Homecoming festivities begin at 7 p.m. July 10 with an anniversary banquet at the Campbell House Inn. The guest speaker will be Dr. Henry Wise Jones, pastor of Mt. Zion 2nd Baptist Church in Atlanta.
First African Baptist, 465 Price Road, will open its Legacy Room, a display of church artifacts and history presentations, at 1 p.m. on July 11. And at the 11 a.m. worship service on July 12, the guest preacher will be L.H. McIntyre, the church's retired pastor and author of One Grain of the Salt, a 1986 book about the church's history.
"To celebrate this milestone is quite exciting for the congregation," said the Rev. Nathl Moore, the current pastor. "There has been a high level of enthusiasm."
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First African Baptist Church traces its roots to Peter Durrett, a slave who started the first black church west of the Allegheny Mountains in Lexington in 1790. Durrett died in 1823 and was succeeded by London Ferrill, a slave who gained his freedom and became a widely respected preacher who baptized thousands.
Ferrill became a local hero when he stayed behind — as others fled Lexington — to minister to victims of a cholera epidemic that killed 500 of the city's 7,000 residents, including his wife.
Earlier that year, Ferrill had bought land at what is now Short and Deweese streets, where First Methodist Church had its first two meeting houses from 1789 to 1823.
Because slave families were often split up by sale, many walked miles each Sunday to attend services at First African Baptist — and to have their only chance to see each other.
When Ferrill died in 1854, his funeral procession was among the largest Lexington had ever seen. He is thought to be the only black who was buried in the Old Episcopal Burying Ground on East Third Street.
Among First African Baptist's relics is Ferrill's tombstone. McIntyre said a groundskeeper allowed him to rescue it from a lose pile of stones during a period when the cemetery was poorly maintained and reduced in size by the extension of Elm Tree Lane.
Between 1850 and 1854, First African Baptist financed and built a new sanctuary at Short and Deweese that housed what was then Kentucky's largest congregation, black or white, with about 2,000 worshipers.
First African Baptist remained in that building until 1987, when a new church was built on Price Road, off Georgetown Road.
The old church is now owned by Central Christian Church. A non-profit group, the First African Foundation, is trying to buy and restore it for use as a cultural center.