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The Gainsboro History Project

Sweet Union Baptist Church

Sweet Union Baptist Church

Sweet Union Baptist Church, 521 Madison Avenue, NW, was established in 1910. The first organizational meeting was held in a store on the corner of Park Avenue and Fairfax Avenue. The founding congregation, former members of High Street Baptist Church, was led by Rev. Sandy Davis.

The name “Sweet Union” came from Hallie Mannes, who used the term to describe her feelings towards the new congregation.

The church purchased land on Fern Street (Madison Avenue, NW) and initially used two cottages on the property for meetings and worship. After purchasing additional, adjacent lots, a first church building was completed in 1919.

While remaining in the same location, the church has been expanded over the years. A major 1953 remodeling included enlarging the entire building to a 400 person capacity and added features such as a kitchen, classroom space, a choir room, and a pastor’s study. An educational building and additional renovations were completed in 1975. The current sanctuary was completed in 1998, followed by an administration building.

Ministers at Sweet Baptist

Early church ministers included Rev. W.A. Haynes and Rev. W.G. Johnson. Rev. William Gilbert was the church pastor from 1914 until 1958, when he retired after 43 years of service to the church. Rev. Edward T. Burton was officially installed in May of 1959. After 50 years of service at Sweet Union, Rev. Burton retired in 2009.

The first woman to serve a major Black Baptist congregation in Roanoke was Rev. Sylvia Ball, who began her work at Sweet Union in 2011. Rev. Ball started numerous programs at Sweet Union in addition to increasing the church’s efforts to register voters and arrange transportation to polling places. She also ordained the church’s first female deacon. Rev. Ball passed away in March of 2018.

See Also


Taylor, A. L. (ca. 1979). Brief History of Sweet Union Baptist Church. [Pamphlet]. Gainsboro Branch Library Vertical Files, Roanoke, VA, United States.

Sweet Union Baptist Church. (1945). The church: 1910-1945. Gainsboro Branch Library Vertical Files, Roanoke, VA, United States.

Sweet Union Baptist Church. (n.d.). SUBC2—History. Retrieved, February 14, 2022 from