Portland church added to National Register of Historic Places

Vancouver Avenue First Baptist Church (Photo: Oregon Parks and Recreation Dept.)

A historically black church in north Portland with ties to the civil rights movement has been added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Vancouver Avenue First Baptist Church, located in the Albina neighborhood, was originally built in 1909 as the Central Methodist Episcopal Church.

At that time, the church consisted of mainly white parishioners of European and Scandinavian descent.

The Baptist congregation, which was established in 1944 in a housing project for wartime shipyard workers in Vancouver, bought the building in 1951 as white residents moved out of the increasingly black Albina area.

As the congregation grew, the church expanded and renovated the building to its current appearance in 1958.

Under the leadership of Reverend O.B. Williams and his wife, Willia Williams, Vancouver Avenue First Baptist Church became an important community center, providing education, job services and political forums for Portland's black community.

The church also hosted prominent members of the civil rights movement, including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who gave a sermon there in November 1961.

In 1968, the church held a crowd of more than 1,500 for a local memorial service for King after the civil rights leader was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee.

Vancouver Avenue First Baptist Church is still active today, with worship services held throughout the week.

The church is one of four sites in Portland and six in the state associated with African-American history that are now listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

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