Civil Rights Tour: Civic Activism - All Souls Unitarian

1500 Harvard Street NW

All Souls Church—one of the few places in the city where mixed-race groups could meet—would emerge during the 1940s and 50s as an important center of the Civil Rights Movement in DC.

All Souls Church, originally an all-white congregation, was founded at Judiciary Square in 1821; it moved to 16th and Harvard streets in 1924.  During the 1940s and 50s under the leadership of Reverend 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 in 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 developed a list of non-segregated DC establishments, distributing more than 40,000 copies to the public.

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 March 1965, the church's former associate minister, Rev. James Reeb, was killed by segregationists in Selma, Alabama. Reeb had answered Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s call to ministers to join the voting rights efforts in that city, which had resulted in a bloody confrontation on the Edmund Pettus Bridge a few days earlier. 

In 1969 All Souls called Rev. David Eaton, the first African American senior minister in the denomination. During his tenure (1969-1992) the church was equally represented by African American and white congregants. Among those Eaton invited to speak from the pulpit were Black Panther Angela Davis and Rev. Ben Chavis of the Wilmington Ten.



Under the leadership of Rev. A. Powell Davies (1944-1957), All Souls came to embrace a social justice agendatif / 1.07 MB Download