When the first African-American congregation of Fourth Street Baptist Church gathered inside a log cabin in 1830, there were 24 states in the union and Andrew Jackson was serving as the seventh president of the United States.
And in the 190 years that have followed, Fourth Street Baptist at 821 W. Fourth St. has kept its faith going, making it the oldest African-American church in Owensboro.
That distinction will come with the unveiling of a state historical marker at 2 p.m. on Sept. 24.
City Commissioner Pam Smith-Wright, a trustee and 62-year member of the church, secured the state marker for the church, spending hours on the application process.
Smith-Wright, 71, said she began working on the state marker in November 2019 and received final approval in May 2020 from the Kentucky Historical Society.
“I knew for them to give a marker that it had to be for somewhere at least 150 years old,” Smith-Wright said. “...So I knew we’d be right in line for it.”
For Bobby McCormick, a deacon and 67-year-member of Fourth Street Baptist, and Benny Johnson, a trustee and 44-year-member of Fourth Street Baptist, the church has been a special place spiritually for them and their families.
Both attributed their wives, who grew up attending Fourth Street Baptist, to introducing them to the church.
“It’s been part of my life since I was 19 years old,” said McCormick who’s 86. “…It’s been great for me and my family; all my children came up in this church.”
Johnson, a Greenville, North Carolina native, said just as the church has been a positive influence in his life, he has strived to share that same experience with others.
“It’s been salvation for me,” Johnson said. “And when I started working with Brother Bobby, we tried to let the people know that we are here to help them and that they always have somewhere to come.”
Fourth Street Baptist is pastored by Mario Pearson, who moved from Detroit, Michigan to Owensboro after he was hired 10 years ago.
In the church’s long history, Pearson, 53, makes the 18th pastor who has filled the pulpit.
Pearson said he was “inspired” by how long the church had been in existence and by the low number of pastors.
“To me, it’s amazing that God placed good ministers here that truly loved this church” Pearson said. “I was like, ‘wow,’ only 18 pastors. This church really does take care of its pastors.”
According to Messenger-Inquirer archives, the Fourth Street Baptist Church built in 1893 was razed in January 1972.
Services were moved to the Goodloe School gymnasium until the current Fourth Street Baptist Church was dedicated on the same spot in 1973. At that time, W.R. Brown was the pastor.
Pearson said he’s looking forward to the historical marker dedication and has no doubt the church will be around for its bicentennial in 2030.
“Just to be around for 190 years and to know they made it because God had His hand on this church is very exciting for me,” Pearson said. “…If we stay faithful to His word and stay true to how we’re called to do, this church will be here another 10 years celebrating 200 years.”
Don Wilkins, email@example.com, 270-691-7299