left, Macedonia Baptist Church historical marker; bottom right, Antioch C.M.E. Church sign. The middle church on the right is Mt. Moriah Baptist Church. Photos by Loretta Fulton
Loretta Fulton is creator and editor of Spirit of Abilene