New Pilgrim Baptist Church
The church was founded as 11th Street Baptist Church in 1900, and was located on Avenue C between 11th and 12th Street South in what is now the Five Points South neighborhood. Between 1900 and 1914 the church moved between rented houses. It changed its name to St Luke Baptist Church in 1909.
In 1929, under newly-called pastor W. H. Thomas, the church moved to another new building at a cost of $5,500, and was renamed Pilgrim Baptist Church. His successor, H. W. Perry, led the congregation to purchase property at 903 6th Avenue South on the corner of 9th Street South. The cornerstone of a new Gothic-styled brick building on that site was laid on September 27, 1946. The church's name was modified to "New Pilgrim Baptist Church" before it moved into the new building. Under pastor W. M. Posey new wooden pews and air conditioning were installed at the new church.
In 1953 the church called 22-year-old pastor Nelson Smith Jr, who quickly became recognized for his erudite and passionate sermons. Under his leadership the church expanded its outreach to include the city's first church-run day care center, headed by Willo Dean Davis, a credit union operated by Lola Hendricks, and an evening radio broadcast on WJLD-AM. As a close friend of Fred Shuttlesworth's, Smith also led the church to join the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights which organized the Civil Rights Movement in Birmingham. New Pilgrim hosted the organization's second mass meeting, on June 11, 1956. At Smith's invitation Martin Luther King Jr addressed the congregation for "Men's Day" on March 6, 1960.
New Pilgrim Baptist Church had expanded in 1959 with a new wing that wrapped around the church and opened to the main auditorium with movable partitions, increasing seating capacity while also providing day care classrooms and weeknight meeting space. Additional spaces accommodated a kitchen, dining room, pastor's office, library, restrooms and storage closets. A 2-story education wing was added in 1961. Both additions were commissioned from Van Keuren, Davis & Company architects.
In 1963 the church's expanded facilities made it a natural meeting place for meetings leading up to the Birmingham Campaign conducted with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Its proximity to Birmingham Jail was conducive to the spontaneous "Walk to the Jail" after a meeting on May 5, 1963. Folk singer Joan Baez had attended morning services that day and her escorts, Guy and Candie Carawan of the Highlander Folk School, were arrested outside that afternoon for violating the city's segregation ordinances. Billups led the group of 2,000 demonstrators who faced off against police dogs and fire hoses. The confrontation ended peacefully when he led the group to the nearby Memorial Park to continue praying.
Several leaders in the movement attended New Pilgrim. Charles Billups Jr was the church's associate pastor. ACHMR treasurer James Armstrong was the plaintiff in the lawsuit that desegregated Birmingham City Schools. Church secretary and credit union director Lola Hendricks became the correspondence secretary for the movement. Georgia Price chaired the ACMHR usher board and led voter registration efforts. And Mamie Brown partnered with Nims Gay to organize the ACMHR Choir. New Pilgrim hosted the funeral of Johnny Robinson, a teenaged police shooting victim in September 1963. Reverend Abraham Woods said during the service that, "not only are we here for the funeral of Johnnie Robinson, but I think we can say we are here for the funeral of Birmingham."
Smith led the congregation for more than 50 years. During the late 1960s and 1970s the residential neighborhood surrounding the church was cleared under federal "urban renewal" programs to make way for Birmingham's medical center district, anchored by UAB. New Pilgrim broke ground for a new campus at its present site in the Goldwire section of South Titusville on October 2, 1975. On February 11, 1979 the congregation held its first services in a new 1,200-seat sanctuary. The former church building was taken over by the day care center. A retirement complex, the New Pilgrim Towers, was completed in 1989.
The church completed a $4.2 million expansion, including a gymnasium/fellowship hall and new childcare center in June 2014. The project included spaces for a bookstore and coffee shop open during the week as well as on Sundays.
The 1946 building was added to the National Register of Historic Places on August 24, 2007. After being sold to UAB it was demolished in June 2017. A historical marker was erected on the former site in 2021.
- Jerry Austin
- Reverend Smith
- Reverend Johnson
- F. S. Miller
- J. B. Gardner
- Reverend Brown, 1909–
- W. M. Love, October 1914–
- W. H. Thomas, 1929–
- H. W. Perry, 1936–December 1950
- W. M. Posey, 1951
- Nelson Smith Jr, August 1953–September 2006
- James Brooks, November 2007–September 2022
- Marcus Jerkins, October 2023–
- New Pilgrim Baptist Church, Marjorie White & Linda Nelson (September 2005) "New Pilgrim Baptist Church". National Register of Historic Places nomination form - listed August 24, 2007
- Garrison, Greg (June 27, 2013) "New Pilgrim Baptist Church breaks ground on $3.5 million expansion." The Birmingham News
- Garrison, Greg (June 24, 2014) "New Pilgrim Baptist Church completes $4.2 million expansion." The Birmingham News
- New Pilgrim Baptist Church website