The current building for the Lincoln Congregational Temple United Church of Christ was built in 1928 and designed by architect Howard Wright Cutler; however, the site of the church has been used by the mission since 1868. An important marker of the heritage of DC's African American community, the church is the site of significant events in DC and the nation’s histories.
In 1846, the American Missionary Association (AMA) was established in response (and opposition) to the passive stance other missions had taken towards slavery. The AMA took on a more active role in abolition, even participating in the Underground Railroad by providing support and clothing to those escaping from slavery. They also dispatched educators and preachers to help establish schools and churches for the African American community. Their work continued into the following decades.
In the early 1860s, the AMA was responding to the housing and educational needs of DC’s black community when they decided to construct a new space to do their work. Construction for the new building started May 1868 and was completed the following year, in January. The original name for the building was Colfax Industrial Mission, but was later changed after its completion to the Lincoln Industrial Mission, in memory of the late president. AMA’s goal for the new space would be to offer the African American community a wide variety of educational opportunities including classes for reading, writing, math, sewing, home economics, mechanics, and carpentry. The new building also included services for job placement and a printing press.
Later on, in 1879, members from another mission, the First Congressional UCC, united with the Lincoln Industrial Mission and the two groups merged together to form the Lincoln Memorial Congregational Church. The newly merged church stayed committed to its mission and work in education. In 1897, they established the American Negro Academy, the nation’s first major African American learned society. Parishioner Anna Eliza Williams, a member of the church, also established the first kindergarten in DC.
In 1901, the church once again merged with another—the Park Temple Congregational Church. Mary Church Terrell, a prominent advocate for education as well as African American and women’s rights, and her husband Robert Terrell, a judge and member of the Board of Trade, were founders of the Park Temple. Their efforts to merge the two missions resulted in the Lincoln Memorial Congregational Temple. By 1928, the original building used by the mission had severe structural deterioration. The church hired architect Howard Wright Cutler to design a new building for the site, which was constructed shortly after and remains standing today on 11th Street NW.
The Lincoln Memorial Congregational Temple remained active in advocating for civil rights, including organizing successful sit-ins at local restaurants in the 1950s, led by Mary Church Terrell. The church also served as an important meetup point for activists participating in marches.
This church is an unusual local example of Italian Romanesque Revival architecture with variegated brick with a gable roof, basilican plan, and arched windows. The west facade is dominated by a rose window and an arcaded portico with stone columns, foliate Byzantine capitals, corbelled frieze, and tile roofs.
Today, members of the Lincoln Temple continue to be leading advocates in the DC community for education, social justice, and civil rights.
DC Inventory: October 27, 1994
National Register: February 24, 1995