Freedmen’s Progress: Afro American Organizations in Michigan

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In 1915 a directory was published that sought to highlight the gains made by blacks since the end of the Civil War, fifty years before. Though a decade or so after our survey, many of the organizations and churches, or ones similar, it mentions were present in 1900. The directory provides a vivid glimpse into black self-organization in Michigan during the Jim Crow years, notably aiding recent migrants to the north as well. The passages below are abbreviated, the full text of this remarkable document, including photos from the time, is available online free for reading and download.

Afro American Organizations in Michigan

Religious Secret Societies Charitable Organizations Clubs

Afro-American Organizations in Michigan As previously stated, there have been descendants of the Negro race in the State of Michigan for upwards of a century, according to history, and in 1836, when slavery was legally abolished in the territory now comprising the State of Michigan, there were about forty slaves and a very few free Negroes in the state. They have increased from time to time and at a very early date formed organizations of their own, at that time chiefly churches, the first of these being the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church and the Second Baptist Church of Detroit, Mich., which are the pioneer religious societies organized among Michigan’s Afro-American population. Bethel A. M. E. Church was first organized in 1839 and was then known as Colored Methodists. They established a church at what is now near the corner of Hastings Street and Monroe Avenue. In 1845 the Bethel Church invested $2,300 in a new church property on Lafayette Street East, on the site now occupied by the Boydell Varnish House. About forty-five years later this church had again outgrown its building and removed to the corner of Hastings and Napoleon Streets, where it is now located, and where it is housed in one of the largest church edifices owned by Michigan Afro-Americans. The structure was erected at a total cost of $21,000 on that location in 1890.

Religious

The African Methodist Connection, to which Bethel Church belongs, is probably the largest single organization governed by Negro Americans, having a beginning with a handful of colored people in the City of Baltimore in 1786. It developed into a convention in 1816, on which date it was organized under its present name with Rev. Richard Allen as its first bishop. Its growth has been rapid and it now comprises more than 6,647 churches, nearly 900,000 members and over 300,000 Sunday-school scholars. The value of church property owned by this society is $11,303,489. It maintains a number of Missionary stations both in foreign countries and at home and raises over $200,000 a year for educational and missionary purposes. More than thirty bishops have presided over the several districts in which the territory of this church is divided, and in Michigan there are twenty-three churches belonging to this organization with a total membership of 2,480 church members and 1,818 Sunday-school scholars, 23 regularly assigned pastors and several evangelists.

The Michigan Conference has a home for superannuated ministers, which is located in the City of Jackson, named after one of the leading bishops of this church, James A. Handy. Four of these churches are located in and about Detroit, the Bethel and Ebenezer, which are the two largest churches in the Michigan connection. and Hamtramck and West Detroit Churches. Then there are churches established at Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, Lansing. Saginaw, Second Baptist Church, Detroit. Jackson, Benton Harbor, Flint, Battle Creek, Cassopolis, Volina, St. Joseph, Day’s Circuit, Niles, Pontiac, Adrian, Whittaker and Coleman. Bethel Church of Detroit has a seating capacity of nearly 700 and has long been pastored by able, educated members of the ministry. The present pastor of Bethel is the Rev. Joseph M. Evans, D. D., who is possessed of a thorough education and is a scholar ripe in ecclesiastical attainments. Dr. Evans is not only a notable pulpit orator but also a writer and poet of more than passing notice. His poem on Bishop Turner, who was recently deceased, attracted wide attention. James M. Henderson, pastor of Ebenezer A. M. E. Church, a beautiful edifice in Detroit, seating nearly 500 people, is also one of the more noted members of the Michigan Conference, possessing a high education, and has achieved the reputation of being a powerful orator.

Other noted divines now holding Michigan pastorates are the Revs. D. R. Ampey of Grand Rapids, L. Pettiford of Kalamazoo, I. F. Williams of Ypsilanti, J. W. Jarvis of Lansing, T. Augustus Reid of Saginaw, Benjamin Roberts of Jackson, W. B. Pearson of Ann Arbor, Walter Crider of Benton Harbor, J. O. Morley of Flint, S. T. Bird of Kalamazoo, T. J. White of Cassopolis, James E. Jones of St. Joseph, R. T. Reed of Pontiac, and Frank E. Clarke of Whittaker.

