Friendship African Baptist Church
During and after slavery, our mothers and fathers did not always have the freedom of establishing and building their own churches. In order to offset this shortcoming, blacks would often use brushes to hide in when they assembled for the worship of God. In 1865, the Aiken’s Friendship African Baptist Church began as such a brush church with its original members meeting in a brush harbor on Kershaw Street on the south side of the railroad tracks.
In 1865 when the Civil War ended, members of the brush harbor congregation were invited to join the First Baptist Church of Aiken, SC, a white congregation. Later the same year, there were riots in what was then Ellenton, SC (now the site of Savannah River Site). Following the disturbance, there was a relocation of many blacks to Aiken from Ellenton. When they, too, joined the First Baptist Church , blacks outnumbered whites in the church. It was clear that a new church building was needed for the growing black congregation.
It was at this time that a “spirit-filled” man, Reverend John Phillips, an exslave aided by the Reverend Lucious Cuthberth, a minister from the First Baptist Church , came to the forefront of leading a community of black people into the Friendship African Baptist Church .
The construction of the original church building, a simple and traditional wooden clapboard structure, was completed in 1866, a date which marks the historical founding.
In August of 1893, while the annual revival was in session, a fire of unknown origin completely destroyed the original wooden building. Following the wishes of the members, Reverend Phillips led the Friendship community in building a new brick church.
Mr. Otts, a concerned white Christian man who came to the South following the Civil War to serve as a teacher and religious leader, was the architect. He assisted by drawing the plans for the present brick building. It should also be noted that Mr. Otts served as superintendent of the Sunday School at Friendship Baptist Church .
The construction began in December of 1893. During the construction of the brick church, worship services were held and church business was conducted at the Odd Fellows Hall on the corner of Kershaw Street and Park Avenue . The brick church was completed in early 1894. The men helped build the church, while the women and children brought water and food for the workers.