Alfred Street Baptist Church traces its origins to 1803, during the period when Thomas Jefferson served as the third president of the United States. At that time, Baptists in Northern Virginia worshipped at the Backlick Baptist Church on Little River Turnpike. However, in April 1803, members from Alexandria, Virginia separated from them to form the Alexandria Baptist Society. Susan Black, a Negro slave was baptized as its first colored member in May 1803, and soon other coloreds were invited to join this integrated group. In 1806, the colored members formally established the Colored Baptist Society of Alexandria as a ‘conjoined’ church with the Alexandria Baptist Society. This created the first black Baptist church north of Richmond, Virginia. In 1815, its numbers grew when slaves from Mount Vernon Plantation joined the Colored Baptist Society. During 1818, members of the Colored Baptist Society were able to rent property at 313 South Alfred Street to hold their meetings. After 18 years of renting, they purchased the site in September 1842.
Rev. William Evans served as the early leader (1806-1859) of the Colored Baptist Society, during which time they continued as a conjoined body with the white Alexandria Baptist Society. In 1850, the Colored Baptist Society, now known as the African Baptist Society, was granted complete independence from the ‘conjoined’ body and adopted the Alexandria Baptist Church’s constitution. Membership of the newly independent colored assembly stood at 83 persons.
By 1855, membership had grown to 200 members as the group constructed the first known building and changed its name to the First African Baptist Church. The Church paid off the mortgage on the new building in two years.
In 1859 Rev. Sampson White arrived as the next pastor (1859-1863) at the First African Baptist Church. The Civil War began in April 1861 and the church was taken over by Union army soldiers for an indefinite period. During the war, it was used as a hospital and a recruiting station as worship services went ‘underground’ for colored and white churches.
In 1863 Rev. Samuel Madden, who received a commission from the Executive Mansion (White House) as a Union chaplain, arrived as the new pastor (1863-1896) at First African Baptist Church, replacing Rev. Sampson White who resigned. The Civil War ended two years later and all slaves were freed under the 13th Amendment. Some of the current organizations and practices of our church began during this period, including the Senior Choir and the Poor Saints offering.
In the 1870s the church changed its name from First Colored Baptist Church to First Baptist Church and later to the Alfred Street Baptist Church to minimize confusion with the other First Baptist Church (white). Tremendous growth was experienced under Rev. Madden and in 1880 the membership at Alfred Street reached a high of almost 700 members. A larger edifice was constructed, without foundation, around the original church between 1881 and 1884. That building still stands today, as the “old church.”
Rev. Madden passed in 1896 after 33 years as pastor and was replaced by Rev. Alexander Truatt. During his administration, a basement was dug and a foyer was added to the ‘old church’ in 1897. In 1913 Rev. Truatt resigned as pastor after 17 years.
After a one-year search, Rev. W.H.R. Powell became the new pastor in 1914. During his administration, the Federal Government finally paid Alfred Street $900 for use and damage to the sanctuary during the Civil War. With those funds, Rev. Powell built a parsonage on Queen Street in 1917, but departed in 1920 after serving 5 years.
In 1920 Rev. Andrew Warren Adkins arrived as the new pastor (1920-1963). His focus was on education and building strong relationships with the congregation. Alfred Street opened a “lending library” in the church with 1,600 volumes to serve the colored community of Alexandria. In 1921 Rev. Adkins assisted with founding the Parker Gray High School and began teaching the first high school classes there; previously there were no high schools for Negroes in the city.
During his administration, a pipe organ, stained glass windows and hardwood pews were added in 1926, 1928 and 1941 respectively. In 1963 Rev. Adkins passed after 43 years as pastor, our longest serving pastor. Deacon William Willis, our current senior deacon, served as church administrator for 14 months during the pastoral search.
In 1964, Rev. John O. Peterson (pictured right) was called as the 7th pastor (1964-2006). Under his leadership, a ‘new’ church was built in 1981 adjacent to the ‘old church.’ In 1983, following a major influx of Maryland residents increasing the membership, ten new deacons were ordained to keep up with growth. In 1984 the new 8 AM Sunday service was initiated to accommodate the growing congregation. By 1985 membership was up to 1,200 persons and continued unabated for the next decade. In 1991, Rev. Peterson ordained nine female deacons from among the deaconess board and disbanded the deaconess board. In 1992 the church began construction to enlarge the church complex. The “March-In” into the current church complex was held in 1994. In 2000, President William J. Clinton attended our 8AM worship service, and a year later, the church burned the mortgage during its 198th Church Anniversary.
In 2003, the church celebrated its bicentennial with a year-long celebration. Highlights of the celebration included the installation of a historical marker by the state of Virginia, and the release of a history book, “I Once Was Young” detailing the history of Alfred Street Baptist Church. A major community outreach known as “We Are Our Brother’s Keeper” was begun as part of the celebration.
On February 26, 2006, Rev. John O. Peterson announced his retirement, effective the end of that year. His tenure brought great growth in the church in the number of congregants, ministries, programs, the operating budget, and visibility of Alfred Street Baptist Church in the world.
For the first time in 43 years, a Pulpit Committee was selected by the ASBC congregation to search for ASBC’s eighth pastor. In December of 2006, Rev. Dr. Faye S. Gunn was accepted by the congregation to serve as the interim pastor until the new pastor was found.
On February 26, 2008, Rev. Dr. Howard-John Wesley was elected by 92 percent of the congregational vote and was installed as the eighth pastor of Alfred Street Baptist Church on September 28, 2008.
Rev. Wesley’s preaching and teaching has made quite an impact on the life of ASBC. Because of growth, a third weekly worship service (Saturday at 6 PM) was added in October, 2009 to accommodate the surge in membership. Many new ministries have been formed, including Come As You Are (CAYA),a new radical monthly service geared towards young adults, ages 21 – 40. CAYA has made a tremendous impact on young adults in the Washington metropolitan area.
Over the years, Alfred Street has been a leader among churches and has made significant contributions in education, missions, children ministries, and advancement of women. Alfred Street was among the first churches to ordain women as deacons (1979) and the first in Virginia to ordain an African American woman minister (1980). Since then, the church has licensed or ordained 12 female ministers.
Alfred Street continues a legacy of worldwide leadership as we strive to Make Disciples To Win the World for Christ.