Baptists. The next religious organization in point of numerical importance is the Baptist. While this denomination is not governed like the Methodist, they have eleven churches in the State of Michigan with an estimated membership of 1,500 people, the exact figures not being available at this time. The most important of the Baptist churches is the Second Baptist Church in the City of Detroit. This church has been recently rebuilt and enlarged and now has a seating capacity of about 800 people, and is also perhaps one of the most successful churches in the state, as the rebuilt edifice is already too small for the large attendance of its members and friends. Its pastor, the Rev. Robert L. Bradby, has proved one of the most popular prelates who has ever had a charge among Michigan Afro-Americans, and he found it was with him a comparatively easy task to raise from among the member’s and friends of the Second Baptist Church over $20,000 with which to rebuild that edifice, and that was accomplished before he had been the pastor of said church three years. The Second Baptist Society of Detroit is the pioneer Afro-American Baptist Church in the state, it having been established back in the ’40s. There are ten other churches, all of more or less importance in point of the size of their congregations, at the following cities: Battle Creek, Rev. B. M. Meeds, pastor; Ypsilanti, Rev. J. O. Derrick, pastor; Ann Arbor, Rev. Moses Peters, pastor; Lansing, Rev. Peter Everett, pastor; Saginaw, Rev. W. H. Hill, pastor; Benton Harbor, Rev. B. J. Sampson, pastor; Kalamazoo, Rev. E. W. Edwards, pastor, and Grand Rapids, Rev. T. C. Johnson, pastor.

Other prelates connected with the church are Rev. G. W. Carr, of Lansing, and Rev. O. T. Judge, of Battle Creek. This society has a very pretty new edifice, called the Hillsdale Baptist Church, at Lan- sing, Mich., and also a beautiful little church in Adrian, Mich., which is not listed as being pastored by Rev. Meeds, who furnished much of the information. In addition to these there are several Baptist churches in the southwestern palt of the state and northern Indiana known as the Chain Lake Association. One of the churches and burial grounds connected therewith in Cass County is shown on another page.

The Protestant Episcopal Church has one healthy organization in the City of Detroit with a splendid church property valued at upwards of $15,000 and a seating capacity of 400 people, beautifully equipped, of which the Rev. Robert W. Bagnall, a young priest, who is a graduate from the theological university and is one of the most forceful and eloquent pulpit orators of which the Afro- Americans of Michigan can boast. Father Bagnall was one of the organizers of the Detroit branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and has taken an active part in the building of that organization as well as bringing many new converts to the Episcopalian faith and filling the pews of St. Mathew’s Episcopal Church of Detroit to overflowing with enthusiastic members and followers.

A mission Episcopal Church is now being fostered in Grand Rapids. It is believed these are the only two Afro-American Episcopal Churches in the state. Chain Lake Baptist Church, Hillsdale Baptist Church, Lansing. Only one Catholic body of Afro-Americans, St. Peter Claver Church of Detroit, exists in this state. This church was recently organized by the colored Catholics, who had become residents of the metropolis of Michigan and a pretty church edifice was purchased outright at a cost of $15,000.

The Zion African Methodist Church has established two or three churches in Michigan and seems to be growing, though slowly in this state. Besides these Afro-American Churches, a large percentage of the Afro-American people, especially in those sections where their numbers are few, are found to commune with the white people in their churches, where they have ever been made most heartily welcome, much more so in recent years.

Secret Organizations

Masons. Perhaps the largest secular organization among Afro-Americans of the state is that of the Free and Accepted Masons, the grand lodge of which, for the state of Michigan, celebrated its fiftieth anniversary and communication at Detroit in the year 1915. At the end of the year 1913 the thirteen lodges of Colored Masons contained 512 members and possessed property valued at $8,000 in round figures. Many of the prominent Afro-Americans of the state, most of whom are mentioned in this manual, are members of the Masonic order and the reports of the annual communications of this body show splendid executive ability in the personnel of its officials. Mr. Andrew Dungey is the Grand Master of the Grand Lodge for the year 1915.  The other officers of the Grand Lodge are ; William S. Sherman, Ypsilanti, junior grand deacon;

Knights of Pythia. Next in point of numerical importance is the order of the KNIGHTS OF PYTHIAS of North America. South America, Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia. This secret organization came into existence in 1883 and the first lodge of Afro-American Pythians was organized in Mississippi. Its growth has been most wonderful, numbering in 1915 a total membership of 130,000 men and 60,000 women, besides the Juvenile Department of large dimensions. In Michigan there are three thriving lodges of this order, Pingree Lodge of Detroit, Monmouth Lodge of Grand Rapids, and Damon Lodge of Battle Creek. The total membership of the three lodges is now about 250 and each of them are in excellent financial condition. Not having a requisite number of subordinate lodges to permit a Grand Lodge, these Michigan lodges are attached to the Supreme Lodge with headquarters at New Orleans, La. Francis H. Warren, 325 Broadway Market Bldg., Detroit, is the present Deputy Supreme Chancellor for the State of Michigan and Province of Ontario, from whom information may be obtained.

