In 1865, the black members of Prosperity Baptist Church, slaves who were permitted to worship, petitioned for a letter of dismissal to form their own church. This was the beginning of the Colored First Baptist Church, now located on Shelby Street in Bartlett, Tennessee.
Under the leadership of Reverend Alexander Blew, the colored people of Bartlett and vicinity purchased a lot in 1873 upon which they wanted to build a church. According to history, this building was constructed out of bushes and was called “The Bush Harbor.” In order to raise money members appealed to friends and anyone feeling a desire to contribute to this cause, with the hope of starting to build in April 1874. Brother Claxton was the clerk; Guilford Lock and Overton Claxton were Deacons. Ezekiel Claxton, Sr., was a Deacon, Sunday School Superintendent, Choir Director, Janitor of the church, and piano player. Joy, Rozell, Annie Lee and Madie Claxton were also piano players.
In 1874, the church was renamed to Bethlehem Baptist Church. Bethlehem moved to this present site and built a frame weatherboards structure where kerosene lamps were used for lights and wood for heat. In 1878 under the leadership of Reverend L.H. Greer, Bethlehem was renamed to The Colored First Baptist Church Bartlett, Tennessee. The late Brother Monroe Mitchell, a member of the church was the architect and builder of this structure. Pastors sent to this field of labor following Reverend Blew and Reverend Greer were the late Reverend E. Carter, Reverend W. M. Thomas, Reverend B.L. Claxton, Reverend Ed Hudson, Reverend James Henderson and Reverend B.L. Nabors.
The late Reverend James Franklin Collins was appointed by the Holy Spirit to lead this congregation. He was a gospel preacher, builder and teacher. Under the leadership of Reverend Collins, the old frame was remodeled to a modern building with brick veneer siding, arched ceiling and walls. Many new facilities were added such as: hardwood floors, choir stand, baptistery, elevated deacon’s platform, new deacon chairs, pulpit chairs, new pews, pastor’s study, usher and choir lounge, restrooms, electric lights and gas heat. This structure was paid in full and $350 remained in the church treasurer under the faithful leadership of Reverend Collins. Reverend Collins was loyal and dedicated until his demise.
From 1958 to 1963, God sent other shepherds to teach and lead this flock namely: Reverend R.L. Davis, Reverend C. Jones, who paid the first $30.00 to the Building Fund Treasurer March 3, 1961, Reverend G.D. Jones, and 0Reverend J.L. Payne. Also, during this time, the church changed its name to First Baptist Church Bartlett.
In July 1967, the building fund treasurer reached $10,000 and on July 24, 1967, the old church was demolished. Under Reverend Payne’s leadership, we built a beautiful $40,000 structure to worship in. The Educational Building was purchased for the sum of $1.00 from the Shelby County Board of Education.
Under the leadership of the late Reverend Edgar M. Young who came to us in February 1970 many things were accomplished. The church changed from having service two Sundays out of the month to every Sunday. A Hammond organ was purchased, new cushion pews were installed, and a sound system, new carpet, a new piano and the most important accomplishments were many souls were saved.Reverend Young was a loyal and dedicated Pastor until his demise in October 1987.
From April 1988 until March 1999, we were under the leadership of Reverend Kenneth Bohanna. Under Reverend Bohanna’s leadership,renovation was done to the back of the church, which includes enlargement of the pastor’s study, a new secretary’s office, choir room and a finance room.
One hundred and thirty-four years later we accepted the leadership of Pastor Darryl W. McDonald. Under his leadership many members have been added to this ministry and many improvements have been added to the Church and Educational Building. Before the Vision of a new building, the old sanctuary received new carpet, ceiling fans, and both bathrooms were expanded. In the Educational Building, a tutoring and computer center was installed. During 2003 improvements were made to the kitchen and dining hall area. Church funds along with the church membership steadily increased.
The Vision: In 2005 under Pastor Darryl W. McDonald leadership we had our ground breaking ceremony for the new sanctuary to be built. The old structure is torn down, but many memories of the old structure and the dedicated members who helped paved the way that is no longer here lingers on in our heart and mind. The structure of the new building is under way which includes the connection of the Educational Building. Amenities included a choir room, sound room, Pastor and First Lady Studies, secretary and finance offices, nursery, remodeled kitchen and dining hall.
We moved into our new edifice; The vision a reality. Our forefathers would be pleased. 2006 to present: additional beautification was done to the Church and Educational Building. God is good, the membership has increased, souls are being saved, and lives are being changed. As Pastor McDonald quotes: “But it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.”
Save the Lost and Equip the Saved, going into the highways and byways telling a dying world that the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.