Church champion


This would be his new office. However, the euphoric feeling Davis experienced that first day soon was replaced by the reality of renovating a historic building designed and constructed sometime in the early 20th century by African-American architect and church member Russell Benton Bingham. Some records indicate the church was built in 1922 and 1923, but other sources show the building was constructed shortly after the turn of the century.

Regardless of the year, Davis had more than enough federal tax credit hoops to jump through, contractors to deal with and construction problems that probably would be never-ending.

“I really didn’t picture it as a great law office. I just knew it could be a beautiful, beautiful building in a cool part of town,” he says.

Calvary Baptist Church, located in the heart of Deep Deuce at 300 N. Walnut, looked “horrible” with caved-in ceilings, damaged stained-glass windows and significant water problems.

“It was just a disaster,” he says. He and his wife, Joy, purchased the building in March 2012 for $700,000 and spent more than a year and a lot more money renovating the historic church. The law firm officially moved to its new offices in August.

At one point, the entire sanctuary was full of scaffolding from top to bottom as construction crews were tasked with keeping the bulk of the building’s interior as it was when the church was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978.

Restoring the old church to its former glory wasn’t easy, but the sanctuary appears as it did in the early part of the 20th century, complete with its original wood floors, pews and even the lectern that Martin Luther King Jr. and Thurgood Marshall, who
would one day be appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court, spoke from on
separate occasions. In addition, the building’s exterior and stained
glass have been restored to original standards. The stained-glass
windows were blown out during the bombing of the federal building
Downtown in 1995.

Mixing
new with old, the law offices occupy the balcony, which is glassed-off
but offers a commanding view of the sanctuary, the choir loft and the
entire stage area.

“We
really appreciate the building so much, and to see it come alive again
is tremendous,” Davis says. “I’m honored to walk in here every day.
We’re very happy the building has been brought back to life.”

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The
imposing, three-story brick building often served as the site of
sit-ins during the 1950s and 1960s as black citizens took part in the
newly emerging civil rights movement. Determined to change “Jim Crow”
Oklahoma, young black drama students met at Calvary, along with their
teacher and an NAACP adviser, to plan a sit-in.

The
church also served as a rallying point for other civil rights marches
led by Clara Luper during the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Other
significant events occurred at Calvary, including a sermon given by
King, who was auditioning to become the church’s full-time pastor. As
the story goes, church leaders apparently did not believe King was
mature enough at that time to lead a church the size of Calvary Baptist,
which was among the largest black congregations in OKC.

In 1952, the church hosted part of the annual NAACP meeting, with notable speakers like Sen. Hubert Humphrey and

Marshall,
who was special counsel for the NAACP at that time. Fifteen years
later, President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed Marshall to the U.S.
Supreme Court, where he served for 24 years.

The
church also served as the site for Douglass Mid-High School graduations
until 1934 and hosted several high-profile events, including state band
festivals and the 1942 Negro Baptist State Convention.

Architectural Wonder

Meshing a 100-year-old building with modern technology, engineering and architecture proved to be an amazing feat.

“Everything exceeded our expectations,” Davis says. “We knew we would spend more than we thought. We shattered our budget, but it’s been worth every penny.”

As the Davises sought to purchase the church building, black community members expressed reservations about the deal.

“What they wanted to emphasize to us was the role the church played in the desegregation of Oklahoma City,” Davis says.

Since
the building has been restored, black leaders like Oklahoma County
Commissioner Willa Johnson have given their nod of approval.

“It’s
important the building is preserved, and I’m grateful to them,” she
says. “It was significant to the African-American race and important to
the civil rights movement.”

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