In the 1940s and 1950s, the Black population in Santa Rosa was small and although there were few, they were a mighty and determined group that strived to create a space for their community. Dorothy Wyatt was a part of that group. She was actively involved in and a part of the well-known Community Baptist Church.
Dorothy was originally from Louisiana and moved to Santa Rosa in May 1946. Her father-in-law Curtis Wyatt Sr. and his wife Amelia were already living in Santa Rosa and asked if Dorothy and her husband, Curtis Wyatt, Jr., were interested in coming to Santa Rosa. They took some time to think about it and decided to visit for a few weeks. Their few week stay turned into a permanent move. The Wyatt’s first moved to a home on Grand Avenue in what is now known as the South Park neighborhood. After moving to another property for a few years, the Wyatts then moved to DeTurk Avenue in 1950 and stayed there before moving to Langner Avenue in south west Santa Rosa, where they built a house on the 13 acres they bought. The Langer Avenue home would be where they lived until the Wyatts moved to Tehama County.
Dorothy recalled that Santa Rosa was somewhat welcoming. However, they would always get stared at when they were downtown, especially by little kids. The members of the Black community seemed to make the stay more comfortable. In September 1951, she and other Black community members began organizing their own congregation on College Avenue, where they would have church in the afternoon. It was challenging when they were first getting started. Dorothy mentioned that Reverend Boyce would come by her house and encourage them to start their own church. He would come over every Sunday until eventually church service was held at her at house. The group would go from house to house as auxiliaries and to hold choir practices. After much organizing and diligence, the Community Baptist Church was established and she became a charter member, while Curtis Jr. was the first deacon ordained in 1952.
The church meant a great deal to the community. Since Dorothy was raised in the church, it was important for her children to be brought up and involved in it as well. She became Community Baptist Church’s first Assistant Church Clerk and Sunday School Teacher. More people began attending and joined the congregation, which was great to experience. Dorothy mentioned in an interview with Gaye LeBaron that she loved being able to witness the growth and evolution of the church and also meeting new Black community members.
Dorothy and Curtis Jr. moved to Tehama County, but she would come back to Santa Rosa once a week. Sometimes they would come back together or by themselves. She said, “You know, if I didn’t keep goin’ back to Santa Rosa, I wouldn’t, I’d get lost.” When she went back home, she would tell her husband about the changes and how much it had grown. She enjoyed Santa Rosa and always felt a connection there. She moved back to Santa Rosa after Curtis Jr. passed away in 1989 and was reunited with a couple of her children who were still residing in Sonoma County.
Dorothy passed away in August 2018. She is survived by her four children, four grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. Her efforts and contributions were so significant in the origins of the Community Baptist Church and how it has evolved into what it is today. Being a part of the mission and organizing for the church showed how much she cared about forming a space for her community to congregate and share their faith. Behind-the-scenes work often gets overlooked, but Dorothy Wyatt’s passion, willingness to be involved and contributions will be celebrated and remembered. She was an amazing woman whose legacy will be carried on by her family and those who have been impacted by her work.
Gray-Byrd, A. & Graves, S. (2011). Glimpses: A History of African Americans in Santa Rosa, California.
Press Democrat. (2018). Dorothy Mae Wyatt (1924-2018). Online:
SSU North Bay Digital Collections. (2001). Community Baptist Church Founders interviewed by Gaye LeBaron: August 16, 2001. Online: https://northbaydigital.sonoma.edu/digital/collection/Lebaron/id/3310/