Oklahoma: Calvary Baptist Church

Brick two-story church.
Calvary Baptist Church

Photo by Michael Barera, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Quick Facts
Calvary Baptist Church is located in Oklahoma City at 300 N. Walnut.
National Register of Historic Places

This church was the physical and spiritual base for a multi-year sit-in campaign that changed the face of segregation in Oklahoma City. Constructed in 1921 by black architect and church member Russell Benton Bingham, Calvary Baptist Church is an imposing three-story brick building with twin towers capped by brick parapets. In the early 20th century it served as the religious and social center of Oklahoma City's black community. The sit-ins--or what were then called "sitdowns"--were conceived in 1957 when 26 high school drama students visited St. Louis, where they ate at integrated lunch counters. 

Back home and determined to change "Jim Crow" Oklahoma, they met at Calvary with their drama teacher and a NAACP advisor to plan a sit-in campaign. On August 19, 1958, 12 youths marched to nearby Katz Drug Store and took unoccupied seats at the lunch counter. When they were not served, they remained, quiet and orderly. After another sit-in the next day, Katzs' manager agreed to serve them. At the second stop, S.H. Kress and Company, the youths were not so lucky. The store yielded but all stools at its lunch counter were removed. The sit-ins were repeated almost on a daily basis, at food service spots all over the city. Once, the students and other local African Americans showed up for the "Everyone Welcome" grand opening of a new cafeteria on Lincoln Boulevard. They were turned away. In time, white protestors joined the demonstrators. By mid-1961, more than 175 city restaurants had opened their doors to African Americans, and before long, segregated eating places had virtually disappeared in Oklahoma City. Calvary was the "start" and the "finish" for most of the sit-ins, despite threats to cancel the church's insurance and to bomb the building. In 1995, Calvary Baptist Church was slightly damaged by the terrorist bombing of the Murrah Federal Building.


Visit the National Park Service We Shall Overcome travel itinerary to learn more about the civil rights movement themes and histories. Also, be sure to check out Civil Rights subject site.

Last updated: May 9, 2020