By Katie Leslie, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
To this day, when Pastor Byron Broussard walks along Northside Drive in downtown Atlanta, past the block where Rising Star Baptist Church was once located, he shakes his head and remembers. If Friendship Baptist was a church where the area’s black intelligentsia and elite worshipped, and Mount Vernon a gathering place for the working class, Rising Star Baptist was the welcomer of an eclectic and less prominent bunch: the poor, the rough-edged, those needing a safe place to shake off a troubled night, he said.
These days, all that remains of the church on Northside Drive are the steps. Rising Star was among the religious centers, homes and businesses that moved in the late 1980s to make way for the $214 million Georgia Dome and expansion of the Georgia World Congress Center, including the mammoth Building C. With them disappeared an entire neighborhood known as Lightning. Now, the sports arena that sits atop Lightning is set to be demolished as a $1 billion Atlanta Falcons stadium emerges. And this time, it’s Friendship Baptist and Mount Vernon Baptist that will be moving to make way. “I’m embarrassed to say (what we sold for),” Broussard said, with a nod to the $14.5 million and $19.5 million deals Mount Vernon Baptist and Friendship Baptist churches, respectively, struck with city, state and Falcons officials.
The Rising Star sold for $400,000, according state documents obtained by The Atlanta Journal–Constitution. “Even with it being in 1987, it was a paltry fraction of what it is was actually worth,” added Broussard, who was not the head of the church at that time.
While a student at Morehouse College, Broussard would sneak away to watch Rising Star’s colorful and raucous services. He didn’t know then that he’d one day lead its congregation.
The church spent more than $2 million to rebuild five miles away, renaming itself The Greater Rising Star Baptist Church, he said. (In another reincarnation, the name changed again to The Love Center Ministry.) In many ways, the church counts itself fortunate. It moved, it survived and grew from a 400-member congregation to more than 3,000 today. But of the 150 members of the original congregation that followed Rising Star to its new home on Old Campbellton Road, maybe 30 remain, Broussard said.
Then and now
About 11 churches were moved to make way for the Georgia Domeand expansion of the convention center, according to state documents, though the projects were built a decade apart.
In addition to Rising Star, the churches that disappeared include Amanda Flipper Methodist, Groves Covenant Baptist and New Solomon Temple Fire Baptized Holiness Church of God of the Americas. Neither Friendship nor Mount Vernon leaders have publicly said they felt pressured to move.
And city officials, along with Falcons leaders, said throughout negotiations that the churches should make a decision in their own best interest and that eminent domain was not an option.