Members of the Radford University community joined with their neighbors from across the New River Valley on Wednesday, March 30, to celebrate the university’s 2011 Charter Day. The celebration included a series of special events, highlighted by a tribute to Lovely Mount Baptist Church, later renamed the First Baptist Church. One of the area’s first African-American churches, it once stood on what is now part of the university campus.
The RU Men’s Choir, members of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia and an ensemble of university students, faculty and staff provided music during the program.
President Kyle announced that the day’s events not only commemorated the physical location of the church, but also the rich heritage of the university and its longstanding relationship with the local African-American
Dr. Nathaniel L. Bishop, president of the Jefferson College of Health Sciences and an alumnus of Radford University, was the keynote speaker.
Focusing on the university’s centennial theme of “celebrating the past, forging the future,” Bishop shared stories of his experiences and the positive impact his “beloved alma mater,” his New River Valley community and a “rainbow of people” had on his life. He encouraged those in attendance to embrace the opportunity to mentor the students and youth of today as their demonstration of thanks.
“Be thankful for the past, and be thankful for a tomorrow full of surprises,” said Bishop, referring to the promising future of the university.
At the conclusion of his address, Bishop received a standing ovation.
Another special guest was Mrs. Sarah Carter, a local community leader and historian. Carter, through her involvement with the university’s Centennial African-American Task Force, was responsible for encouraging the university to seek formal recognition from the Virginia Department of Historic Resources for the church site, according to Kyle.
Carter traced the history of Lovely Mount Baptist Church from its founding on November 13, 1869, in a storehouse on Rock Road to its relocation in 1898 to the site on the Radford University campus where Peters Hall currently stands.
Because of the weather, the official unveiling of the historic marker was relocated to the Covington Center Performance Hall, where a replica of the historic marker was displayed.
Following a congratulatory message from Thomas Klatka, acting director and archaeologist of the Western Regional Preservation Office of the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, and a formal dedication by the Reverend Corwin Coles Casey, pastor of First Baptist Church, members of the church in attendance were asked to join the stage party for the unveiling of the replica of the marker. Among them was Walter Price Jr., who was accepted as a member of Lovely Mount Baptist Church through baptism in the New River at the age of 12 — almost 80 years ago.
Lovely Mount Baptist Church was the heart of the community, according to Price, noting that in addition to Sunday services, picnics, school graduations and other major events were held at the location. To have the university recognize and celebrate this history meant “everything,” he said.