Baptist Church

img_5723-copy3I’m sad to report that we got caught trespassing at this location by the property owners. Luckily we got caught on our way OUT and we were only scolded (not detained). Once they saw that we were only there to take pictures and not to cause problems or destroy anything they let us go with no incident. Now don’t get me wrong…they were still not happy that we were there, but they let us go with a few words and an evil eye or two lol.

Now before we got caught…whilst we were exploring, I must say that my favorite parts of this explore were all downstairs. The main floor which housed the church was not interesting to photograph [to me] at all 😦 Now that I think about it, it’s probably because it was still in good condition with the exception of a few broken chairs. I prefer large amounts of peely paint crumbling walls which give a structure “character” and tell a story 🙂

The basement was definitely neglected and smelled of mildew from years of rain water accumulating and seeping into the walls and foundation. The remnants of the boxing ring were still there and I was able to get a really good shot of the ropes, laying on the wood floor. The basement also housed classrooms, with a few desks, chairs and books scattered around. A few of the rooms had windows covered with delicate sheer curtains, in lavender, lime green/yellow and turquoise.

Now for a word to the wise… I have learned that we were not the only explorers to get caught/run out of this location within the past few months. The property owners are very actively around, all the time. Apparently the auditorium right across the street (which is owned by the church) is still in use. Coincidentally the day we explored, there was some type of meeting being held there. Which is why we most likely got caught. I highly recommend NOT trying to explore this location without permission.

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LOCATION HISTORY:
In the early 1920’s, Detroit had several dozen Baptist churches scattered around the city. One of the largest was a thriving congregation in a Northwest neighborhood of Detroit. It was during this time that the Baptist faith in Detroit started to take hold, as white southerners were drawn to the city in large numbers by the high wages offered by the auto industry.

Construction of the Gothic-styled church building began in 1915, concluding in 1920. Originally built for another, more conservative Baptist church, it would later become home to a Missionary Baptist Church, where Malcolm X message delivered his famous, “Message for the Grass Roots”, where he called for a violent “black revolution”, the building boasted a main floor which provided an auditorium with a capacity of 1,300, included many rooms, such as robing rooms, baptistery, study, library, organ loft, and choir. The basement was equipped to fulfill the needs of a modern church organization containing a complete gymnasium, shower baths, a banquet hall and kitchen. In 1937, shortly after Temple Baptist moved in, an Art Deco-styled auditorium was completed across the street from the church. Like many churches, it was home to a corner pharmacy which helped pay off the construction bonds of the building and to help cover future maintenance costs.

Temple Baptist was a conservative, pro-segregationist church that [originally] barred African Americans from attending and at its peak, boasted a congregation of 5,000 members. Eventually the black community began to dominate the demographics in the Northwest neighborhood, Temple Baptist relocated to a large facility on a side of town where there was a sizable white population. However, the new neighborhood [also] became mixed demographically and Temple Baptist once again relocated. In September 1985, the deacons of the church voted 29 to 7 to end the anti-black policy of the church, allowing them membership. The 9,500-member congregation was informed of the decision and as expected, there was much resistance. Ultimately the church lost 90% of its members. Temple Baptist Church moved out of the building in 1951.

King Solomon Baptist Church, originally located on Delmar Street, relocated in 1952 to the former home of Temple Baptist after it had moved out of the city. It was the first African American church in the city to be located on a major thoroughfare. The basement served as a youth boxing center and held youth activities that included roller skating and dances. The auditorium across the street soon became a popular venue for influential black leaders, and was where Malcolm X delivered his “Message for the Grass Roots”, where he attacked the non-violent civil rights movement an called for a violent “black revolution.” In his speech, he noted that Black Americans had a common enemy: white people. The church was also host to Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Thurgood Marshall, who was the chief council for the NAACP and later appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court by President Johnson.

Many houses on the street and surrounding area became abandoned, eventually succumbing to arson and demolition, leaving large gaps in the neighborhood and population. By the end of its existence, King Solomon Baptist church had fewer than 100 members. Unable to pay electrical bills, the church was heated by propane gas and powered by a generator. The original 1917 church building, which had been used as an education and recreation center closed around 1999 and has been vacant since. On March 22, 2011, the importance of the now-decaying Temple Baptist / King Solomon Church building was recognized when the Detroit City Council awarded it historic designation in 2011. Though there are no plans to reopen the church, it will hopefully follow the course of the city as it rises again and find a new use.

Here are a few of my favorite photographs from this location:

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