Sept. 8, 1897 Argus. Robert De Hazen was a leading member of a number of social and fraternal organizations. Here the Knights of Pythia. Courtesy Ann Arbor Public Library.

Sept. 8, 1897 Argus. Courtesy Ann Arbor Public Library.

The Grand United Order of Odd Fellows also have three lodges within the State of Michigan, chief of which is the Zack Chandler Lodge of Detroit, W. H. Duporte, Cor. Antoine and Wilkins Sts., is the secretary Is the largest and most prosperous of the three lodges in the state. There is one lodge in Battle Creek and another in Grand Rapids. Other secret societies having one lodge in the state are the Improved Benevolent and Protective Order cf Elks of the World, Wolverine No. 72, Ralph C. Owen, secretary, 33 Catherine St.; United Brothers of Friendship and Sisters of the Mysterious 10, who have one lodge in Detroit; Order of the Eastern Star, auxiliary to the Masonic Order, who have lodges in Detroit, Grand Rapids and other centers of Afro-American population.

Women’s and benevolent clubs.

Sojourner Truth Memorial Association. One of the most promising of these for uplift work is that of the Sojourner Truth Memorial Association. This association was recently organized to perpetuate the memory of one of the noblest women the Negro Race has yet produced. Born in slavery over a hundred years ago. Sojourner Truth suffered all the hardships common to the slaves at that period, but because of her brilliant intellect and inherent worth, philanthropic people became interested in her and secured her liberation in 1826.

She immediately commenced her career as an abolitionist preparing herself to become a lecturer and became one of the most noted anti-slavery platform orators contemporaneously with Frederick Douglas, that were engaged in anti-slavery work. Some years before the Civil War, she made her home in Battle Creek, Mich., and was an active agent of the underground railway prior to the great conflict. She was optimistic by nature and became so prominent as a publicist and advocate, that she was readily received by presidents and statesmen wherever she went

The primary object of the Sojourner Truth Association is to erect some substantial and beneficial monument to the memory of this gifted woman, and the officers of the organization have decided to found free scholarships in the University of Michigan to be contested for by the children of ex-slaves now residing in the Wolverine state. They hope to secure a sufficient fund to found an annual scholarship and thus maintain at least four students in the University as beneficiaries of the Sojourner Truth Memorial Fund… the Association has designed to accomplish, it is proposed lo build a fitting monument over the grave of this noble woman where she was laid to rest at her death.

The officers of the Association are Mary E. McCoy, President: Wm. C. Osby, Vice-President; Francis E. Preston. Secretary, 469 Monroe Ave., Detroit; Sarah J. Hale, Treasurer; Francis H. Warren. C. Emry Allen, L. Margaret Williams and Mrs. John J. Evans. Trustees.

The Christian Industrial Club, one of the most helpful organizations, was incorporated July 6. for the purpose of providing a home for Afro-American working girls, who are either strangers in the city or not provided with home accommodations. This club is located in Detroit, where most of the uplift clubs among the colored people will be found, because in that city the preponderance of Afro-American population is found. A commodious home for this organization is being purchased at 117 Horton Ave. in that city on the land contract easy payment plan. Miss Etta Foster Taylor is its President, Mrs. Nora Burns, Vice-President. Mrs. C. B. Martin, of 117 Ilorton Ave., Secretary, and Mrs. Anna Powell, Treasurer.

The Dorcas Club is one of the most helpful organizations among Afro-American people, located at Kalamazoo. This club was organized some years ago to provide needy Afro-American children with sufficient clothing and wearing apparel, to make them presentable in school and to facilitate their school attendance. Just how much work the club has done, is not available but that it has grown to be a very popular organization in its home city is well known, as it has responded to many calls for charity outside of the special work for which the club is designed. It consists of twelve members led by Mrs. L. Margaret Williams, at whose home the club was organized. A picture of the club is shown elsewhere.

