“To God be the Glory” for the renowned Wheat Street Baptist Church for one hundred forty-two (142) years of praising and worshiping God and for serving as a beacon of hope and light for the community in The Historic Martin Luther King, Jr. District. In 1869, a small group of parishioners (at the First Baptist Church–now known as Friendship Baptist Church) grew weary of traveling across town. With the consent of their pastor, Father Frank Quarles, they were organized into a mission that was known as Mt. Pleasant Baptist, with Reverend Andrew Jackson as Pastor from 1869-1874. Their first place of worship was the pastor’s yard on Howell Street, where they worshiped under a bush arbor. During the last of the Nineteenth (19th), the Twentieth (20th) and Twenty-first (21st) Centuries, this historic church has had six outstanding pastors- Reverends William Henry Tillman, Peter James Bryant, J. Raymond Henderson, William Holmes Borders, and Michael Neely Harris. It has served as an important spiritual and social institution for the Sweet Auburn Community since its inception. One example of a major institution, which began in the basement of the church, was the Butler Street Young Men’s Christian Association, which began in 1894 by J.S. Brandon. The dominant activity for this organization during the early years was song and prayer on Sunday afternoons. The present edifice, constructed in August 1921, replaced the original church building destroyed by the Atlanta fire in 1917. It represents a late adaptation of the Gothic Revival Style. The church contains twenty-two (22) class and department rooms, a vaulted ceiling, and two thousand five hundred (2,500) seats in the main auditorium. This “Mighty Fortress on Auburn Avenue, where the doors swing back on Welcome hinges”, as coined by Pastor Borders, remains a vibrant religious complex in the Fourth Ward, City of Atlanta, Nation and World. This sacred and beautiful sanctuary is a place of redemption, inspiration, rejuvenation, reclamation, consecration and confirmation for all who seek salvation and desire to embrace the teachings of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. ALL ARE WELCOME!
Reverend William Henry Tillman, pastor from 1875-1897, who was very strong and an eloquent speaker became the second pastor of Wheat Street, following Interim Pastor Dunbar, who served for a short period. Under his administration, the church had prolific growth, which led to their finding a larger place, which was at the corner of Old Wheat Street and Fort Street, thus the name WHEAT STREET BAPTIST CHURCH emerged. During Reverend Tillman’s administration, the membership grew to one thousand. While pastoring, Reverend Tillman became physically weak and resigned. Reverend C.T. Walker – Reverend Walker served as Interim Pastor from 1897-1898.
From 1898-1929, Reverend Peter James Bryant, a dynamic young “fireball”, accepted the call as the third pastor. Under his administration, more than three thousand souls came into the fold. After perishing in the Atlanta Fire of 1917, the church sought another place of worship. They decided to settle at the corner of Yonge (now known as William Holmes Borders, Senior, Drive) and Wheat Street (now known as Auburn Avenue), the present location. Reverend Bryant conceptualized and designed the present edifice. He also finished the First Unit and outside walls of the new church. Unfortunately, he became ill and passed from labor to reward. When his work on earth ended, Reverend Louis Foster, whom Reverend Bryant had ordained, carried on the services. For one year, the church was without a pastor, during which time was the Great Depression. The church was heavily indebted, but it knew where to look and that was to God.
Therefore, in 1930 He commanded a man to go to Wheat Street to see what he could do to help. This man was Reverend J. Raymond Henderson, the fourth pastor, who served for seven (7) years. He saved many souls, raised eighteen thousand and five hundred dollars ($18,500.00), and cleared the church of debt. Reverend Henderson saw another vision and another vineyard with another flock of God and in 1937 tendered his resignation. Again, Wheat Street, left without a shepherd, began to search for another pastor.
In 1937 Reverend William Holmes Borders, Senior, the inimitable, charismatic, outstanding orator, lecturer, educator, civil rights leader, and humanitarian, took the reins and became the fifth pastor. It was under his leadership that Wheat Street Baptist Church experienced the greatest growth in membership, finances, building, evangelism, community service and leadership in the civil rights movement. Reverend Borders led the congregation in completing the present sanctuary in nineteen months, and one week, at a cost of $87,000.00. Other accomplishments include the following: organization of more than forty-five auxiliaries, including two deacon boards, six usher boards, and seven choirs; purchasing thirty-two (32) acres of land bounded by Cain, Jackson, Old Wheat and Fort Streets at a cost of $450,000.00 for the purpose of constructing a low-rent housing project; extending the church campus to include the Christian Education Building, Wheat Street Gardens Low-income Housing complex; Wheat Street High Rise for the Elderly; and Wheat Street Plaza Shopping Centers, North and South. The Christian Education Building, constructed in 1955 at a cost of $450,000.00. Wheat Street Gardens was the first low-income housing project, partially federally funded, and sponsored by a church in the United States of America. The Wheat Street Federal Credit Union, valued at $1,195, 239.00 on 01/31/1982, was among the first church Federal Credit Unions in the south. Rev. Borders was a pioneer evangelist via radio through 1972, and through television until he retired. The Bus Ministry helped to increase the membership to 3,000. The annual income increased from approximately $12,000.00 to $300,000.00. The late Mrs. Julia Pate Borders, wife of the pastor, assisted him in all activities and served for 27 years, off salary, as Director of Christian Education, overseeing the programs of the Sunday Church School, Vacation Bible School, Head Start, the nursery and elementary school. After serving the Wheat Street Baptist Church, the Atlanta community, the nation and the world, Reverend Doctor Borders, Senior became the Pastor-Emeritus in 1989, and continued in this capacity until his transition in 1993. Reverend Willie J. Webb – Reverend Webb served as the interim pastor from 1988-1999.
In June 1989, Reverend Dr. Michael Neely Harris, a man of “impeccable character”, as described during the pastoral search, became the sixth pastor of this one hundred forty-one (141) year old church. He has proven to be a dedicated, spirit-filled, erudite, dynamic, preacher who is remarkably skilled in preparing and delivering inspiring, soul moving sermons. Through these sermons, he has attracted more than one thousand (1,000) persons to join. Financial stewardship has increased and more than 40 new auxiliaries and ministries organized. Pastor Harris has led in facilitating improving the church campus and other properties. His most notable accomplishment is the renovation and designing of the Historic First Unit (basement) of the church in 2000 at a cost of one and a half million dollars ($1,500,000). In June 2002, Georgia Trend Magazine cited Dr. Harris as a leader in acquiring the service of the first Church Administrator at the Historic Wheat Street Baptist Church. He has been featured in numerous publications as a “Dynamic Church Leader’ and is in demand as a “preacher” and “lecturer” throughout the U.S.