Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church, 454 Dexter Avenue, Montgomery, Montgomery County, AL
Significance: The Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church is a nationally significant site for its association with Martin Luther King, Jr. and the civil rights movement. The church was formally established in 1877 as an offshoot of the first independent black Baptist congregation in Montgomery, which had been founded a decade earlier in the wake of the Civil War. Initially operating out of a former slave trader's pen on the broad thoroughfare connecting downtown Montgomery with the State Capitol, the "Second Colored Baptist Church" purchased a prominent corner lot a few blocks to the east in 1879. Four years later, the congregation began construction of the present edifice. William Watkins, one of the church's founders and a builder-contractor, launched the project in 1883. While he oversaw all of the construction, the congregation retained a local Montgomery architect, Pelham J. Anderson, for the final design. The church was dedicated in 1889 and has remained in constant use since that time.
In 1954, Martin Luther King, Jr., arrived in Montgomery as the young new pastor for the congregation. During his tenure at Dexter, which would be his only full-time position as a pastor, King was, in his own words, "catapulted into the leadership of a movement which has succeeded in capturing the imagination of people all over this nation and the world." The movement to which he referred was a boycott of Montgomery buses in 1955-56 by black riders, a prolonged event that was sustained by King as president of the Montgomery Improvement Association. Initially seeking change within the Jim Crow system, the bus boycott ultimately led to complete desegregation of the city's buses. This outcome permanently altered the direction of the civil rights movement and set King on the path of civil rights leadership for which he is known worldwide today. For these reasons and for its centrality to the bus boycott, the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1974.
Unprocessed Field note material exists for this structure: N1524
Survey number: HABS AL-994
Building/structure dates: 1883-1889 Initial Construction
Building/structure dates: 1957-1958 Subsequent Work
Building/structure dates: 1977-1980 Subsequent Work
National Register of Historic Places NRIS Number: 74000431