The Disciples of Christ is one of a number of sects that flourished in the last decades of the nineteenth century. The denomination focused on the Bible as their doctrinal guide and gave individual churches considerable autonomy, attracting both black and white congregations. Fayette Street Christian Church was one of the earliest Disciples of Christ churches founded in Martinsville, and one of the first African-American congregations in the community.
The Fayette Street Christian Church was established in 1889 by the Rev. Reid Spencer, an itinerant preacher. A local Bible School founded around the same time by Miss Mariah Pinkard soon relocated to the new church building, strengthening its educational mission. Mrs. Nannie B. Hairston, the Rev. Spencer's sister, acted as a one-woman missionary society, visiting the sick and needy. Church histories recall her rendition of "Like a Mountain Highway," a popular 1891 hymn that exhorted believers to "Put your trust alone in Jesus/Never falter, never fail/Keep your hands upon the throttle/And your eyes upon the rail." The church grew in both size and stature under the leadership of the Rev. James H. Thomas, who served as minister from 1904-1907 and again from 1915 until his death in 1940. Together with his wife, Margaret Thomas, who led the Women's Missionary Society, and other church leaders, the Rev. Thomas made the church a center of African-American spiritual life in Henry County.
As in many southern black communities, the connection between religion and education was very strong at Fayette Street Christian Church. In 1900, the Rev. Thomas started a school in the basement of the church. With funding from the Christian Women's Board of Missions, a denominational group devoted to improving the social conditions of blacks, the school moved into its own building and eventually expanded to become Martinsville Christian Institute (later Piedmont Christian Institute), the first public high school for blacks in Henry County. The Disciples of Christ have a long history of African-American activism. In 1830, a group of northern black Disciples started a secular movement in the free states of the north that coordinated opposition to slavery and the forced relocation of manumitted blacks to Africa.
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Geographical and Contact Information
402 Fayette Street