After a racist mob destroyed Second Christian Church the night of July 31, 1868, the congregation moved across the street. Its original log home was abandoned and all but forgotten.
Now, church members and history buffs in this Woodford County town are trying to find remnants of the log structure as part of the church’s 185th anniversary celebration. Second Christian is thought to be the oldest black congregation in the Disciples of Christ denomination.
“I’m a descendant of slaves who started this church,” Brenda Jackson said as she watched Barbara Holcomb of We’re Digging It Metal Detectors in Midway scan the ground for clues to the log building’s exact location.
By that afternoon, they had found what appeared to be several foundation stones and a few handmade nails that may have been part of the log building, which predated the church’s founding in 1832.
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The property is now part of the campus of Midway University, so Jackson doesn’t know what the next step will be in this history project. But she said it was exciting to find that much.
The mob attack was described in the book “Racial Violence in Kentucky: 1865-1940,” by the noted black historian George C. Wright: The mob “proceeded to wreck the church, destroying the pews and shooting out the windows. Several people were injured by the many rounds of ammunition fired by the irate whites.”
Black churches were sometimes targeted by nightriders and Klansmen in the years following the Civil War because they could be used for black political meetings. Also, as in Midway, they housed schools that educated black children.
The year after the attack, Second Christian’s congregation bought land across Stephens Street, along Smith Street. It also bought an old building from a Presbyterian congregation and, by 1872, had moved it there.
A separate school was built next door to the new church and operated until 1910. The second-hand building was replaced in 1906 by the brick structure the small congregation uses today.
As the Disciples of Christ denomination grew in early 1800s Kentucky, enslaved blacks worshipped with their masters. But as the number of black Christians grew, several churches in Woodford and Scott counties decided to start a separate black congregation on the grounds of what was then the Kentucky Female Orphan School in Midway.
Church leaders bought and educated an enslaved man to be the black congregation’s minister. He was purchased for $1,000, and his name was Alexander Campbell, the same name as the white evangelist who was one of the Disciples of Christ founders.
Under Campbell’s leadership, the congregation grew to more than 300 members. After the Civil War, the federal Freedman’s Bureau helped establish the black school there. The only remnant of the log church the congregation has is the original altar table, which years ago was covered with new wood to make it sturdier.
R.E. Johnston, the Freedman’s Bureau agent, tried to prosecute the white men who ransacked the church that night in 1868. But when the Woodford County attorney refused to help him, Johnston was unable to gather enough evidence to prosecute.