Second Baptist Church

Second Baptist Church

441 Monroe in the Greektown Historic District near downtown Detroit

The 1830s were the years when new groups migrated to the small village of Detroit—Irish and German immigrants from Europe and African Americans from the US east and south—some seeking opportunity and others fleeing bondage. Apparently some African American in Detroit attended First Baptist that had been founded in 1824 but, perhaps, they did not feel comfortable in a largely white congregation. In 1836, 13 former slaves organized Second Baptist with the Reverend William Monroe as the first pastor. This is the oldest African American congregation in Michigan and the seventh oldest in Detroit. The earlier ones are:

St. Anne du Detroit - 1701 - St. Anne at Howard
First Presbyterian - 1821 - 2930 Woodward
Central Methodist - 23 East Adams at Woodward
St. Paul's Episcopal - 1824- 4800 Woodward at Warren
First Baptist - 1824 - Now located in Southfield
St. Mary's Catholic - 1835 - Monroe at St. Antoine

Small numbers of slaves escaped to safety in Canada through Detroit in the early 19th century, but after the British abolished slavery throughout their empire in 1837, Detroit and Port Huron became stations on the Underground Railroad. The Second Baptist congregation may have helped many of the five thousand or so slaves who crossed the Detroit River to freedom in Canada. In 1839, the Reverend Monroe organized the city's first school for African-Americans. In 1841, the church established the Baptist Association for Colored People in Amherstburg, Ontario to serve the spiritual needs former bondsmen. In 1843 and in 1865, state conventions of colored citizens were held at Second Baptist to demand voting rights for Michigan's African Americans. They were denied until the 15th Amendment became effective in 1870. On March 12, 1859 Frederick Douglas preached at this church before meeting abolitionist John Brown at, approximately, the corner of Congress and St. Antoine. Second Baptist held a public reading of President Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation shortly after September 20, 1863. They were disappointed since President Lincoln seemed to manumit only those slaves held in land controlled by Union forces. In the late 1860s, member Fannie Richards, initiated litigation that led the Michigan Supreme Court to order the racial integration of Detroit's formerly segregated public schools. Noble prizewinner Ralph Bunche was born in Detroit in 1903 and baptized in this church.

Second Baptist did not have a church of their own until 1857 when they purchased a building of the German Reformed Presbyterian Society located on this Monroe Street sidte. It was remodeled and expanded several times. In 1865, Second Baptist added a second floor to be used as their major sanctuary. There were additional alterations in 1881 and in 1890. A fire in 1914 led to another remodeling of the church. The current painted brick building shows evidence of Gothic influences using a rectangular plan. A front gable formed by steep buttresses dominates the Monroe Street front. You will see a large, attractive lancet window with limestone trim. Second Baptist constructed two substantial buildings on their campus. In 1926, they constructed the activity center that is to the left of the church as you face it. In 1968, they educational and office building that is to the right of the church.

A 2012 book—cited below—displays impressive pictures of this church including one of a basement room where fugitive slaves were welcomed until they could be escorted across the Detroit River to Canada.

Michigan Registry of Historic Sites: P25242, Listed September 17, 1974
Michigan State Historic Marker: Erected December 17, 1974
National Register of Historic Sites: Listed March 19, 1975
For additional information, see: Marla O. Collum, Barbara E. Krueger and Dorothy Kostuch, Detroit's Historic Places of Worship, (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2012
Both the National and the Michigan Historical markers are visible on the Monroe Street façade.
Use in 2012: Baptist Church
Photo: January, 2003; Ren Farley
Description updated: December, 2012

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