Markers will highlight Black history at two Baptist institutions

Virginia Union University and First African Baptist Church, both in Richmond, Va., are selected for new historical markers.


By Robert Dilday

Two Baptist institutions in Richmond are to be the sites of new historical markers noting significant events in the region’s black history.

Markers approved in January by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources will highlight the first black Girl Scout troop in the South, organized at Virginia Union University, and First African Baptist Church in Richmond, the oldest black congregation within the city’s original boundaries and the “mother church” for other black churches in the area.

Old First African Baptist Church Richmond VAThe first black Girl Scout troop began meeting in 1932 at Baptist-affiliated Virginia Union University and “served as a model for other Southern localities as the Girl Scout organization moved toward integration,” the new marker reads.

“Initially, Girl Scout activities in Virginia were segregated but by 1947 African American and white high school girls were working together on the Richmond Council newsletter,” it continues.

First African Baptist traces its roots to 1780 and the organization of Richmond’s First Baptist Church. For 60 years, blacks — both free and enslaved — worshipped with whites in the congregation, though they were relegated to the church’s balcony.

In 1841, white members constructed a new building a few blocks away and sold their former sanctuary to black members, who renamed their new congregation. It became an influential institution in Richmond and included among its members Maggie L. Walker, the first African-American woman to found and head a bank in the United States. In 1955, First African Baptist moved to a new location on the city’s Northside, but the marker will be placed at the original church building, which is now owned by Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center.