Calvary Baptist Church
Backstory and Context
African Americans first came to Oklahoma as both enslaved persons and members of Native American tribes during the forced removal of American Indians from Georgia and the American Southeast. Calvary Baptist Church dates back to the period of Oklahoma statehood. The congregation was established in 1890 by African Americans who arrived in the area from Tennessee. By 1900, this small congregation joined African American Baptists from California and officially adopted the new name of Calvary Baptist Church.
African American architect Russell Benton Bingham designed this church which was built in 1921 in the “Deep Deuce” neighborhood of Oklahoma City. During the era of segregation, the neighborhood was surrounded by black-owned hotels and other establishments that were operated by black entrepreneurs for members of the black community. Ralph Ellison, the author of The Invisible Man grew up in this neighborhood and based some of his writings on his experiences in this part of the city.
Following its construction, the church served as both a religious and social center for African Americans. In the late 1950s students and church members joined black leaders like Clara Luper a former teacher, in challenging segregation. Members of Calvary Baptist Church began a series of nonviolent protests with the support of the Oklahoma City NAACP Youth Council. On August 19th 1958, black students in Oklahoma City launched a sit-in at Kat’s Drug Store in downtown Oklahoma City. Sit-ins continued for an arduous period of six years from 1958-1964 and leaders like Luper were arrested multiple times for their participation in these protests.