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Washington Voices

Church founder and activist arrived in 1889

Thu., Dec. 23, 2010

This is the grave of Peter Barrow, an African-American Civil War veteran who helped establish Calvary Baptist Church, the oldest African-American church in Spokane. He is buried at Greenwood Cemetery.  (Jesse Tinsley)
This is the grave of Peter Barrow, an African-American Civil War veteran who helped establish Calvary Baptist Church, the oldest African-American church in Spokane. He is buried at Greenwood Cemetery. (Jesse Tinsley)

The headstone in the Civil War section of Greenwood Memorial Terrace contains just a date, the name P.B. Barrow and a line noting unit of service – a simple inscription typical of the time. But, as is so often true, there is so much more to the story of the man who lies beneath the stone.

The story of the Rev. Peter Barnabus Barrow is quite a story indeed. His Union Pension Army records show he was born a slave in Virginia in 1840 and taken to a plantation in Alabama as a child. When the Union Army came through the area during the Civil War, he took his freedom, reached Vicksburg, Miss., and volunteered for military service, enlisting in Company A, 66th U.S. Colored Infantry on March 11, 1864.

According to a story in The Spokesman-Review in 1979, his granddaughter was quoted as stating that Barrow marched with Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman to the sea in that famous Savannah Campaign which crippled the South’s ability to wage war effectively. After the war Barrow married and settled in Vicksburg, where he was elected to the Mississippi Legislature, serving two terms.

He came to Spokane in 1889 with his wife, six sons and one daughter, settling at Deer Lake. He came to the region, his granddaughter stated, “to search for a chance for a black man to prosper.” It was a good move for the minister who became a significant contributor to the city’s early religious and political life, according to accounts in “All Through the Night: The History of Spokane Black Americans 1860-1940” by Joseph Franklin.

Shortly after coming to the area, in 1890, Barrow was one of the founders of Calvary Baptist Church, the first black church in Spokane and only the second black church in the state. Housed at the time at Fourth and Pine in the city, he served as its pastor from 1895 to the year of his death, 1906. Also around 1890, he helped found the John A. Logan Colored Republican Club, which was one of the first formal African-American groups in Spokane with a political focus. Barrow himself was nominated for political office by the Populist Party, and he helped lead the Farmer’s Alliance Movement in the state.

Along with another man, he established the pioneering newspaper The Citizen, which had a subscription list of more than 700 readers. While attending a church convention in Tacoma in 1906, he was struck by a streetcar and died at age 66.

He left an important legacy in the region as a man who sought a better life for himself and his family, and wound up improving prospects for many others as well. His name is enshrined in the cornerstone at Calvary Baptist Church and his bust is among those of Spokane’s significant pioneers displayed on The Spokesman-Review building on Monroe Street downtown.

But his legacy also lives through his offspring. One son, Peter Barrow Jr., was a well-known strawberry grower in the region, and another, Charles Barrow, worked with Louis Davenport in a makeshift waffle house structure after the great fire of 1889 (and before the famous hotel was built). And Charles was the father of the granddaughter who spoke so eloquently of her grandfather.

Her name was Eleanor Barrow Chase, wife of James Chase, who was elected the city’s first African-American mayor by a landslide in 1981. She was a graduate of Whitworth College and worked as a social worker and juvenile court officer, also serving as a trustee at Eastern Washington University and Whitworth. She and her husband were often considered a team, and the Chase name remains prominent in Spokane today – with the Chase Youth Awards, Chase Middle School, Eleanor Chase House work release facility and more. She died in 2002.

Judith Emry, president of the Daughters of Union Veterans of the Civil War, says her organization is seeking to find the graves of the many veterans buried in the area and to help tell their stories.

“Whether it’s a small monument or a large one, they are important,” she said. “Everybody has a story to tell.”


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