Our Journey begins shortly after the Civil War in one of the most notorious parts of the City known as “the Bay.” A group of devout Christians led by Brother Peter White, a member of the Fifth Baptist Church, now known as the Vermont Avenue Baptist Church, organized a prayer meeting near the Old Barracks located on 14th Street between “B” and “C” Streets Northwest. Despite the “enemy” being in our very midst, the prayer meeting succeeded with winning many souls for Christ.
From these meetings, Liberty Baptist Church of Washington DC was born. When the congregation had grown to a membership of about 60, Liberty was recognized as independent by a council of ministers; among them Rev. John Brooks of Fifth Baptist, Rev. William Jefferson of Third Baptist and Rev. Sandy Alexander of First Baptist. The present United States Department of Commerce now occupies the original site where the Church had its beginning.
Liberty was officially organized in November 1869 and elected its first Pastor that same year. Through the years, she has been under the leadership of eight Pastors, but not without the support and leadership of her officers and members.
After about six months of constant assemblage, Liberty, which had then grown sufficiently large, extended a call to Rev. Edward Willis of Essex County, Virginia to be its Pastor. Rev. Willis, an ex-slave, was quite conversant with the Scriptures and possessed a natural ability to interpret the Word of God. Although he was not ordained, Rev. Willis accepted the call and assumed the pastorate.
Membership increased greatly during the first three years, forcing the congregation to seek a larger place. In 1872 land was acquired at the southeast corner of 18th and “E” Streets Northwest, where a two-story brick structure was built and remained until 1914. On April 15, 1881, the first Board of Trustees was elected and incorporated. The Board consisted of Aaron Banks, John Fleming and John Banks.
Liberty became quite famous throughout the east, for the preaching of Rev. Willis known as “Bro. Ed”, the singing of the choir, its Monday night prayer meetings and spirit-filled revivals. There were always many candidates for baptism. On “Baptizing Days”, they were carried by buses from the church to the old sycamore tree down by the river, and huge crowds gathered to witness Brother Ed perform the baptism ceremonies.
On April 10, 1897 after constant, sincere and devout labor, Rev. Edward Willis entered eternal rest. The pulpit was thus vacant for about three years.