Today (March 19, 2006) marks the 170th anniversary of Detroit’s 2nd Baptist Church, which happens to be one of the oldest Black churches in the mid west. Established in 1836 by 13 ex-slaves who decided to leave the 1st Baptist Church because of discrimination (does this sound familiar to any AME members?). The brave 13 were Robert Allen, Jacob Brown, William Brown, Daniel Buckman, Richard Evans, Mr. and Mrs. George W. French, Mr. and Mrs. Madison J. Lightfoot, William Charles Monroe, William Nash, Benjamin Reed, and Samuel Robinson. They presented a petition to the Territorial Legislature stationed in Detroit and on March 23, 1837 received permission to own and operate the Church.
2nd Baptist was stop along the Underground Railroad for slave seeking the freedom of Detroit & Canada. In 1843 and in 1865, it hosted a “State Convention of Colored Citizens” to petition the Michigan government for Negro Suffrage, and after the Civil War, the church played a vital role in helping thousands of migrating freed slaves in securing homes and jobs in and around Detroit.
Nathanial Leach wrote an account of the Second Baptist Church of Detroit’s history. About 5000 slaves passed through the 2 nd Baptist Church, receiving clothing, food, and shelter on their way to Detroit. Abolitionist Frederick Douglass spoke there and they celebrated one of the first readings of the Emancipation Proclamation in Michigan here.
2nd Baptist detailed time line
- From 1836 to 1865, the end of the Civil War, the church served as a “station” on the Underground Railroad, receiving some 5,000 slaves before sending them on to Canada. By giving them food, clothing, shelter, the church was in total defiance of the Fugitive Slave Laws.
- In 1839 Second Baptist established the city’s first school for black children.
- 1841 the church called a meeting in Amherstburg, Canada to establish the Baptist Association for Coloured People to aid escaping slaves, fight slavery, promote unity, exchange ideas, and assist in organizing other Baptist churches.
- In 1843 the first State Convention of Colored Citizens met at Second Baptist, demanding the right to vote. The Equal Rights League made the second petition in 1865. Both were denied. The church kept pressure on until the end of the Civil War when the 13th,14th, and 15th Amendments were added to the Constitution declaring an end to slavery, making Blacks citizens, and allowing black men to vote.
- In 1859 Abolitionist Frederick Douglass spoke at Second Baptist minutes before a meeting with Revolutionary John Brown in a Detroit home to plan methods of freeing slaves.
- In 1863 the church hosted a public reading of the Emancipation Proclamation to explain that President Lincoln had freed the slaves in only the 10 “rebellious” states, leaving the nation half-slave and half-free.
- In 1896 Second Baptist began an emphasis on foreign missions, sending one of its members to Africa, followed by many others over the years.
- In 1927 Ralph Bunche, the first Black to receive the coveted Nobel Peace Prize, was baptized at this church.
- Over the years, Second Baptist can claim direct, or indirect, influence in the creation of over 30 churches serving or controlled by Blacks, providing the incentive, organization and operation through its ministers, leaders, and members.
The chuch has been at its present location since 1857 & is now ironically kitty-korner from one of Detroit’s busiest Casinos.