From an outstanding article (and check out the moving video) at CNN.com:
More than 150 years ago, slaves built this church by fire and moonlight. They raised the walls with clay and sand blocks known as Savannah Gray Brick, and a white ceiling patterned after a nine-patch quilt, a symbol of safety from slavery.
After the first Bible study of the day, Johnny McDonald explains this to a small tour group seated in the church’s curved oak pews. He was baptized in First African’s chilly pool at age 7 and began giving tours as a teen. He’s 22 now, one semester shy of graduation from Savannah State University. He learned the church’s history through a thousand sermons and older members’ memories. Several times a week, he leads tours of each level, and shares everything he knows.
He talks about the earliest church leaders, who were whipped and harassed by white residents who balked at the idea of a black preacher. He tells of schisms that divided the flourishing black congregation.
He explains that in the 1830s, a white congregation planned to move to a new location, and offered its land and an aging wooden building to First African Baptist Church. The price was $1,500.
Most of the church members were slaves, whose labor fueled Savannah’s agriculture and shipping economy. But many could earn money of their own by working after-hours or taking odd jobs. Some could save enough to buy freedom for themselves and their families.
So, they faced a choice, McDonald says: Use money saved to free themselves, or pool their funds to purchase a church for all.
Finish the article and see the video here.