When the Bethel Missionary Baptist Church was founded in 1920, Pocatello boasted the highest percentage of African American residents of any city in Idaho – 2.43%. A century later, Bethel is the oldest Black congregation in the Gate City and the building where they’ve met since 1922 will soon be listed in the National Register of Historic Places for its association with African American Civil Rights in Idaho.
For small black communities nationwide, the church served many purposes beyond spiritual engagement. Such was the case in Idaho where the black churches in Pocatello and Boise served as centers for social gatherings, entertainment, club and political meetings, and general uplift activities that were available nowhere else. The history of Bethel Baptist Church and its founders and leaders and their role in the Pocatello community reflect these important historical themes related to uplift and activism that are typical of black churches throughout the U.S. At its founding in 1920, leadership of the newly formed church acknowledged in the press that they were “looking forward to the uplift of our race spiritually, morally, and industrially.”
As early as 1924, women in the Bethel congregation publicly expressed concerns with shortcomings in Pocatello policing. This early activism laid a foundation for continued civic engagement throughout the 20th century. Bethel’s history is replete with individuals who served the greater Pocatello community through public involvement and outreach.
This important history will be acknowledged when the Bethel Baptist Church is listed in the National Register later this year. We are grateful to the congregation for their support of this nomination and for their on-going contributions to Pocatello and Idaho history.
Source: Idaho State Historic Preservation Office
Bethel Missionary Baptist
East Side of Pocatello (c.1930) – Image courtesy of the Idaho Transportation Department
Church Exterior in approximately 1945 (Built in 1922, the congregation worshipped in a raised basement until the present first floor was completed in 1950) – Image courtesy of Robert Robertson
Congregation and church interior (c. 1960) – Image courtesy of Alfreda Vann