Old Town Alexandria is known for its shopping areas and historic sites such as The Potomac River Boat Company and the African American Museum. While these are great tourist attractions because of their history, many do not know that this area was once a predominantly black community.
The Alfred Street Baptist Church, located in Old Town Alexandria, makes the black community its first priority. The church provides annual tours of its facilities and the surrounding area to preserve the history and legacy of the church.
The historical tours began in 2003 and have continued annually. This year’s tour was held on October 8th and began with a short lesson, “Don’t Get Rid of Your Land” given by Alton Wallace, the church historian. It took place in Atkins Chapel, the church’s old sanctuary, which was built in 1855.
Following the seminar, there was a bus tour of the surrounding sites of the church. These sites included Battery Rogers, the first baptismal area of the church, and the Bottoms, which is the first black neighborhood of freed slaves in Virginia. The final site was the historical Freedman’s Cemetery. Here rest the first documented black family and also members of the church, the Quanders family. Roberta Quanders is one of the oldest members of the Alfred Street Baptist Church. “Most would consider me the Queen of Alfred Street,” Quanders said. Quanders’ grandparents rest at the cemetery.
Alton Wallace, an Alfred Street member since 1983, was appointed to be the church’s historian in 2000. He is author of the book I Once was Young, which tells the history of the church and its members.
“You need to know your history to know where you’re headed,” Wallace explains.
Wallace also explains that over the years the church has increased in membership, so this book is an opportunity for new members to receive knowledge about their new “home.”
“This book not only promotes the history of Alfred Street, but also the history of black America,” Wallace said. “For so long, it was the only church in town. We became a brand!”
The Alfred Street Baptist church is also very active with service for the black community in Old Town Alexandria. In 2009, it purchased Phase III of the Old Towne West townhouse complex adjacent to the church. Because this is a low-rent housing building, the church plays a huge role in providing subsidized housing for those who cannot afford rent. “Very few black people own homes in the 223 area,” Wallace said, referring to the area where the residence stands.
The church not only helps the less fortunate, but it is also very passionate about the youth of the area. The church hosts a number of programs including “Brother’s Keeper,” with which the church provides clothes for less fortunate kids. The church collects clothes such as socks and coats for children in the area to keep warm during the winter.
The church’s biggest initiative for youth would without a doubt be its annual Black College Career Fair. This event, which costs more than $50,000 to put on, attracts kids from as far as New York to have the opportunity to meet with 55 historically black colleges and universities from all over the country. The church expects more than 3,000 participants each year.
The Alfred Street Baptist Church’s youth outreach continues with the Alfred Street Baptist Foundation. In 2007, it initiated the Legacy Scholarships, which range from $2,500 to $10,000 and are named after their donors.
To learn more about the church and receive information about scholarships or how to get involved with some of the community service projects, visit http://www.alfredstreet.org.