Bethel Baptist Church, 3233 Twenty-ninth Avenue, North, Birmingham, Jefferson County, AL
Significance: Located in a black working class neighborhood, near coal mines and industrial plants, Bethel Baptist Church provided the leadership to sustain the fight for civil rights in Birmingham. From 1953 to 1961, the Rev. Fred Lee Shuttlesworth (b. 1922) pastored Bethel. The church served as headquarters and a frequent meeting place for the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights (ACMHR), which Shuttlesworth founded in 1956. The Birmingham-based association of working class people, pastors and their 60 churches championed Birmingham's and the nation's fight for civil rights. Shuttlesworth and Bethel endured with courage and tenacity threats, beatings and three bombings. The first bomb destroyed the parsonage on Christmas Night, December 25, 1956. When Rev. Shuttlesworth emerged from the debris, unharmed, his leadership of "the Movement" was confirmed irrevocably. The church repaired its sanctuary and built a new parsonage. Shuttlesworth and ACMHR challenged segregation practices through direct action and legal challenges, organizing bus rides, sit in and boycotts and by bringing the Rev. Martin Luther King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) to Birmingham to support the massive joint ACMHR, SCLS demonstrations that turned the tide of public opinion against segregation, inspiring the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Bethel Baptist Church structure was built in 1926, during the pastorate of the Rev. Milton Sears, on land the congregation purchased in 1909. The architect, suppliers and builders remain undetermined. Originally, this red brick edifice was finished with elaborate stained glass windows, stone lintels and sills for windows, extensive interior trim, walnut pews, a baptismal pool and a steam plant for heating. A cornerstone lists church officers at the time of construction.
Unprocessed Field note material exists for this structure: N784
Survey number: HABS AL-977
Building/structure dates: 1926 Initial Construction
National Register of Historic Places NRIS Number: 05000455