All Souls Church, originally an all-white congregation, was founded at Judiciary Square in 1821; it moved to 16th Street in 1924. During the 1940s and 50s under the leadership of Rev. A. Powell Davies (1944-1957), the church came to embrace a social justice agenda.
In 1947 the congregation voted overwhelmingly to support the Report of the President’s Committee on Civil Rights, which proposed specific measures to improve civil rights laws. Two years later the NAACP gave Davies its annual award. The publicity surrounding these activities, and others throughout the 1950s, started drawing African Americans to All Souls.
The church was one of the few in the city to sign on to the American Veterans Committee’s anti-discrimination campaign. In a 1953 sermon, “The Shelter of Good Intentions,” Davies pledged not to patronize restaurants and entertainment venues that refused to admit African Americans. The congregation began maintaining a list of non-segregated D.C. establishments and distributed more than 40,000 copies.
In 1954, when the church asked Police Boys Club No. 10 (which had been meeting in the church since 1937), to drop its whites-only policy, the club refused, so All Souls organized in its place the Columbia Heights Boys Club, Washington’s first integrated youth group.
In 1969 All Souls called Rev. David Eaton, the first African American senior minister in the denomination. During his tenure (1969-1992) the church’s congregation was close to half African American and half white. Among those Eaton invited to speak from the pulpit were Black Panther Angela Davis and Rev. Ben Chavis of the Wilmington Ten.
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