Full History

History of Davie Street Presbyterian Church

The idea of an African American Presbyterian Church in Raleigh was presented to the Board of Church Extension in early 1868. There was apprehension in the minds of the leaders of the General Church about the creation of an all-black church in the South because of the possibility of rehashing pre-Civil War hostilities.

Elder Godfrey Rainey, from the Freedmen Board of Washington D.C. and his wife came to Raleigh to explore the possibilities of a church but found that the South was not conducive to the idea at that time. He did recommend that a church school be established, and his recommendation was approved and implemented. Elder Rainey conferred with George Lane, a civic leader and large landowner. Mr. Lane secured a location on the southeast corner of Haywood and Davie Streets, where the school was opened. Elder and Mrs. Rainey and H. Spencer, a free-born African American, were the first teachers in the school. The primary focus of the school was the prescribed curriculum of the North Carolina Department of Education infused with Bible studies, industrial education, and music. Elder Rainey relinquished his post to Rev. Dr. James Crestfield.

Subsequently, the Church was organized and located on the corner of Davie and Person Streets. The land was secured from the Raleigh Methodist Church, and regular worship began in 1872.  Dr. Crestfield, who was white, explained to the members of the newly created Davie Street Presbyterian Church that his true intent as a missionary was to prepare members of the church to assume the leadership of the church, and then move on to another area.

Leadership was passed to the Rev. A. A. Scott, a graduate of Lincoln University, who served as pastor for 15 years. Rev. Davis followed Rev. Scott.  Rev. Davis’ tenure was cut short due to ill health, and in 1889, Rev. Dr. Henry Clay Mabry replaced Rev. Davis. Dr. Mabry was a Lincoln University graduate who had been a professor at Biddle University (which later became Johnson C. Smith University). Under Dr. Mabry’s leadership, the church purchased a pipe organ, which was a first for any African American Church in Raleigh.  Also, under Dr. Mabry’s guidance, Lucille Hunter developed as a dramatist and became Raleigh’s Poet Laureate. Dr. Mabry retired in 1909 and was succeeded by Rev. Dr. L.E. Fairley, former pastor of Kinston White Rock Presbyterian Church and head of Fayetteville State University (formerly the State Colored Normal School).

Dr. Fairley directed the building of the original church structure. In addition, in 1919, he participated in the formation of Raleigh’s first slate of African American municipal officers that included Elder Calvin E. Lightner, candidate for Commissioner of Public Safety;  Dr. M.T. Pope, a Mayoral Candidate; and L.M. Cheek (editor of the Raleigh Independent), who was slated for the Public Commissioner position. The slate failed. In 1922, Dr. Fairley resigned and took a less strenuous position in Goldsboro.

From1922-1927, the Rev. Bemon R. James and W. W. Mayle served the church. For the first time in the history of the church, the business and spiritual sides of the church were primarily handled by ruling Elders.  However, Rev. Mayle’s duration was short.

Rev. J. W. Smith came to the church in 1927. He introduced a new approach of establishing a junior church and involving the young people in every phase of the broader church’s program. He organized and sponsored the first Negro Boy Scout Troop in Raleigh. During Rev. Smith’s tenure, the Council of Presbyterian Men became a viable organization. Rev. Smith departed in 1941, and the following ministers have served in varying lengths of tenure: Rev. A .S. Powe, Rev. C. Andre Kearns, Rev. William Gillespie, Rev. Robert Shirley, Rev. Oscar McCloud, Rev. Frank Hutchison, Rev. John A. Bagby, Rev. James W. Brown and our most recent pastor, Rev. Dr. Byron A. Wade.

On March 24, 1996, Rev. Byron A. Wade, a M.A. graduate of Union Theological Seminary (Richmond, Va.) and a M.Div. graduate of Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary (Atlanta, Ga.) became the seventeenth pastor of Davie Street Presbyterian Church (USA). Under Rev. Wade’s direction, the church was recognized in the National Registry of Historic Places. Davie Street was also able to complete the addition of a new Fellowship Hall and Sunday School rooms. During his tenure, Rev. Wade completed the Doctor of Ministry degree through McCormick Theological Seminary (Chicago, Ill.) and served as Vice Moderator of the 218th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA).

On October 1, 2020, at the height of the COVID-19 Pandemic, Rev. Wade was called to become the General Presbyter of the Presbytery of Western North Carolina.  During the year that followed, Davie Street was able to sustain its weekly Sunday Worship, Session and Congregational Meetings through the efforts of numerous New Hope Presbytery Clergy who extended themselves to serve as guest ministers and meeting moderators.

On September 12, 2021, we were blessed to receive an accomplished Interim Pastor, Reverend Dorothy J. Killian, who through the Holy Spirit, is helping Davie Street to determine how God is calling us to be a resource in this community that we serve, and understand how to use our gifts and talents to develop a fruitful bond and a thriving partnership with a new installed pastor.