Friendship Baptist Church Demolition Likely This Week

Jul 21, 2014

Construction officials say the oldest African American church in Atlanta will likely be torn down this week. 

Friendship Baptist Church, located near Vine City along Martin Luther King Drive, waits among construction equipment. 

Construction workers prepare Friendship Baptist Church for demolition.
Credit Marylee Williams / WABE

John Lewis also waits. 

Lewis is the president of the Historic Westside United Coalition. He's been holding vigils for almost two years in front of Friendship Baptist Church. 

He said he knows the church building can't be saved, but he wants to be there when it's torn down. 

"You know, I'm here because of the respect that I have for what this church has stood for in this community for all these years," Lewis said. 

Standing outside the church established in 1862, Lewis said he doesn't understand why Atlanta would establish the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, but tear down a significant part of the city's history. 

Beulah Baptist Church pastor emeritus W.L. Cottrell has worked in Vine City for more than 50 years. He said he's worried about the implications of losing Friendship Baptist Church at this location. 

"If you destroy Friendship, which is the lead church in the community," Cottrell said. "If you destroy that church, and then that's a step in the direction of destroying all the churches." 

In September 2013, Friendship's congregation sold the church's property to the Atlanta Falcons for $19.5 million. 

About two months ago, the congregation held its last service in the church. 

Executive director of Vine City Health and Housing Ministry Greg Hawthorne said some people in the community accept the church's fate, but others are still upset. 

"People in the community are still kind of riled up," Hawthorne said. "They may not come, show up and be out in front of the church here, but we are certainly cognizant of the loss of the cultural history in the community." 

Friendship Baptist Church is currently holding services in Morehouse College's Ray Charles aduitorium. The church hasn't announced a new permanent location.