Through faith and conviction, Harry Martin and Daniel Merriweather organized a Sunday School for Blacks on this side of the Cumberland River in 1865 while the wounds of the Civil War were still healing. This Sunday School became the basis for the church which was formally established in 1870 as the First Baptist Church, with Rev. A. J. Stokes as its first pastor. Rev. Stokes led his congregation with passion as evidenced by the physical attack from local bar owners that he endured for preaching against drunkenness and alcoholism on October 2nd, 1887. Rev Stokes served as pastor until 1888.
The church held its first meetings in a small brick building at 4th and Main Street. Later Mr. and Mrs. Silas Stewart were so impressed by what they witnessed that they donated a plot of land, next to the little red brick building, for the purpose of constructing a more suitable church edifice. A more fitting structure was erected in 1888. Over the course of time, three buildings were constructed on that site.
However, earlier Satan had launched his fiery darts from within the congregation to thwart the spread of the gospel. In 1886 a group of disenchanted members withdrew to establish another Baptist church farther up Main Street.
Still, the church began establishing a rich tradition of service to God and community. It was a prominent gathering place for both blacks and whites. At the turn of the century, First Baptist (a.k.a. – Fifth Ward) hosted county-wide gospel concerts and festivals. Later, under the pastorate of Rev. James Mitchell, the church hosted the Tennessee Sunday School and Baptist Young People’s Union convention. Many of the areas most prominent business people and professionals worshiped at First Baptist (Fifth Ward). It was the training ground for ministers who later pastored other local churches.
Satan continued his efforts to destroy the efforts of the growing congregation. Around 1911 the church was forced to take a new name, Fifth Ward Baptist Church, as a result of an obscure legal technicality. In 1914, for some reason, the church edifice was declared unsafe. Another structure was erected. However later it too was condemned. Likewise, financial challenges were thrust upon us. To meet the challenge during the Great Depression period (1929-1932) the church family worked together to preserve God's house and hold the congregation together. In fact, numerous fund-raising efforts were conducted to support both the church and its members.
In the early forties, another group withdrew and organized a new congregation. In the face of these tragic events and the condemnation of its sanctuary on 4th and Main streets, the church was forced to hold services in a number of different locations for several years to include the former Roberts, Ivey, and Vance funeral chapel, the Masonic Hall, and the former Cobb Elementary School. All the while, a building fund was established to raise funds for the purchase of land and construction of a new sanctuary. In 1944 the congregation moved to its former site, just west of this edifice.
In 1951 the church began to expand and added what became our former sanctuary under the guidance of then pastor Rev. C. A. Snoddy.
Throughout the course of time, we have had strong spiritual guidance. Rev. T.J. Goodall followed Rev Stokes and provided spiritual guidance from 1904 until 1911. Rev. Charles King held the congregation together even though it was challenged from without and within. In addition to these pastors and those previously mentioned, Fifth Ward was also blessed by the spiritual guidance of Rev. Vance, Rev. Lee, Rev. Phillips, Rev. George L. Harris, Rev. W.M. Harris, and Rev. James R. Mitchell. Other pastors included: Rev. Roberts, Rev. John H. Rouse, and Rev. James Brigham.
Since April 1994 Fifth Ward has been guided by God through the prayerful hand of Cadiz, KY native, Charles W. Radford. Under Pastor Radford’s leadership, God has directed Fifth Ward on a course of service to the inner city communities where it resides and the community-at-large that it serves. Throughout Pastor Radford’s tenure God’s people continue to grow spiritually and the church numerically. Members are being trained in God’s word and how to carry out His will. In 2001 God truly blessed less than 75 faithful members (children included) to step out on faith and replace an aging sanctuary with the multi-functional, traditionally styled worship center and campus from which the church now ministers. God assembled and consolidated seven separate parcels into a single property now valued at more than $1.75 million.
This current edifice was consecrated in May 2002 and for the last thirteen years, the revitalized campus has served as an anchor for community activities. In addition to refining, and refocusing the various ministries of the church, Pastor Radford has led the church in making its facilities available to other community organizations throughout his tenure. These organizations have included a Narcotics Anonymous support group, a “Celebrate Recovery” addictions ministry, the “Make A Difference Day” committee, the Lincoln Homes Resident’s Council, the Mount Olive Cemetery Association, NAACP-sponsored community-wide Dr. Martin Luther King Day and Black History Month observances.
Most recently in order to further fulfill its stated mission of “reaching the inner city by the perfecting of the saints for the work of the ministry of Jesus Christ” the Fifth Ward family has launched two new ministries. The weekly “Feeding on Franklin” supper is an effort to feed the homeless and less fortunate. The “Another Blessing” clothing ministry offers new and gently used clothing absolutely free to the homeless and anyone who expresses a need.
Through God’s power and presence, Fifth Ward is becoming a church "Where the Glory of God abides!"