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A state historical marker issued by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources to honor High Street Baptist Church will be dedicated on Wednesday, March 18. The Danville church was founded 150 years ago by emancipated African Americans and was where Martin Luther King Jr. spoke more than a half-century ago.
The public dedication and unveiling ceremony also will kick off the church’s 150th anniversary celebration. The ceremony will begin at 10 a.m. at the marker’s location at 630 High Street.
Speakers at the ceremony will include Mayor Sherman Saunders, Dorothy O. Harris, and Jim Hare. Harris, wife of the late Mayor Charles Harris, served as a teacher and principal in Danville. In 1963, she volunteered as a recording secretary at the church for the local civil rights movement. Hare is an architectural historian who serves as division director of survey and register for the Virginia Department of Historic Resources.
Church officials will guide tours of the church sanctuary following the ceremony. The present Romanesque Revival church was built in 1901.
The church has served as an anchor for the Mechanicsville community, which is a neighborhood located west of downtown Danville that developed in the late 19th century and early 20th century as an ethnically-mixed, residential district catering to workers in the nearby textile and tobacco-processing facilities. Bordered by Floyd, High, Ridge and Upper streets, the Mechanicsville Historic District was added to the National Register of Historic Places on May 19, 2014.
The High Street Baptist Church marker recalls the church's origins when in 1865 it was founded by emancipated African Americans who withdrew from First Baptist Church. Active in the local civil rights movement, the church served as a center for the movement during its height in 1963 and was host to King during the same year.
The sign was sponsored by the City of Danville and approved by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources.
Virginia’s historical highway marker program began in 1927 and is considered the oldest such program in the nation. Currently, there are more than 2,200 official state markers.
TEXT OF MARKER:
High Street Baptist Church
In 1865 emancipated African Americans withdrew from First Baptist Church, where they had worshiped in the balcony, and founded a congregation later known as High Street Baptist Church. Members erected their first building here in 1873. Fire destroyed that structure and its replacement, constructed in 1878. The present Romanesque Revival church was built in 1901. High Street Baptist served as a base for organizers of the local civil rights movement and hosted the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1963. Pastor Lendell W. Chase was president of the Danville Christian Progressive Association, which coordinated nonviolent protests against segregation and discrimination.