Building Faith and Justice on International Boulevard

This Origins and Legacy of Allen Temple Baptist Church…


The area around International Boulevard and 85th Avenue is somewhat typical for East Oakland. There are many local businesses, auto shops, and beauty salons along with the local headquarters for the Boys & Girls Club of Oakland. There are also many of the same the crises that plague this very large neighborhood that borders San Leandro—crime, drugs, and especially prostitution.

Here is where the Allen Temple Baptist Church resides. The structure was built without commemorating its ministry with steeples or elaborate architecture, but instead with a legacy of social conscious leaders with an ever growing charitable ministry. The church preaches with actions as much as with sermons as if in adherence to Gospel of James’ declaration that “faith without works is dead.”

Here are some of the programs the church offers:

  • Health Education that is focused on physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being
  • HIV/AIDS critical medical and social services support
  • International Outreach for cultural, economic, and religious exchange—especially in Africa
  • Prison Outreach and support
  • Faith-based recovery from drugs and alcohol in congruence with 12 step processes
  • Tax Return services for the economically disadvantage

Founding Father Lays Roots in the West

The church is named after its founder, Reverend James Lewis Allen. His story began elsewhere though his memory would always be attached to Oakland. Reverend Allen was born in Loudon County, Virginia on July 12, 1853 to David and Mary Allen of Leesburg. The situation he was born into and shared with his parent was less Godly. Allen and his parents were Slaves. He was born into slavery.

By 1869, Allen was 16 years old and had already begun his ministry. His first assignment was as a schoolteacher and minister in Clarksville, Texas. His assignment would move later to El Paso. By age 42, Allen was a seasoned minster with the American Baptist Church and was sent to Oakland, California to the pastor. Several years later, Reverend Allen would find himself be assigned the responsibility of beginning a new church and ministry in East Oakland.

Allen started 85th Avenue Church in 1917 in house on the corner of 85th Avenue and A Street. The 1920 census would report that 5,489 black residents lived in Oakland and there were 9 black churches that were mostly located in West Oakland. Allen was one the few black churches in East Oakland. It was the only one founded by a black man.

“The church started in a little hall on E. 14th Street and Seminary Avenue,” reported the black newspaper The Western Appeal, “With an oil heater and a few borrowed chairs, with still fewer member, during the years that tried man’s souls-when conditions were such that only a man who was really interested in the morals of a community.

Little is known about church’s early years except that it was a house where people of faith could meet and listen to the Gospel. Reverend Allen passed away in 1940 at the age of 88. Reverend Allen’s impact on the local community can be seen in his funeral. Services were held at the Beth Eden Baptist Church where many local ministers eulogized the work and live of the departed minister.


New Faces in the 85th Avenue Church

Though Allen was founder of the East Oakland church, he didn’t remain pastor indefinitely. Dr. R.H. Thomas served as pastor for two years starting in 1927. Thomas wanted to expand the churches ministry to include black liberation in the realm of social justice. This is very relevant. During the same time, the Ku Klux Klan had set up a headquarters in Oakland had begun recruiting over 2,000 members, including a Congressman’s son. Reverend Thomas resigned in 1929. His last act was to pay tribute to his predecessor. The church was renamed Allen Temple Baptist Church that year.

The church would remain in good hands through the decades with many worthy pastures, until one its most influential and visionary leaders.

Reverend Dr. J. Alfred Smith Sr and a New Vision for East Oakland

In 1971, Reverend Smith became pastor of the church after sharing the position for several years before Dr. J. Alfred Smith Sr. He held the position until 2008, making him the longest standing pastor for Allen Temple.

As this was the period when the civil rights movement as it was known was slowing down, Reverend Smith moved Allen Temple forward. He developed a relationship with the Blank Panther Party, headquarter next to the church, and embracing the principles of Black Liberation Theology, focused on social justice goals. The ministry’s membership grew as political leaders, educators, lawyers, doctors joined the congregation. The pupil began to graced with many spiritual leaders of the era including Bishop Desmond Tutu, Dr. Howard Thurman and others.

As the 1970s became the 1980s, East Oakland saw an increase of Latino residents. Allen Temple would eventually embrace Reverend Hurtado as pastor of a new outreach ministry to focus on the spiritual and social needs of this new Hispanic community.

Now it is Now and Now is Now

Allen Temple is now led Reverend Smith Junior and continues to expand its ministry. It offers services and programs and has been a vision of hope and spiritual serenity for many throughout Oakland. The ministry now has outreach missions, bringing their unique vision of Baptist Christianity throughout the world and sponsors humanitarian outreach support for HIV victims in Africa. It sought to embrace Reverend Allen vision ministry and explored new means to communicated and support its Christian ministry within and outside of East Oakland.


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Further Reading

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