The city of San Marcos has been one of the country’s fastest-growing in the past several years. As that growth continues, a group of community members are making an effort to preserve the city’s historically black neighborhood from over-development and gentrification. One effort includes trying to save a building that used to house the town’s first African American church.
The Old First Baptist Church building was recently chosen alongside 20 historical structures across the country to compete for $150 thousand each through National Geographic’s Vote Your Main Street. The top 10 buildings with the most online votes will be awarded those funds.
When Georgia Cheatham walks into the Old First Baptist Church building in San Marcos, she’s flooded with memories.
“God, it’s been so long since I’ve been in here. I can’t even believe it,” Cheatham says. “It was a large congregation and a lot of things happened in this church. We would have big gatherings here. The congregation was just… all one.”
Cheatham was born in San Marcos in 1945. She grew up in the city’s historically black Dunbar neighborhood.
“Everyone that grew up here knew each other,” Cheatham says. “Everybody raised each other’s children. If you did something, by the time you got home, your parents already knew about it. So, we were very well connected here.”
She says the community center of the Dunbar neighborhood used to be the Old First Baptist Church.
“Everything was held there: weddings, funerals,” Cheatham says. “Graduation was held there from the San Marcos Colored School.”
The church wasn’t just a gathering place for the neighborhood and surrounding congregations. It also stood as a reminder of the discrimination black people in San Marcos faced during the 19th and 20th centuries. The very first building the congregation worshipped in was burned down by the Ku Klux Klan in the 1870s. It took 30 years to rebuild what is currently the Old First Baptist Church building. Cheatham says, the church thrived there for decades.