Nw Louisiana 145-Year-Old Church Is Civil Rights Landmark

SHREVEPORT, La. (AP) — For over 47 years a Shreveport building has stood vacant, as time slowly eats away at the ceiling like a cancerous cell taking over a body.

Within these walls lives the words of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and many others who laid the road to the Civil Rights movement.

Old Galilee was built in 1877 by freed Black slaves and was home to the same congregation from 1917 until 1975 when it was closed. Since its closure, it has remained vacant and is now owned by the city of Shreveport.

This church at one time was the main hub for the Civil Rights movement in Shreveport and served as a non-violent meeting place for adults and children. Old Galilee taught children how to integrate peacefully into Caddo Parish Schools.

King not only appeared once at Old Galilee but twice. During one of those visits he gave the famous “Speech at Galilee” in 1958, which is thought to be his first speech recorded on video.

In 1962, King made his second and last appearance at Old Galilee, which was memorialized on the historical marker in front of the church.

Today the historic church stands as a building with a legacy.

“Historicity means that just because something’s old doesn’t make it important, but it’s important if it has historical significance. And that significance is historicity,” said Dr. Gary Joiner, department chair of History and Social Science at LSU-Shreveport.

The 145-year-old building holds a significance that can not be recreated.

In 2015, the City of Shreveport paid an architect to create a plan to save the historic building, estimating the renovation work would cost $1.6 million.

“It is significant that we have actually taken upon ourselves to see what needs to be done to preserve this building in itself is monumental,” said Shreveport Councilwoman LeVetter Fuller.

After seven years, the City of Shreveport and the North Louisiana Civil Rights Coalition are still working to keep this piece of history alive.

“If you don’t keep the memories alive, then all you’ve got is dust,” said Joiner.

Joiner, who is the chairman on the Shreveport Historic Preservation Commission, explained that once the city makes this building stabilized the hope for something bigger is ahead.

“The first step really was acknowledging that it has significance, and we didn’t want to see it fall down,” said Fuller. “Then it was a matter of what are you going to do with the building once you save it from collapse. So the group put together an idea of making a museum, a Civil Rights Museum, I think it’s a really appropriate use of the building.”

Joiner said, “I want teachers and parents and religious leaders to be able to bring in people and see what happened in Shreveport. I want a child, I don’t care if they’re black or white, what I want them to be able to sit by or on that desk. I want them to hear the story of what he (Martin Luther King Jr.) did here. And understand the fact that what they have today was because of him.”

In 2015 this building stood with algae and growth growing up through the walls but now Old Galilee looks toward a bright future ahead.