BOISE, Idaho — A well-known Boise building is having a very big birthday this year. The former St. Paul Baptist Church is turning 100 years old in 2021.
The building is now the home of the Idaho Black History Museum in Julia Davis Park. The church originally sat on the corner of Warm Springs and Broadway. Built in 1921, it was moved to the park in 1998. It was the first Black church in Idaho.
"It's a beautiful history people don't often think about," Idaho Black History Museum Executive Director Phillip Thompson said. "It was actually my great,-great-grandfather and his father-in-law who came to Idaho in 1905, started the church in 1909, and then they had the finances and the ability and had acquired the land from a local Basque woman and built and erected the church and it opened in 1921."
That same time period is when the Tulsa race riots and other racial tensions were playing out across the country, he noted
"When Black people were being directly preyed upon and tortured and terrorized in other parts of America, we were able to find refuge in a place that people don't often think of as a refuge for Black Americans in the state of Idaho," Thompson said. "The building operated until 1995. They outgrew it. My great grandmother, who is obviously my great-great-grandfather's daughter, was still alive. She lived into her 90s. She was insistent that we do all we can to preserve that building in some way, shape or form. Then she ordered my mother to get to work on finding a way to do so. Fast forward to today: We've been open for 20 some odd years now."
Thompson added that the former church is planning a celebration of their century of history later this year, on May 29. The Idaho Black History Museum will work with an artist named Patrick Hunter for the event.
"We're going to celebrate our 100th anniversary around that again because of this comparison of the Black experience in Idaho to the national norm to really celebrate what we've been afforded here and to ensure that it continues," he said. "Now that the demographics of Idaho are kind of changing, the rhetoric and the politics have also changed with it that we want to ensure that people are aware of our history and that we keep it going as far as being a place that's ripe with opportunity and does not exclude any cross-section of society in the present day."
The Idaho Black History Museum is currently closed due to COVID-19, but planning to reopen to the public around mid-March.
This Sunday morning at 6:30 a.m. on Viewpoint Thompson also explains the thought-provoking story the Black History Museum tells. And all next week on Wake Up Idaho we are celebrating Black History Month and Black Idahoans who have shaped the state's history.
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