Over the course of four transformative decades, Vermont Avenue Baptist Church was a hub for civil rights organizing in the District of Columbia. Under the 40-year leadership of Reverend C.T. Murray beginning in 1929, the church also expanded its rolls to nearly 9,000 members.
In January 1935, Nannie Helen Burroughs drew an audience of over 1,000 people to a meeting here of the NAACP's D.C. Branch. "There are enough colored people in Washington to make Pennsylvania Avenue tremble," she declared. "Lynchings and burnings start as much in the Federal government as in Mississippi." Three years later, more than 1,200 gathered for a speech by John Davis of the National Negro Congress who spoke on the "unwarranted beatings and needless killings perpetrated by police" in the District. Attorney Charles Hamilton Houston pledged legal support for the D.C. NAACP's campaign against police brutality. A. Philip Randolph later led meetings here for his planned March on Washington in the early 1940s.
In 1956, a 27-year-old Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. came to Vermont Avenue Baptist shortly after helping to lead a 180-day bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama. This was his first major civil rights campaign. "Our church is becoming militant," he told the audience. King spoke here again on February 7, 1968, a day after leading a group of clergy in prayer at Arlington Cemetery to protest the Vietnam War. "It may appear that nonviolence has failed," he told an audience of civil rights dignitaries, "but don't give up yet." Two months later, King was assassinated.
On January 15, 2010, President Barack Obama attended services here with his family and spoke on King's legacy.