Hannibal’s Black Churches

Throughout the nineteenth century, Missouri law forbade the assembly of blacks in large groups for any purpose—including worship—unless they were supervised by a white person. Despite the existence of such laws, despite frequent threats and lack of finances, blacks in Hannibal founded churches, gathered to worship, and defined freedom for themselves. While most churches were founded by free Blacks, most members were slaves. Churches played an important role in black life, providing a key source of social contact and relief. In Hannibal's case, one church became a place to teach Blacks, young and old, to read and write as early as 1853.

Wither's Mill Church, one of the areas earliest African American churches.

Eighth and Center Street Missionary Baptist Church
Hannibal’s earliest African American Church is The Eighth and Center Street Missionary Baptist Church, listed in 1980 on the National Register as a principal historical landmark of Hannibal's African American community. Located in Douglasville, one of the oldest Negro areas in Hannibal. The history of its congregation reflects the aspirations and achievements of this group in the face of slavery and segregation. According to the church history submitted by Hiawatha Crow, The Eighth and Center Street Missionary Baptist Church traces its origins back to November 25, 1837, when the Zoar Church was organized at the home of Stuart Self, two miles west of Hannibal. Attending this meeting were Robert and Mary A. Hendren, Francis Dunn, Stuart and Nancy Self, James Brown, and two black women known as "Maria and Providence." In the beginning the membership worshipped in a schoolhouse on the outskirts of Hannibal. Moving to Hannibal in 1841, the church was reorganized under the name of the Hannibal United Baptist Church. This church was located on the corner of Fourth and Church Streets with both black and white members. The tensions leading to the Civil War resulted in a division of the Baptist Church in 1853, when the white members formed the First Baptist Church. The black members moved to the present location, purchased for $37.50 by several free blacks who formed the first trustee board: James Daws, Carter Braxton, George Bishop, Jerry Wade and John Hannox.

Eighth and Center Street’s first pastor, Oliver H. Webb, led the church for the next forty years from 1853 to 1878, longer than any other pastor in the city. As a mark of respect he was known as "Father" Webb. During the time, when he was not in the pulpit, he worked on a transfer wagon. He labored late at night with other members of the church to build their new building with a small room in the rear for a school. G. H. McDaniel succeeded Father Webb and was notable as the publisher of the Missouri Baptist Standard. At the time, the Missouri Baptist Standard was the only African American publication in Missouri. The Church officially became The Eighth and Center Streets Missionary Baptist Church in 1880.

In the early days Baptists, Methodists, and other denominations shared the building for worship services until other churches were built some years later. Although membership at Eighth and Center Streets Baptist Church has declined in recent years, dedicated members continue to preserve the church.

Early photograph of 2nd Christian Church at 1620 Broadway.

Early photograph of Scott's Chapel being constructed in 1874 that hangs in the vestibule of Hope Street Methodist Church.

2nd Christian Church members move to 404 Willow Street, where the congregation changed its name to Willow Street Christian Church.