Metropolitan Baptist Church – 1225 R Street, N.W.
The congregation traces its beginning to a Quaker-run Civil War "contraband" barracks in the Shaw community of Washington. The 4000 freed slaves housed in the barracks at Shaw (then called "Hell's Bottom") from 1862 to 1863 were ministered to by the Reverend Henry Bailey. Bailey, with ten original members, founded and built the Fourth Baptist Church in 1864. The church was located across the street from Camp Barker, which housed the contraband barracks of "Hells Bottom."
Metropolitan holds the distinction of having had only five pastors in its history since 1864: Reverend Henry Bailey (1864–1870); Reverend Robert Johnson (1870–1903); Reverend Moses W. D. Norman, D.D., LL.D (1905–1926); Reverend Earnest Clarence Smith (1928–1977); and Reverend H. Beecher Hicks, Jr. (1977–2014).
A Beginning in Hell's Bottom
In 1864, a year after President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation freeing slaves in these United States, wards where black people resided in the District of Columbia continued to have disparaging labels, i.e., “Hell’s Bottom,” “Cow Town,” and “Vinegar Hill,” to name a few. It was in the “Hell’s Bottom” ward that the Reverend Henry Bailey and ten like-minded Christian believers began worshipping in an abandoned Civil War barracks.
Later, they pooled their resources, purchased a frame house, renovated it, and established it as the Fourth Baptist Church of the District of Columbia, valued at $2500.00. Among those ten believers was a Mr. Wiley Jordan, grandfather of our own Mrs. Moncerie Woolfolk, whose daughter are both in the I Grew Up in DC Group. During Rev. Bailey’s pastorate, the congregation became known as “heaven-bound in Hell’s Bottom.” Construction of the Fourth Baptist Church would mark our first period as “a church in transition.” Reverend Bailey resigned in 1870 after six years of leadership.
A "Church in Transition"
That same year, 1870, Fourth Baptist Church called the Reverend Robert Johnson as its Pastor. Among the most significant changes during his thirty-three year tenure are: (1) the Church was reconstructed from the frame building it was to the Victorian Gothic style it is today – marking our second period as “a church in transition;” (2) the name of the Church was changed to The Metropolitan Baptist Church (Colored) in 1888; (3)the membership was organized into fund-raising clubs, many names of which are familiar to some of us today, i.e., Helping Hand, Ideal Working, Metropolitan Relief, and Vigilant Clubs; and (4) a strong Usher Board was established from which Reverend Johnson often chose official leaders of the Church. Reverend Johnson went to his reward on December 18, 1903.
Sixteen months later, on April 10, 1905, Dr. Moses W. D. Norman of Elizabeth City, North Carolina, was called to shepherd this flock. His twenty-one year pastorate brought us an even greater organization of the laity to provide a sounder financial basis for the Church through tithing. As a result, material improvements and accomplishments included: (1) the installation of a magnificent pipe organ, steam heat, and electric lights; and (2) the liquidation of church indebtedness along with the burning of the mortgage. He was also a powerful speaker and the congregation grew exponentially. Reverend Dr. Moses Wilberforce DeWitt Norman passed on December 26, 1926.
Dr. E.C. Smith
Just under two years later, on June 29, 1928, Dr. Ernest Clarence Smith of Richmond, Virginia, was elected as our fourth administrator. During his forty-eight years with us, Reverend Smith, while maintaining a sound financial base, also sought to biblically solidify and undergird the spiritual foundation of Metropolitan’s membership. Subsequently, he established the Baptist Training Union, the Leadership Training School, the Christian Education Institute, Vacation Bible School for Children with Mrs. Moncerie Woolfolk as its first Director, and Children’s Church with the late Mrs. Jessie Corbin as its first Director.
He also organized the Adult Sunday School Department and appointed the late Attorney Ruth Hankins-Nesbitt to the Trustee Board as Metropolitan’s first female representative to hold a legal Church Official post. Additionally, and while yet nurturing Metropolitan’s families, Reverend Smith; (1) guided us through the construction of Monument Hall and the E. C. Smith Youth Center; (2) served for 23 years as an instructor at Howard University’s School of Religion; (3) authored books, pamphlets, and articles; (4) preached with power and traveled extensively throughout these United States, yea, even the world. After forty-eight years of unstinting service, Reverend Smith retired on January 31, 1977, and remained as “Pastor Emeritus” until his passing on January 12, 1988.
And then came Beecher Hicks.