The first black church organized in Alexandria after its occupation by Union troops in 1861, Beulah Baptist was established in 1863 at the edge of the Bottoms, a longtime African-American neighborhood. The church grew out of the founding, the previous year, of a school for former slaves.
Churches were the chief providers of education for blacks in Alexandria before the Civil War. Black schools had been closed in Alexandria since 1847, when the city retroceded from the District of Columbia to Virginia, which strictly enforced laws prohibiting the education of African Americans. Similar state statutes had prevented the Rev. Clem Robinson, a Virginia native, from returning to the state after attending college in Pennsylvania. After Union troops occupied the city, Robinson moved to Alexandria and spearheaded the creation, in 1862, of the First Select Colored School.
When the Beulah Baptist Church was built in 1863, the school moved to that site, operating out of the basement and a small building formerly attached to the rear of the church. The first year, 715 students attended classes at Beulah Baptist, which operated a primary school, a normal and theological school, and an evening school. African Americans attended classes at Beulah Baptist until 1870, when Alexandria's public school system was established.
The school at Beulah Baptist was one of four opened by local African Americans following the 1861 Union occupation. Numerous other schools for blacks, some of which lasted only a short time, were started and staffed by white religious, abolitionist or benevolent societies in the North.
The Church is a two-story gable roofed, freestanding brick structure. The structure's most distinctive features include a large stained glass window on the front facade, large recessed brick panels, and two small decorative brick pinnacles at each corner of the facade. The church is located on the eastern edge of "the Bottoms," a historic African-American neighborhood.
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320 South Washington St.