Virginia State Seal Virginia Department of Historic Resources

Two State Historical Markers To Be Dedicated in Bristol, Va.

Department of Historic Resources
(www.dhr.virginia.gov)
For Immediate Release
October 28, 2021

Contact: Randy Jones, DHR
Randy.jones@dhr.virginia.gov
540-578-3031

—One marker recalls the career of Bristol native Dr. Charles Spurgeon Johnson, a civil rights leader and “scholar of race relations” and the first Black president of Fisk University; another marker highlights Lee Street Baptist Church, established by recently emancipated people in 1865

 Markers texts reproduced below; photos available from DHR

RICHMOND – This weekend two state historical markers issued by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources will be dedicated in Bristol. One marker recalls the career of city native Dr. Charles S. Johnson, a scholar of race relations and major contributor to the Black cultural movement known as the Harlem Renaissance. Another marker highlights Lee Street Baptist Church, established by recently emancipated African Americans in 1865.

The markers’ sponsor, the Bristol Historical Association (BHA), will dedicate the signs during a public ceremony beginning at 2 p.m., Saturday, October 30, at Cumberland Square Park, where the signs are installed on the park’s east side, facing Lee Street.

Event speakers will include Bristol Virginia Mayor Anthony Farnum and Bristol Tennessee Mayor Mahlon Luttrell; Jeh Johnson, former Secretary of Homeland Security and a grandson of Dr. C. S. Johnson; Sid Oakley and Tina McDaniel of the BHA; Dr. W. A. Johnson, pastor at Lee Street Baptist Church; Dr. Kris Aaron of First Baptist Church; and Dr. Colita Fairfax, a member of the Virginia Board of Historic Resources, which is authorized to designate new historical markers.

Charles Spurgeon Johnson attended Virginia Union University and the University of Chicago and served in the military during World War I. He gained his academic reputation as “the primary author of a seminal analysis of the Chicago race riots of 1919,” according to the historical marker. He later served as the first director of research at the National Urban League (NUL). As editor of the NUL’s academic publication Opportunity: A Journal of Negro Life, he “was a driving force behind the Harlem Renaissance,” the marker states.

In 1947, Dr. Johnson became Fisk University’s first Black president.

Lee Street Baptist Church has its beginnings when 42 formerly enslaved members of the white-led Goodson (now First) Baptist Church organized the Anglo African Baptist Church in 1865. Under the leadership of the Rev. Charles Henry Johnson, the father of Charles Spurgeon Johnson, the congregation built a church in 1905. Later renamed Lee Street Baptist Church, that building stood for six decades before it was razed. In 1966, the congregation moved into a new building at 1 West Mary Street.

Both markers were approved for manufacture and installation earlier this year by the Virginia Board of Historic Resources. The markers’ manufacturing costs were covered by the sponsor.

Virginia’s historical highway marker program, which began in 1927 with the installation of the first historical markers along U.S. Route 1, is considered the oldest such program in the nation. Currently there are more than 2,600 official state markers, most maintained by the Virginia Department of Transportation, and by local partners in jurisdictions outside of VDOT’s authority such as the City of Bristol.

[PLEASE NOTE: DHR markers are erected not to “honor” their subjects but rather to educate and inform the public about a person, place, or event of regional, state, or national importance. In this regard, markers are not memorials.]

Text of marker:

Dr. Charles Spurgeon Johnson (1893-1956)
Charles S. Johnson, sociologist, author, and civil rights leader, was born in Bristol, son of a 42-year pastor of Lee Street Baptist Church. He attended Virginia Union University and the University of Chicago and served in combat during World War I. A scholar of race relations, he was the primary author of a seminal analysis of the Chicago race riots of 1919. He became the first director of research at the National Urban League and was a driving force behind the Harlem Renaissance as editor of Opportunity magazine. At Fisk University, Johnson led the social sciences department, published widely, and established annual Race Relations Institutes. In 1947 he became Fisk’s first Black president.

Lee Street Baptist Church
In 1865, at the dawn of their freedom from slavery, 42 former members of the white-led Goodson (now First) Baptist Church organized the Anglo African Baptist Church. The congregation met in a series of buildings until, under the leadership of the Rev. Charles Henry Johnson, they built a new edifice just across the street from here in 1905. The Rev. Johnson served the church, later renamed Lee Street Baptist, until he died during his 42nd year as pastor in 1932. After six decades here, the original brick-veneer church, weakened by the periodic flooding of adjacent Beaver Creek, was razed. In 1966, the congregation moved into a new building at 1 West Mary Street.

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Originally posted: October 28, 2021
Updated: October 28, 2021