The History of Second Liberty Baptist Church spans over several generations of Christian ministry. During these 140 years, we have persevered through obstacles and turmoil, but have stood fast, becoming a recognized, respected and resourceful presence in New Kent County.
1865 – 1900
The inception of Second Liberty Baptist Church dates back to 1866, two years before the 13th Amendment of the United States Constitution legally abolished slavery. During this time, Blacks who lived in the St. Peters’ District of New Kent were required to worship at Emmaus Baptist Church. Blacks were restricted to the balcony, which was common at that time. Our journey actually begins in 1865 when, some of the Black members listed on Emmaus’ church roll and others who had moved from Charles City County, started a house to house prayer band. The prayer band grew so large that it could not accommodate everyone. One of the members, Fielding Lewis, donated his property so that a brush arbor could be built and used for worship. Later, William Crump, a member of Emmaus Baptist Church and owner of Crumps’ Mill, donated the timber from which logs were hewn to build the church.
Rev. William Harvey Patterson, who had been a recognized leader among the Black members of Emmaus, was in the forefront of the movement to organize a new church. Under his leadership in 1866, Rev. James Parkinson and Rev. James Barnes of Emmaus, representatives from Elam Baptist Church in Charles City County and other unnamed representatives formed the council that formally recognized Second Liberty as an independent church. In considering a name for this newly recognized church, the first named that appealed to the members was “Liberty,” since they had indeed received their freedom in more ways than one. However, since a predominantly White church at Disacund Bridge was already named Liberty, the members chose Second Liberty Baptist Church. And thus, a church was born.
The first seven deacons ordained were Nathaniel Banks, William H. Brisby, Fielding Lewis, Henry Harrison, David Meredith, Warren Winfree and Andrew H. Cumber. Andrew H. Cumber later our third pastor. William H. Brisby was also one of three original trustees and was the first church clerk. He served in the Virginia General Assembly from 1869 – 1871 and was also elected as Justice of the Peace for New Kent County. The other two original trustees were Fielding A. Lewis and Warren Winfree.
Leadership over Second Liberty begins with the first two pastors, Rev. J.W. Collins and Rev. Thomas Bailey. Together, they served a total of nine consecutive years.
After their respective tenures, Second Liberty called Dr. Andrew Harvey Cumber to be her third pastor. By the end of the century, Dr. Cumber had served over thirty of his thirty-eight year tenure, the second longest pastorate. Dr. Cumber was the first professionally trained Black minister in New Kent County. Dr. Cumber was awarded an Honorary Doctorate degree from the Richmond Theological Institute, now known as Virginia Union University’s School of Theology.
1901 – 1928
Succeeding Dr. Cumber was our fourth pastor, Rev. William H. Gray, a theological student at Virginia Union University. Rev. Gray was the grandfather of U.S. Congressman William H. Gray, who went on to head the United Negro College Fund. In 1915, our fifth pastor, Dr. John Kemp was called to lead this great body of Zion. Dr. Kemp, known for being a great singer, preacher and prayer warrior, was also a visionary. Under his leadership, funds were raised to construct a new church edifice. Dr. Kemp pastured both Second Liberty and Elam Baptist Church in Charles City at the same time. In 1921, God led Dr. Kemp to become pastor of Parrish Hill Baptist Church in Charles City County.
Dr. Miles Mark Fisher, Hoyt Professor of Church History at Virginia Union University, was elected as our sixth pastor in 1922. The new church edifice was completed under his administration. Dr. Fisher received international recognition as author of the book Negro Slave Songs in the United States. Like Dr. Kemp, Dr. Fisher also pastured Second Liberty and Elam simultaneously. Dr. Fisher served from 1922 to 1928.
1928 – 1971
On September 16, 1928, a theological student in his middle year at Virginia Union University accepted the call to become our seventh pastor. This student had, however, also accepted the call to pastor Elam Baptist Church in July of that same year. He decided to pastor both. That theological student was Dr. George W. Watkins. Dr. Watkins pastured Second Liberty for 43 years, the longest in this church’s history. Under Dr Watkins’ administration, the first Deaconess Board was organized on March 21, 1937. the first three Deaconesses appointed were Sisters Louise Christian, Julia Lewis and Thelma J. Watkins. Also under his pastorate, Rev. Bennie Crump, Jr. – a son of the church – was licensed to preach the gospel. As membership increased, Dr. Watkins saw fit to improve our facilities. In 1944, a choir loft, choir room, pastor’s study, basement and men’s and women’s bathrooms were added.
During Dr. Watkins’ pastorate, members of the church were encouraged to accept positions of leadership throughout the community. As a result, members of Second Liberty served on the local school board, planning commission, board of supervisors, and numerous civic and religious organizations. Of significant importance is the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision of 1964 that resulted in Freedom of Choice in education for all students throughout the United States. The lead plaintiffs, Dr. Calvin C. Green and his son, Conrad, were members of Second Liberty. All of the other plaintiffs were either members of Second Liberty or former students of Dr. Watkins. Dr. Watkins himself served on the New Kent Planning Commission and was a board member of the Charles City-New Kent Community Action Agency. Because of his hard work in the community, in 1988, Rev. Milton A. Hathaway, then president of the New Kent Civic League, was successful in petitioning the county to change the name of the road on which Dr. Watkins lived, taught and pastured to George W. Watkins Road. Dr. Watkins organized the first Black high school in the county and served as its principal. To commemorate his legacy, the New Kent School Board named the school The George W. Watkins Elementary School. God called Dr. Watkins home in 1972, but his legacy continues to live on in the hearts and lives of all who knew him and loved him.
1972 – 2004
On February 18, 1973, an assistant to Dr. Watkins, was called to be Second Liberty’s eighth pastor. That assistant was Rev. James W. Mills, a graduate of the School of Theology at Virginia Union University. He served for 17 ½ years. Rev. Mills helped organize the Baptist Ministers’ Union of New Kent and Vicinity. Under Rev. Mills’ administration, Rev. Frank Christian, Sr., Rev. Diane Dixon-Proctor, Rev. Milton A. Hathaway and Rev. Nathaniel T. Lewis were licensed to preach. When his pastorate ended, a son of the church, Rev. Nathaniel Todd Lewis, became the Interim Pastor. Rev. Lewis reconstructed existing ministries and added new ones to empower God’s people to do God’s work. He started training classes and also hired our first Minister of Music. The church’s constitution was also re-written, Family and Friends’ Day was reinstated and Praise Service/Bible Study were established.
On May 17, 1991, Second Liberty called Rev. Milton Arnold Hathaway to be her ninth pastor. He had served as an assistant to Rev. Mills before being called to the pastorate of Union Hope Baptist Church in King William, Virginia. Rev. Hathaway began his pastorate by cultivating the rich and influential history of the church, which he continued to do until his tenure ended in early 2004. Under his administration, the following ministers were licensed to preach the gospel: Rev. Angela Bartlett, Rev. Kenneth Brown, Rev. Cynthia Gaines and Rev. Barbara Taylor. Rev. Hathaway licensed and ordained Rev. Audrey P. Christian and Rev. Olivia Robinson, and ordained Rev. Zynora Manson. Like Dr. Watkins, Rev. Hathaway served on the New Kent Planning Commission and sought to gain equality for Blacks in New Kent County. Rev. Hathaway helped organize a non-profit agency called the New Kent Community Development Corporation. Second Liberty still serves as the site for alternative education serves for students in New Kent County.