Founded in 1899, eight years before Oklahoma was even a state, the First Baptist Church of North Tulsa is one of Tulsa’s oldest places of worship and serves as a vital piece in the puzzle of our city’s history.
“We were the only church (in North Tulsa) to live through the 1921 race riots,” says Pastor Anthony Scott. “It was the only church that was not destroyed. It looked so nice that the rioters literally thought that it couldn’t be a black church. So they bypassed it.”
Almost forty years after its miraculous survival, First Baptist’s spiritual connection to the plight of African-Americans in Tulsa and beyond came full circle. On July 28th, 1960, Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke from the pulpit of First Baptist to an over-capacity audience of 1500. Fresh off the success of the Montgomery bus boycotts, the 31-year-old minister had recently positioned himself as the voice and face of the rising civil rights movement and was on a cross-country mission to mobilize black communities, encouraging them to vote in the imminent Presidential election. One of those communities was North Tulsa.
Scott says that Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall also visited the church.
“The church, in its heyday, was a stopping place for a lot of national figures,” he mused.
“We are a historic church. But we need to transition that into being a leading church once more.”
Joshua Kline is a writer based in Tulsa, Oklahoma.