We are celebrating Black History Month by publishing texts of historical markers in the Old Town and Parker Gray Historic District.
So far we have covered neighborhoods and individuals, and are now focusing on churches. Several have received attention lately with the erection of a State Highway Marker.
Today we look at Roberts Memorial United Methodist Church at 606 S. Washington Street. Built in 1834, this brick building is the oldest African American church structure in Alexandria and is listed on the National Register for Historic Places. Also known as the Roberts Chapel, it is a Category A property, one associated with events that have made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of our history. Its story tell us not only about ethnic heritage, but also educational and civic development.
This church has a fascinating history, one that touches on segments of Civil Rights resistance that gets little attention. Members of the Davis Chapel (the prior name) organized a school that operated under certain restrictions. As the nomination form points out, African Americans overcame these roadblocks and continued to assemble.
Some congregations, including this one, experienced a schism over slavery.
Char Bah tells us:
Prior to 1830, the Black Methodist in Alexandria, Virginia was members of the white Trinity Methodist Church. By 1830, the Black Methodist established their own Church called Davis Chapel after their white Minister. After 1844, Davis Chapel Church renamed their Church to Roberts Chapel due to a split within the Methodist Church on the issue of slavery.
Roberts Memorial United Methodist Church
At the end of the 18th century, African Americans contributed almost half the congregations at Alexandria’s Trinity Methodist Episcopal Church. With support from Trinity, black members founded a separate congregation early in the 1830s, and their sanctuary was completed here in 1834. The church, initially known as Davis Chapel, was renamed in 1845 for Bishop Robert Richard Roberts, a former pastor of Trinity. Members quickly established a Sunday school that offered general education and religious training. Frederick Douglass and Booker T. Washington lectured here late in the 19th century. The sanctuary was remodeled in the Gothic Revival style in 1894.
Department of Historic Resources, 2016