The independent church movement that began among blacks during and following the Revolutionary War saw several independent black congregations established in the South as well as in the North.
Early records of the Boston churches indicate that blacks worshiped with whites in various churches. However, blacks were not treated equally with whites. They were generally assigned seats in the galleries and other less desirable areas. Unwilling to tolerate discrimination, a number of blacks began to meet in homes while they searched for a suitable place of worship.
The African Meeting House, housing New England’s first black church and the first black Baptist Church in the North, soon became a real influence in Boston’s black community. It was the only sizable meeting place in Boston controlled by blacks and it quickly became a center, not just for religious worship, but for various community activities. It served as the first school for black children until 1834 when the City constructed the Abiel Smith School next to the Meeting House. The school is presently the home of the Museum of African American History. The Meeting House also became the meeting place for political and anti-slavery meetings. In January 1832, William Lloyd Garrison founded the New England Anti-slavery Society at the Meeting House.
The Reverend Thomas Paul was formally installed as pastor of the First African Baptist Church, December 4, 1806. He served the congregation until 1829 when failing health led to his resignation. He passed away in 1831.
By 1898, the First African Baptist Church, which had changed its name to St. Paul’s Baptist Church, had outgrown the Meeting House. With the majority of the black population having moved from Beacon Hill to the South End and Lower Roxbury, the Church sold the Meeting House to a Jewish congregation and moved to the South End. It purchased the present building, constructed in 1868, by the Unitarian Association and called the New South Free Church.
On the first Sunday in March 1915, the congregations of Calvary Baptist Church and Morningstar Baptist Church marched as one body to St. Paul’s Baptist Church, and in a unification ceremony, the three congregations merged to form Peoples Baptist Church of Boston under the pastorate of Reverend Aaron Fuller.
Following the resignation of Reverend Fuller, the Reverend Dr. David Simpson Klugh became Pastor in 1918. Reverend Klugh was an extraordinary fundraiser, a gifted pastor, preacher and ecumenical churchman. During the 1920’s over 800 new members joined the Church. His ministry came to an end December 21, 1934, when he went to be with the Lord.
In an editorial in The Guardian, December 29, 1934, William Monroe Trotter, its Editor, said Dr. Klugh pastored “a congregation that contained some of the ablest men and women that any contemporary minister of our race has ever been called to lead in this city.” “Fifteen years ago,” Trotter said, “he came from New Haven to Boston and found a united congregation; God called David S. Klugh just a week ago from a united, loving, debt-free people. He was more than a worker, he was a soul winner.”
The Reverend Richard M. Owens, a ministerial student at Andover Newton Theological School came to the Church in 1934, as a student assistant prior to Dr. Klugh’s death. He was installed as Pastor in 1936. He had a successful ministry, which continued until his retirement in December 1979. Through the outstanding ministry of Dr. Owens, Peoples Baptist Church became known nationally as a leader among black churches. Prior to his retirement he was regarded throughout Greater Boston as the “Dean of Boston’s Black Clergy”. Peoples Baptist Church bestowed on him the title of “Pastor Emeritus” at his retirement. He went to be with the Lord October 2005 at age 98.
In February 1980, the Church called as Interim Pastor, the Reverend Wesley A. Roberts, M.Div.Th. M., M.A., Ph.D., who was then Assistant Dean for Academic Programs and Associate Professor of Church History at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, South Hamilton, Massachusetts. In June 1982, the congregation voted to call Dr. Roberts as pastor. He was installed October 31, 1982, as the fourth pastor of Peoples Baptist Church since the merger in 1915.
In July 2000, a broken water main on Tremont Street severely damaged the Owens-Roberts Center. It subsequently developed mold and the entire inside of the building had to be demolished and the walls treated for mold. The reconstruction was completed and dedicated April 25, 2004.
In addition to an extensive building program, Pastor Roberts has led the congregation in establishing a number of ministries. Some of these are
In 2004 the Church began to transition to the Purpose Driven Church model. As this historic church continues its transition to a Purpose Driven Church in order to fulfill God’s five purposes (worship, fellowship, discipleship, ministry, evangelism) for His Church, it is uniquely poised to accomplish greater things for the Kingdom of God than at any other period in its long history. In May 2006, Peoples Baptist Church was honored by Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Ministries with its Church Health Award.