Thirteen formerly enslaved people established Detroit’s Second Baptist Church in 1836. They left the First Baptist Church because members of the mostly white congregation required Black parishioners to pay dues but did not allow them to vote on church matters. Black parishioners objected and broke away to begin their new congregation at a meeting hall on Fort Street. After a fire destroyed the meeting hall in 1854, the Second Baptist Church moved to its current location two blocks north on Monroe Street in 1857. The original location of First Baptist Church, the meeting house, and the Second Baptist Church are all within one half mile of each other in Greektown Historic District.
As well as worship, the Second Baptist Church congregation contributed to the abolitionist movement. Before the Civil War, the building served as one of the last stations on the Underground Railroad before freedom seekers crossed the nearby Canadian border. Second Baptist parishioners also supported the Amherstburg Baptist Association and Canadian Anti-Slavery Baptist Organization. Based out of nearby Amherstburg and Windsor, Ontario, these abolitionist organizations helped free and formerly enslaved people find housing and employment in the Detroit area.
In 1843, the Second Baptist Church hosted the State Convention of Colored Citizens. Convention delegates petitioned the Michigan state government for “Negro Suffrage.” In September of 1865, the Church also hosted the Second Colored Men’s State Convention, which also supported suffrage for African Americans.
At the 1865 convention, the Equal Rights League of Colored People fractured. Some convention delegates criticized a recent officers’ meeting that occurred without most of the League’s knowledge or consent. They claimed that without representation, Michigan’s African American population no longer supported the League. Convention delegates created the Equal Rights League of Michigan to replace it. Despite the conflict, both Michigan Leagues aligned with the National Equal Rights League, which sought citizenship for African American men and women, and voting rights for African American men.
African American journalist, activist, and educator, Mary Ann Shadd Cary attended the convention. According to the convention proceedings, the president asked Mary Ann to speak. Although it is unclear why she declined, the proceedings noted that “she would say, that so far as the object contemplated was concerned, she heartily desired to see it accomplished.” In 1869, Mary Ann represented Detroit at the National Colored Labor Convention in Washington, D.C. She also led the Female Suffrage Committee, which advocated for African American women’s voting rights.
A fire destroyed most of the Second Baptist Church in 1914. Its replacement incorporated parts of the original structure. The rebuilt church continues to serve the same congregation on the same site. It is the oldest African American congregation in Michigan. The Second Baptist Church was listed in the National Register of Historic Places on March 19, 1975.
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Davis, Hugh. “We Will Be Satisfied With Nothing Less”: The African American Struggle for Equal Rights in the North during Reconstruction. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2011.
Detroit Historical Society. “Underground Railroad.” Encyclopedia of Detroit. Accessed June 18, 2020. https://detroithistorical.org/learn/encyclopedia-of-detroit/underground-railroad.
Michigan SP Second Baptist Church Of Detroit; National Register of Historic Places and National Historic Landmarks Program Records: Michigan; National Register of Historic Places and National Historic Landmarks Program Records, 2013-2017; Records of the National Park Service, 1785-2006, Record Group 79; Wayne County. Accessed June 18, 2020. https://catalog.archives.gov/id/25341124.
State Equal Rights League of the State of Michigan (1865: Detroit, MI). “Proceedings of the Colored Men's Convention of the State of Michigan, Held in the City of Detroit ,Tuesday and Wednesday, Sept. 12th and 13th, '65, with Accompanying Documents. Also, the Constitution of the Equal Rights League of the State of Michigan.” Colored Conventions Project Digital Records. Accessed June 18, 2020. https://omeka.coloredconventions.org/items/show/246.