VOL. 114 | NO. 81 | Wednesday, April 26, 2000
By LAURIE JOHNSON
Landmarks set to conduct
National Register hearing
By LAURIE JOHNSON
The Daily News
The Memphis Landmarks Commission will conduct a public hearing today regarding the nomination of First Baptist Church, Lauderdale to the National Register of Historic Places.
The church, located at 682 S. Lauderdale St. near Downtown, is being nominated because of its association with the life and work of the Rev. Thomas Oscar Fuller and because of its significance to the citys religious and social history.
During the first four decades of the 20th century, Fuller was pastor of First Baptist, Memphis oldest Baptist congregation, formerly known as First Colored Baptist Church.
While T.O. Fuller State Park is named after Fuller, the church, completed in 1939, is the citys only remaining building associated with him, according to a Landmarks Commission historic preservation planner Erin Hanafin Berg.
"While the building is an interesting example of a vernacular interpretation of the Colonial Revival style, its mainly significant for its association with Rev. Fuller," she said.
Another interesting aspect of the structure is that not only was Fuller associated with it, he designed it, as well, Berg said.
"That is somewhat unusual, in that most of the buildings nominated to the National Register for their historical significance in relation to a person cannot claim to have been designed by that person. Its doubly significant in that regard."
The purpose of todays public hearing is to give local citizens and Landmarks Commission members the opportunity to review First Baptists nomination and voice any comments or concerns they might have.
At todays meeting, Commission members will decide whether to recommend to the Tennessee Historical Commissions State Review Board that the church be approved for listing on the National Register. The THC will consider the nomination June 1.
According to the staff report, Landmarks Commission staff members are recommending approval of First Baptists nomination, which was prepared by Carroll Van West and Jen Stoecker of the Center for Historic Preservation at Middle Tennessee State University.
According to a THC staff evaluation, THC staff members have deemed the structure, which still retains its architectural integrity, eligible for National Register listing.
"Through his actions and writings, Fuller had a significant impact on the educational and religious development of the city, especially for African Americans," stated THC historic preservation specialist Claudette Stager on the evaluation form. "Although Fullers association with the nominated building was brief, it was meaningful and the First Baptist Church, Lauderdale is the only extant building connected with him."
According to First Baptists National Register application, Fuller was born in 1867 in North Carolina to a former slave.
He received his bachelors and masters degrees from Shaw University in the early 1890s, and in 1898 won a seat in the North Carolina Senate. He was the states last African-American senator until the Civil Rights movement.
In 1900, following the adoption of a series to amendments designed to make it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for blacks and poor whites to vote in North Carolina, Fuller moved to Memphis, and assumed leadership of the First Colored Baptist Church, which at the time held worship services at Zion Hall at 217 Beale St.
During Fullers tenure as pastor, the church relocated twice. In 1906, the congregation built a Victorian Gothic-style church at 495 St. Paul Ave., which was demolished in the 1930s to make way for the Foote Homes public housing project.
The church moved to the proposed National Register property in 1939 a two-story, brick structure Fuller designed in the Colonial Revival style after surveying other new churches in the city.
The church site also contained the Sanford Home, a Second Empire-style home built in 1890, a portion of which was incorporated into the church structure when it was remodeled in the 1950s.
Fuller, who also was principal of the Howe Institute, one of the only schools in the area to offer post-grammar school curriculum to African Americans at that time, lived in the churchs parsonage until his death in 1942.
The congregation adopted the name First Baptist Church, Lauderdale in 1954, and continued Fullers tradition of being active in the areas of religion, education and politics.
During his lifetime, Fuller published several books, including "Twenty Years in Public Life: 1890-1910, North Carolina-Tennessee," regarded as one of the primary accounts of African-American political and social activism during that time. He also was a founding member of the local chapter of the NAACP, and played a major role in establishing the Memphis Inter-Racial League.
The Landmarks Commission meeting and public hearing will start today at 4:30 p.m. in Room 403 of City Hall, 125 N. Main St.
If Landmarks Commission and Tennessee Historical Commission members approve First Baptists nomination to the National Register, its application will be forwarded to the National Park Service, the division of the U.S. Department of the Interior that handles National Register designation.