Local News

Sunday Still Segregated at Raleigh Churches

Posted July 18, 1999 7:00 a.m. EDT

— The Christian Church is based on history, but part of that history has divided blacks and whites from worshipping in the same buildings. Now two Raleigh churches are trying to bring the races together to pray as one congregation.

Faith in God brought Velma Bullock and Jane Perser together. Both are Christians, both are Baptists, and both work to help feed hungry families in the Triangle.

"My Christianity compels me to reach out to people around me," says Bullock.

"God expects you to use your talents in whatever way you can to help others," says Perser.

But the same faith that brings these friends together tears them apart on Sunday mornings.

Bullock attends the predominantly black First Baptist Church on Wilmington Street; Perser worships at the predominantly white First Baptist Church located a block away on Salisbury Street.

Their situation is not uncommon and is one reason Sunday is widely known as the most segregated day of the week.

According to First Baptist Church minutes, in the early 1800s whites and blacks worshipped in the same sanctuary at the church on Salisbury Street.

When African Americans won their freedom following the Civil War, they also wanted freedom to start their own church. That is when the First Baptist Church on Wilmington Street was born.

More than 100 years later, there are many explanations for why segregation in the Christian Church remains so common.

"I tell you, the one answer is racism," says Dr. Dumas Harshaw, pastor of First Baptist Church on Wilmington Street.

He says churches have been reluctant to address their racist past.

"The church has never advanced beyond a racist motto in terms of ministry," he says. "The church is still shattered by that, fragmented by that, bound to that. It's simply sin, it's racism!"

Dr. Daniel Day, pastor of First Baptist Church on Salisbury Street has another perspective.

"I really think the major impediment to it is basically worship styles, theological styles, emotional styles, psychological styles," says Day.

Velma Bullock and Jane Perser also have different reasons for the Sunday segregation.

"I think the intellectual content of the sermons makes a difference and, as I see it, this is one of the -- I'll call it a barrier to our becoming one congregation," says Perser.

"The gospel music as opposed to the very formal type setting," says Bullock of the differences. "I don't believe that it is an educational thing for our church. I think it's a cultural thing."

Pastor Day says the church is working to correct the color barrier with projects such as an event to feed needy families.

"But to say that we're effectively accomplishing that, now I'd have to say no, we're not. But we're working at it," he says.

Garland Hunt, pastor of Raleigh International Church, is working to improve Christian race relations starting at ground zero.

"It's going to take a volitional, intentional act by the church to really bridge the gaps," he says.

The newly formed International Church is trying to attract a multiracial congregation through television commercials which relay the following message: "At Raleigh International Church we're not a white church or a black church but an international house of prayer for all people."

Pastor Hunt says churches should not only open the door to other races, but actually invite people in.

"To let others of other races know that not only are you welcome, but you're invited, we want you here. As a matter of fact, we're going to love you so much you won't want to leave here," says Hunt.

Because, as Velma Bullock puts it, they all have the same goal.

"We're all hopeful that we're going to heaven and I think that there will not be separation in heaven. That's my main reason for thinking the races need to get together here," she says.

The pastors of both First Baptist churches say they hope to attract more diverse congregations in the future.