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Sun, 05.28.1837

The Michigan Street Baptist Church, a Buffalo, NY landmark

Michigan Street Baptist Church

The Michigan Street Baptist Church was founded on this date in 1837 in Buffalo, NY, one of the oldest Black Baptist Churches in the United States.

The congregation was formally organized between 1832 and 1837. During that time, Charles B. Ray, a traveling agent for the Colored American Weekly newspaper filed a written report describing Buffalo's African American community. “The Colored community of Buffalo is, in many respects, above any community of our people I have visited during my western tour. They have among them two religious societies, one benevolent, and three literary [societies]. The males spend their winter evenings in debating moral and political questions. Their school is for the present discontinued for want of a teacher. Their children are in attendance at the white private schools.”

Around 1908 a historical sketch of the church was written by the Rev. Dr. J. Edward Nash, the church's pastor. In it he states, "During the ministry of Elisha Tucker, Pastor of the Washington Street Baptist Church, a council was called to organize a colored Baptist Church, to be constituted of members from the Washington Street Church." This church was the first Baptist church to be established in Buffalo. It was a white congregation that allowed blacks to worship in the facility. Tucker initially conceived the idea of organizing a Baptist congregation for Blacks in 1836.

One year later, 13 Black congregates gave letters of dismissal and began building a congregation of their own. They organized the first Black church of any denomination in the city.  With very little money, the congregation worshipped for their first seven years in a rented room above an undertaker on Eagle at Niagara. In the early 1840s, under Pastor Rev. Sharpe, they made plans, and purchased a fitting house of worship on Michigan Street. But with no money available to construct a church, Rev. Sharpe traveled to England to raise money, finding little success.

By 1844, under the fifth pastor, the Rev. Samuel H. Davis, enough money had been raised that the congregation began building their house of worship. A mason by trade, the Rev. Davis performed most of the construction work himself. In June 1845, the cornerstone of the church was placed. Four years later, the building, at 511 Michigan Avenue was ready for worship. The congregation flourished until the California Gold Rush of 1849, when many of the prominent members left to seek their fortunes.

The congregation remained optimistic, and later, the building served as a stop on the Underground Railroad in the years prior to the American Civil War.  Fugitive slaves were hidden in the basement of the church before being ferried across the Niagara River to Canada at night.  As the northern Black communities increased in size, the number of churches and other agencies serving the black communities also increased. In time, other churches and community agencies began to assume some of the functions that the Michigan Street Baptist Church had performed for more than a century.

The congregation celebrated its final church service on February 24, 1962. The following week, its members began holding regular services in the former Humboldt Parkway Methodist Church. Throughout the years, the building has always been the home of a Baptist congregation.

Although the Michigan Street Church has given up center stage in community life, its place in the 19th and early 20th century history of Buffalo's African American community is celebrated and memorialized by future generations. The Michigan Street Preservation Corporation is working to restore and preserve the site as a community landmark.  The Michigan Street Baptist Church building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.

Reference:
the Michigan Street Baptist Church

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