Shiloh Baptist Church  Washington, D.C.

History (abbreviated)

Shiloh Baptist Church was founded amidst the turmoil of the Civil War in 1863 by twenty-one former slaves who left Fredericksburg, Virginia with other slavery refugees under the protection of the Union Army. After settling in Washington, D.C. and meeting in various homes, these Christian trailblazers organized a Sunday School in a small building located on L Street, between 16th and 17th Streets, Northwest. From these humble beginnings grew what has become one of the most highly regarded religious institutions in Washington and throughout the country.

Since its inception, Shiloh has been an integral part of the surrounding community; over the years, it has enhanced its position nationally and on the world stage. Even in its early days of limited resources, the Church worked to provide effective outreach, with a focus on educational and social enrichment programs. Shiloh has played an important role in the life of the city and has been a catalyst for racial equality, upward mobility and achievement for all. The Church provided pivotal support for the formation of national civil rights organizations, including the NAACP and the Lott Carey Foreign Mission Board, which was founded at Shiloh in 1897.

Shiloh has always been at the forefront of improving the economic plight of the Shaw community and the greater Washington region. In 1907, then-pastor Dr. J. Milton Waldron organized the Alley Improvement Association to improve the unsanitary living conditions of Washington’s alley residents, most of whom were African Americans. Dr. Waldron’s efforts led Congress to establish the federal Alley Dwelling Authority, the precursor of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). In 1982, Reverend Henry C. Gregory established and built the Shiloh Family Life Center, a multidisciplinary complex devoted to the addressing all areas of family life – spiritual, financial, physical, and social. Today, “Family Life Centers” populate communities across the American landscape, from rural hamlets to large cities, with the concept and phrase coined and first developed by Dr. Gregory.

Well known for hosting impressive cultural events to enhance the lives of the membership and the greater community, Shiloh presented famed contralto Marian Anderson in recital in 1933. Fifty years later, in 1983, the Church was the site of In Performance at the White House, featuring, opera star Leontyne Price and the Shiloh and Howard University Choirs. In 1943, Madame Lillian Evanti, world-renowned opera singer, was presented in a recital of Nathanial Dett compositions. Later in the same year, Dr. Dett himself directed the Senior Choir in concert. In 1965, the church celebrated the installation of the magnificent 48rank Casavant organ, designed by then-organist Henry J. Booker. In 1988, the Senior Choir, at the invitation of the Israeli government, traveled to Jerusalem and sang in Bethlehem Square on Christmas Day. In 1950, noted historian Dr. Carter G. Woodson, who lived just a few steps away from the church, was funeralized at Shiloh.

The Shiloh congregation has been comprised of outstanding citizens from all walks of life, including many who have played prominent roles in the city of Washington and beyond. The membership has included: Dr. Mordecai Wyatt Johnson, the first African American president of Howard University; Marian Wright Edelman, Founder of the Children’s Defense Fund; Dr. George Walker, the first African American to win a Pulitzer Prize for music; Grace Coleman, well known Howard University professor; and, Lorraine Miller, first African American Clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives.

The history of Shiloh Baptist Church is intertwined with the broader history of African American life in this country. Over the years, the Church has welcomed an impressive array of national leaders and dignitaries, including: W.E.B. DuBois, Paul Lawrence Dunbar, Dr. Mordecai Wyatt Johnson, Dr. Billy Graham, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Congressman James E. Clyburn, President Ronald W. Reagan, President George H. W. Bush, and President William Jefferson Clinton. In April 2011, President Barack Obama and the First Family joined us for Easter Sunday worship.

- Information submitted by the 150th Anniversary Committee

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