ATLANTA — One of the cornerstones of the civil rights movement hit a big milestone on Sunday. 

The historic Wheat Street Baptist Church, is nestled in Atlanta's Sweet Auburn District and on Sunday, it celebrated its 150th anniversary. 

It sits about a block away from another, more widely recognized house of worship -- Ebenezer Baptist Church, and is a church that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said had a big influence on him.

"Well, you know it's a great day. One hundred fifty years is a long time for a church to exist," said Wheat Street Baptist Church's chairman of deacons, Jimmy L. Hodges Sr. "You can only imagine, there are a lot of HBCU schools that don't have their doors open as well as a lot of historically black churches that are no longer in operation."

The church was a critical meeting and coordination site for the civil rights movement -- including the desegregation of Atlanta's police force in 1948.

"I'm a retired firefighter, and I had the opportunity to meet some of the original black firefighters and understand the struggles they went through in public safety," Hodges said.

wheat street baptist church
Historic Wheat Street Baptist Church in Atlanta's Sweet Auburn district

Church leadership hopes to start work soon on renovating the building.

"To renovate our stained glass windows and to do some cosmetic clean-up on the outside," he said. "Pressure washing and some roof repairs. This is not a 150-year-old church (building), but it was completed in the early 30s. So, it's an old church and quite a bit to maintain."

Just last year, the National Park Service Historic Preservation Fund awarded the church a half-million dollars to help with the renovation efforts. African American civil rights grants were also given to 50 other projects across more than 20 states -- including historic West Hunter Street Baptist Church in northwest Atlanta, where Rev. Dr. Ralph Abernathy was the full-time pastor.

The Abernathy family told 11Alive a couple of weeks ago that work had already started to restore that church.

"So, we've applied for a second grant, because we are going to need more than $500,000 to actually renovate the church (Wheat Street Baptist) totally," Hodges said.

Wheat Street Baptist Church said that it is waiting to hear if they will receive the second grant. They said they are currently in the process of looking for contractors to begin the repairs.


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