Friendship Baptist for The New York Times-Part Two
Watching a building that has housed the history of a people come down is never easy. Yes, Friendship Baptist was compensated well ($19 million) for its land, but it’s still painful to watch the walls, foundation, and history crumble into the Georgia clay. Perhaps that’s why there were only a couple church members present for the demolition of Friendship. The land the church has sat on since 1871 was purchased by the City of Atlanta last year so that a new stadium could be constructed for the Atlanta Falcons (as well as a new Major League Soccer team). Folks at Friendship had been preparing for months for the demolition, painstakingly and lovingly removing, packing, and storing for the next chapter. Above, The Rev. Charles Washington, associate minister for church administration for Friendship, watches the demolition.
***This is the second of a two-part series about my coverage of Friendship Baptist Church’s last service in its historic sanctuary and the demolition of its buildings to make way for the new Atlanta Falcons stadium, set to open in 2017. This project was shot for The New York Times and published on Monday July 18, 2014. You can read the first part by clicking here. Some of the photos here were shot after the piece ran, and were syndicated via the Associated Press.
After my initial coverage of the last service in Friendship’s historic sanctuary on May 25 for the Times, I returned a few more times to photograph the church elders and hired contractors packing things up. Though no one spoke of it, I could feel the sadness hanging in the air. On one such trip, while I waited to photograph a crew removing the stained-glass windows, a security guard told me how, on some afternoons, a group of women who have been long time members simply showed up to walk around the church, reminisce, and cry. I wish I had those photographs.
Friendship’s basement, where Spelman College was founded in 1881 and where Morehouse College held classes after moving to Atlanta from Augusta in 1879. Below, the view from an office on the second story of the church. The earth moving equipment sits where Mount Vernon Baptist Church sat up until a few months ago. It, too, took a buyout from the City ($14 million) for their land.
Morehouse is returning the favor to Friendship, allowing the church to hold services on its campus, in the Ray Charles Performing Arts Center, while it rebuilds. Recently, Friendship purchased most of the Morris Brown College, only a few blocks away, where it will construct a new sanctuary and other church buildings. Pictured below are the Borders Towers from the property, former dorms for Morris Brown, which is barely alive after losing its accreditation several years ago.
Following months of preparation, both on the part of the church and the company in charge of the demolition, the buildings started coming down on July 28. By the end of the day on July 29, only the foundation, comprised of bricks that were put there when the building was constructed in the 1870s, remained. Those bricks were kept for posterity. Below is a before and after of the church.
Rev. Washington and his wife, Mary, were there for all of the demolition. A few other church members stopped by, including long-time pastor Rev. William Guy. It was too painful for Rev. Guy to stay … he stopped by for quick hug from the Washingtons (below) and to say goodbye to the building where he preached for 36 years. Rev. Washington said watching the demolition, for him, was therapeutic, that it helped close that chapter.
In the end, Friendship Baptist came down just like any other building. For me, it was a reminder that nothing in this world is permanent, and that just like Rev. Guy said on the last sermon in the now-gone sanctuary, “We’ve tried to keep before us that the church is more than the building. The church is the people. The community of faith is made up of living souls, not bricks and mortar.”