From Ohio History Central
The African Union Baptist Church, now known as the Union Baptist Church, was the first African American church in Cincinnati, Ohio.
On July 21, 1831, fourteen African American members of the Enon Baptist Church in Cincinnati decided to form their own congregation. This congregation, originally known as the African Union Baptist Church, was the second oldest African American church in the city. The reason that these African Americans formed their own congregation was due to the discrimination that existed in the principally white Enon Baptist Church. Whites in the Enon Baptist Church forced African American congregants to sit in the back of the church. Unhappy with this and other discriminatory practices, these African Americans created their own religious institution.
The African Union Baptist Church initially met in a member's home on Third Street, between Plum Street and Elm Street. In 1835, the congregation completed construction of a formal church building on Western Row, near Second Street. The following year, David Leroy Nickens, who was probably the first African American to be ordained as a minister in Ohio, became the church's pastor.
The African Union Baptist Church's members were devoted abolitionists. They actively assisted runaway slaves along the Underground Railroad. The church building also hosted numerous abolitionist speakers. Among the more prominent abolitionists to visit the First African Baptist Church were Henry Ward Beecher, Frederick Douglass, and William Lloyd Garrison.
As the congregation membership increased, in 1864, the African Union Baptist Church purchased the former Enon Baptist Church building. From 1876 to 1879, George Washington Williams, the first African American elected to the Ohio legislature, served as the church's pastor. In 1895, the church, now known as the Union Baptist Church, completed construction of a new church building at the southwest corner of Richmond Street and Mound Street.
In 1960, Cincinnati officials implemented Queensgate II, an attempt to revitalize the Queensgate neighborhood in downtown Cincinnati. The Union Baptist Church was located in the Queensgate neighborhood. The city informed the congregation that the church was to be demolished and offered the church buildings in other Cincinnati neighborhoods. The Union Baptist Church chose to remain in Cincinnati's downtown area and began construction of a new church building, which was completed in 1971.
The Union Baptist Church continues to serve the downtown Cincinnati area today. Besides meeting the religious needs of the community, the church currently operates a fourteen-story apartment building, known as Page Tower, for low-income residents. In 1990, the Union Baptist Church had nearly one thousand members.
African Union Baptist Church illustrates the prejudice that existed in Ohio during the years before the American Civil War. Ohio was a state that did not allow slavery. Nevertheless, that did not mean that whites were open to granting African Americans equal rights. Free African Americans found that it was difficult to get fair treatment, and they often formed their own communities and institutions away from whites.
- Giglierano, Geoffrey, and Deborah Overmyer, eds. The Bicentennial Guide to Greater Cincinnati: A Portrait of Two Hundred Years. Cincinnati, OH: The Cincinnati Historical Society, 1988.
- Taylor, Nikki Marie. Frontiers of Freedom: Cincinnati's Black Community, 1802-1868. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2005.