One by one, church congregations that traditionally have served the African American community in downtown Charleston are disappearing. Gentrification that has displaced black neighborhoods in the city more and more is extending to the churches that served as houses of worship for those communities.
The most recent black church to succumb to the socio-economic forces that dictate racial patterns in housing and consequently the accompanying cultural centers that serve those communities is New Tabernacle Fourth Baptist Church, now located at 22 Elizabeth St. in the historic Mayzck-Wraggsborough community of the peninsula.
Like many black churches on the peninsula, New Tabernacle Fourth Baptist Church’s current edifice is not its original home. New Tabernacle Fourth Baptist Church bought the sanctuary in 1950. Constructed in 1859, it formerly was home to St. Luke Episcopal Church.
Other traditionally Black churches on the peninsula also found homes in previously occupied structures originally housing white congregations. They include Jerusalem Baptist Church at 26 Maverick St. and Greater St. Luke AME Church at 78 Gordon St.
But as the peninsula’s black population dwindled over the past 40 years from about 70 percent black to a current 28 percent black population, churchgoers increasingly are abandoning the buildings which once served as cultural centers for their communities.
Rev. Alonzo Washington, retired pastor of Wallingford Presbyterian Church on King Street said congregation members have moved away from the communities where the churches they attend are located. The displacement of Black families from the Charleston peninsula due to gentrification has made them minorities in their own communities. Most of their members live outside the peninsula.
The greatest challenge facing most congregations as a result of gentrification has been getting members to church. In response, the church has developed transportation systems that bring members to church for services and functions. Another challenge is parking. Most members don’t walk to church anymore, so there’s a huge parking problem.
It’s likely the disappearance of black churches from the Charleston peninsula will continue. The congregations of Shiloh AME Church on Smith Street and Macedonia AME Church located in the heart of the redeveloping Calhoun Street corridor both soon will follow the exodus from the peninsula.