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Built in 1913 on the corner of South Holt Street and Bullock Street in Montgomery, Holt Street Baptist Church served as the site of the first mass meeting of the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA). The meeting took place at the church on the evening of the first day of the boycott on December 5, 1955. That night, King delivered his famous Holt Street Address, and Georgia Gilmore, civil rights activist and cook, started the Club from Nowhere to help support the boycott. Holt Street Baptist Church became a frequent site of these protest meetings during the yearlong boycott.

Holt Street Baptist Church, circa 2009

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Flier encouraging people to participate in a bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama, after the arrest of Rosa Parks.

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Program for a mass meeting of the Montgomery Improvement Association at Holt Street Baptist Church in 1956.

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"40 Years After," an article discussing the bus boycott in 1995.

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"Strategy for bus boycott was planned at Baptist Church"

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"NAACP Visits Holt St. Baptist Next Sunday."

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The congregation of Holt Street Baptist Church was first organized by former members of Bethel Baptist Church in 1909. Reverend I.S. Fountain served as the first pastor of the church. The congregation held services in Labor’s Hall before purchasing land and building a sanctuary in 1913. The congregation added a new wing to the church in 1946 before demolishing the original church and constructing this two-story brick building. Long before the bus boycott, the church had ties to civil rights activism. In 1919, the Rev. Fountain and his congregation hosted a meeting of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).[1]

On December 1, 1955, Montgomery city police arrested Rosa Parks for disorderly conduct after she refused to give her seat to a white passenger. Her arrest marked the beginning of the bus boycott and the Civil Rights Movement. Civic leaders decided to protest against her arrest and the unfair treatment Black riders received on city buses. They called for African American bus riders to stay off the buses for one day of protest on December 5, 1955.

When King and other members of the newly-formed Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) were deciding where to hold the first mass meeting Reverend A. W. Wilson offered his church, Holt Street Baptist, for such a gathering. Rev. Wilson was no stranger to questioning the unfair treatment of African Americans in Montgomery and served as an officer of the MIA.[2]

Black residents read leaflets and heard announcements about the mass meeting. At 7 o’clock on Monday, December 5, cars lined the streets leading to Holt Street Baptist Church. Roughly 5,000 African Americans attended the meeting with some finding space inside the church while others listened to the speeches from a mounted loudspeaker in the church parking lot. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., the elected president of the MIA, only had twenty minutes to prepare one of the most important speeches of his life at that point. The speech given by a twenty-six-year-old King, called upon Black residents to unify against discrimination.[3]

Georgia Theresa Gilmore sat amongst the crowd ready to listen to the young minister and to help the movement in anyway she could. At the meeting, Gilmore collected $14 and prepared a basket of fried chicken sandwiches. Along with her friends, Gilmore sold chicken sandwiches in the parking lot and on the front steps of Holt Street Baptist Church at the next mass meeting. The group eventually became the Club from Nowhere, a group of Black working-class women selling food and baked goods to help fund the MIA.[4]

[1] Mark Hilton. “Holt Street Baptist Church”. The Historical Marker Database. 3 January 2014.

[1]"NAACP Visits St. James Holt St. Baptist Next Sunday." The Emancipator(Montgomery, AL). 11 January 1919.

[2] Jo Ann Robinson and David J. Garrow. The Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Women Who Started It: The Memoir of Jo Ann Gibson Robinson (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1987), 53.

[3] Martin Luther King, Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story (Boston: Beacon Press, 2010), 47-49.

[4] Edge, John T. The Potlikker Papers: A Food History of the Modern South. New York: Penguin Books, 2017.

Image Sources(Click to expand)

Image via Wikimedia Commons by Chris Pruitt

Alabama Department of Archives and History

Alabama Department of Archives and History

The Montgomery Advertiser (Montgomery, AL). 26 Nov. 1995.

The Montgomery Advertiser (Montgomery, AL). 21 February 2000.

The Emancipator (Montgomery, AL). 11 January 1919.