By Ronica Shannon
Senior News Writer
City Commissioner Robert Blythe used an old piano Monday inside the Richmond Teen Center to bring the audience back to a time when the church “was the only place where blacks felt free and important.”
Blythe, who also is pastor of First Baptist Church, Francis and Collins streets, gave a Black History Month presentation to the Madison County AARP Chapter.
He referred to a small, but large piece of history he held in his hand. The small book was comprised of thin, limp pages that told the story of Madison Campbell.
“He has been given the distinction of being the founder, the organizer of our church,” Blythe said. “One of the things that you’ll discover is the church has actually undergone several name changes. This year, the church is celebrating 170 years.”
In 1843 Madison County, slaves were not allowed to own land, therefore the property for the “African Church” was deeded to white trustees.
The church also has been called the United Baptist Church of Christ, United Baptist Church Colored, First Baptist Church Colored and finally, the First Baptist Church.
He and Pastor Bill Fort, who is the preacher for another First Baptist Church in Richmond, have a running joke.
“When we’re at the same gathering and we both get introduced, whoever gets introduced second says ‘I’m the pastor of the other First Baptist Church,’” Blythe said.
Many people who are new to the community often ask why there are two First Baptist Churches in the same town.
“I say that it’s about history and one of the things I’ve learned about history is that it is what it is,” he said. “It may be distasteful, but there’s nothing we can do to change history. Our charge is to serve in the present time and to serve it as we know what is right. We cannot erase history, but if we feel there are things in history that did not go as we thought they should have gone, we have a charge to do what is right in our time.”
Blythe read out of the first chapter from Campbell’s autobiography: “I was born a slave 10 miles south of Richmond on Sept. 1, 1823. The neighborhood was thinly settled with a white population. You can find a white man owning four and five colored people and some even 10.”
Campbell wrote about a “chain of knobs,” referring to the surrounding Joe’s Lick Knob, Blue Lick Knob, Pilot Knob, the Big Hill Mountains and the Scaffold Cane Mountains.
“It was surrounded by a big creek called Silver Creek,” Blythe read, which was followed by laughter from the crowd because today, Silver Creek is not as large.
After the reading, Blythe led the audience in singing songs from the 1920 “Gospel Pearl” hymnal, and the crowd sang along to songs including “I Got a Robe,” “Somebody’s Knocking at Your Door” and “Old Time Religion.”
Center pairs with chamber, ribbon cutting Friday
The rejuvenated Richmond Teen Center will soon be celebrating a new chapter as it partners with the Richmond Chamber of Commerce. A ribbon-cutting ceremony will be noon Friday at the teen center, which is at The Betty Miller Center, 325 N. Estill Ave. In 2005, the Boys and Girls Club of America formed a teen center site of the newly constructed building. In 2008, the City of Richmond Parks and Recreation Department and Eastern Kentucky University formed a partnership to continue to provide services to youth in the community. “Under the direction of (Teen Center Director) Georgia Parks over the past two years, the teen center has gone from serving 15 to 20 registered students to having more than 50 (students) and serving 30 to 35 teens a day,” said Erin Moore, assistant director of Richmond’s parks and recreation department.
Donations of food, drinks, personal hygiene items, school supplies, games and books are always welcome, Parks said.
Ronica Shannon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 624-6608.