Shiloh Baptist Church stands proudly as one D.C.’s oldest Black churches

  • Rev. Doctor Wallace Charles Smith
  • Shiloh Baptist Church

By D. Kevin McNeir

Shiloh Baptist Church (1500 Ninth Street, NW) was founded during the tumultuous years of the Civil War in 1863 by 21 former slaves who left Fredericksburg, Virginia with other slavery refugees under the protection of the Union Army.

The North was fighting for reunification while the South was fighting for independence. However, as the war progressed, the Civil War gradually evolved into an effort to include not only reunification but also the abolition of slavery.

After settling in Washington, D.C. and meeting in various homes, the 21 founding members organized a Sunday School in a small building located on L Street, between 16th and 17th Streets, Northwest. From these humble beginnings grew what has become one of the most highly-regarded religious institutions in Washington and throughout the country.

Today the historic Shiloh Baptist Church, one of the oldest Black churches in the District, is led by the Rev. Doctor Wallace Charles Smith, senior minister.

Dr. Smith, a native of Philadelphia, PA, graduated from Villanova University in 1970, earned the Master of Divinity degree in 1974 and the Doctor of Ministry degree in 1979 from the Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. His ministerial career includes the pastorate of two outstanding congregations: First Baptist Church, Capitol Hill, Nashville, Tennessee (1985-1991) and Calvary Baptist Church, Chester, Pennsylvania (1974-1985), where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., served as a student intern while attending Crozer Baptist Seminary.

Since its inception, Shiloh has been an integral part of the surrounding community, extending its reach nationally and abroad.

Historical firsts

Shiloh has long stood at the forefront of improving the economic plight of the Shaw community and the greater Washington region. In 1907, then-pastor Dr. J. Milton Waldron organized the Alley Improvement Association to improve the unsanitary living conditions of Washington’s alley residents, most of whom were African Americans.

In 1933, Shiloh presented famed contralto Marian Anderson in recital. Fifty years later in 1983, the church served as the site of In Performance at the White House, featuring opera star Leontyne Price and the Shiloh and Howard University Choirs.

In 1982, the Rev. Henry C. Gregory established and built the Shiloh Family Life Center, a multidisciplinary complex devoted to the addressing all areas of family life – spiritual, financial, physical and social.

In 1988, the Senior Choir, at the invitation of the Israeli government, traveled to Jerusalem and sang in Bethlehem Square on Christmas Day.

Also, noted historian Dr. Carter G. Woodson, who lived just a few steps away from the church, was funeralized at Shiloh in 1950.

Shiloh’s members have included men and women from all walks of life, including many who have played prominent roles in the District and beyond including: Dr. Mordecai Wyatt Johnson, the first African American president of Howard University; Marian Wright Edelman, founder of the Children’s Defense Fund; Dr. George Walker, the first African American to win a Pulitzer Prize for music; Grace Coleman, well known Howard University professor; and, Lorraine Miller, first African American Clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives.

(special thanks to the 150th Anniversary Committee for information about Shiloh Baptist Church).