We Built Our Own Place: Oakland Baptist Church

The original people who started Oakland Baptist Church built it with their bare hands and there families are proud to continue to support their church.

By Char McCargo Bah

Alexandria, VA – Back in the 19th century, the areas we know today as Seminary Road, Quaker Lane, Braddock Road, and parts of King Street were located in two counties, Fairfax and Arlington.

Many of the African Americans who lived in those communities had been there during the Civil War. These individuals worked in their neighborhoods as well as being self-employed as merchants, craftsmen, or farmers. With just having one day off from work, which was Sunday, they spent their time attending churches at Mount Pleasant Baptist Church on Lincolnia Road in Fairfax or one of the Baptist churches in Alexandria or, if they were Episcopalian, they would have attended Meade Memorial Episcopal Church in Alexandria. Longing for their own church, they organized themselves and built Oak Hill Baptist Church in 1888. The men would leave work on their day jobs, go directly to the building site of the church, and start working. They would continue building the church after work on the weekends week after week until the church was finished.

Their first church building was a bush arbor and then in 1891 a little schoolhouse on Oak Hill in Seminary. On December 16, 1891, Trustee Charles P. Roy purchased land on behalf of the church from Brook Johnson. In 1893, the Oak Hill Baptist Mission moved to its present address at 3408 King Street, Alexandria. At that time, the name of the church changed to Oakland Baptist Church.

Some of the early founders of the church were Clara Adams, William Carpenter, Brooks Johnson, William Terrell, J.W. Casey, Maggie Hall, Smith Wanzer, Daniel Simms, Sr., Nancy Shepherd, and Harriett Shorts. These individuals still have family members that are associated with Oakland Baptist Church.

Two women who were members of other churches helped Oakland Baptist Church to get started. They were active in their own churches and knew what Oakland needed. These women were Matilda Wood of Third Baptist Church and Mollie Nelson of Shiloh Baptist Church. Mrs. Wood was born 1867 and she was married to William Douglas Wood. She and her husband lived near Oakland Baptist Church. Matilda attended both Third Baptist and Oakland Baptist Churches in her lifetime.

Mrs. Mollie Nelson was born in 1860. She was a cook for a private family. However, she had a second job in the Oakland Baptist Church community as their midwife. A conversation with Mrs. Joyce Casey Sanchez confirmed that Molly was a midwife. Mrs. Sanchez said that, “Molly Nelson was our midwife. She delivered many babies in our neighborhood.” Molly was a member of Shiloh Baptist Church. She assisted Oakland Baptist Church and changed her membership to Oakland.

Throughout the years, the original people who started Oakland Baptist Church had children of their own and these children helped to populate the church. Today many of the early members still have family that belong to Oakland. Their families built Oakland Church with their bare hands and they are proud to continue to support their church.

Char McCargo Bah is a published author, freelance writer, independent historian, genealogist and a Living Legend of Alexandria. She is a columnist for two newspapers and she maintains two blogs, www.theotheralexandria.com and www.findingthingsforu.com.

ICYMI: Local History in Alexandria