7th Ave First Baptist Church of Nashville
First African-American Church in Nashville
Nashville’s First Baptist Church located at 108 Seventh Avenue was the fourth church established and used by the First Baptist Church of Nashville. The congregation that called this church home dated back to July 22, 1820. The congregation was formed by thirty-five members of Mill-Creek Baptist Church who wanted to separate from Mill-Creek, which was a white congregation. Nashville’s first Baptist ministers ministered to black and white parishioners, but churches were typically segregated.
In 1853, the church appointed its first black minister, a slave named Nelson Merry, to oversee the ministries of the African-American community. Merry was born in Kentucky and brought to Nashville by his owner in 1840 where he was later introduced to the Nashville Baptist Church. The church employed and baptized him. Eventually, he began preaching to the First Colored Baptist Church, which had been organized by a white congregation in 1843. Merry became the first ordained African-American minister in Nashville. Around 1866, Merry had a congregation of over two thousand and his church was able to become independent from the white church.
The 1886 structure was replaced in the 1960s by a new building designed by Edwin Keeble (who also designed Christ Cathedral on Broadway and 9th Street). Originally, the congregation did not want to keep the Gothic-style bell tower from the previous building, but eventually they decided to keep it as a remembrance of the church's long history.