The Let Us Be Friends Club is one of the six organizations formed in the Young, Women’s Christian Association of Kalamazoo. This club was organized October 14, 1914, with fourteen members. All of the young ladies are regular members of the Young Women’s Christian Association and were well represented at the annual banquet of that organization The object, as set forth in their constitution, is to promote the spirit of friendliness among the young colored women of the city and to develop the highest type of womanhood. The club meets every Monday, the evenings being divided between bible study and business, and social meetings.

The Phyllis Wheatley Home is an association of colored women organized Nov. 12, 1897,  with Miss Fannie Richards, the popular pioneer Afro-American public school teacher as first president. This association was organized for the purpose of providing a home for aged colored women and purchased a eleven-room house pleasantly situated at 176 Elizabeth St., in the City of Detroit, for $4,500,00. Since that time more than forty inmates have been provided with a home at that place. The officers are Mrs. Eliza Wilson, President; Mrs. Mary E. McCoy. Vice-President; Mrs. Isabella  Jenkins, Recording Secretary; Mrs. Elida Price, Corresponding Secretary; Mrs. Lulu Harris, Treasurer; Mrs. Christine S. Smith, Chairman of Board of Managers; Miss Fannie Richards, Chairman of Board of Trustees. On the fourth day of January, 1915, the Association celebrated the burning of the mortgage on their home and they are now turning their attention to raising funds with which to enlarge and improve their present property. There has never been a time since it was organized, that there were not more applications for admittance to the home by aged colored women than there was room for their accommodation.

The Lydian Association is perhaps one of the strongest charitable organizations in the state. This association is composed of branches throughout the country, which formed a national body. The Detroit branch has 75 members and maintains a comfortable bank account. They pay sick benefit to their members and provide a burial fund at death, besides contributing to the various charities of the city. Mrs. Maude Henderson is its president and Mrs. Elida A. Price recording secretary.

The Detroit Women’s Council was organized in 1911 for the purpose of aiding strangers who may arrive in the city and also in meeting their friends and forming new acquaintances. It is also engaged in some charitable work, where strange women are found to be in need upon arriving in that city. The officers are: Mrs. Elida Price, President; Mrs. Sarah Henson, Vice-President; Mrs. Maude Henderson. Secretary, and Mrs. Mary Johnson, Treasurer.

The Benevolent Society is one of the oldest charitable organizations in the City of Detroit. Organized in 1867 for benevolent purposes. It has done splendid work since that time along benevolent lines. Its officers are Mrs. Florence Willis, President; Mrs. Phoebe Ford, Vice-President; Mrs. Gertrude Montgomery, 541 Beaubien St., Secretary.

The Scholarship Fund Club of Detroit is one of the most useful organizations, having been founded in 1910 through the efforts of Mrs. Elizabeth Smith and Mrs. Vernia Lucas, who gave an entertainment to aid a young lady to complete a teacher’s training course at Ypsilanti State Normal School. The need for such help that could be given to young people became apparent on this occasion and the club was put up on a sound footing by a membership composed of three persons from each of the Federated clubs of the city. Each year two or more ambitious students have been assisted by this club. This year, two young men, one a student at Ann Arbor, and another a student at Wilberforce University, are receiving the club’s assistance. The officers are Mrs. Vernia Lucas, President. Mrs. Delia Barrier, Vice- President; Mrs. Abbie Cheatham, Treasurer, and Mrs. Maude Henderson, Secretary.

The Detroit Study Club was originally effected for literary purposes only, but since becoming a member of the Detroit Federation of Clubs in 1900, it has broadened its work to include child’s welfare work, the Junior Civic League and Free Lecture Committee, and now has a department of philanthropy and reform, which raises funds for charitable contribution. All of its members are highly educated and talented ladies without exception. Its officers are Mrs. S. H. Russell, President;’ Mrs. A. Rideout, Vice-President; Mrs. J. B. Anderson, Secretary; Mrs. A. L. Turner, Assistant Secretary; Mrs. L. E. Bakeman, Corresponding Secretary

The Detroit Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People was organized in the Guild Hall of St. Mathews Episcopal Church in 1910 and has become one of the most active agents for the protection of the rights of citizens in the State of Michigan. It is composed of both white and colored members and holds an annual Lincoln-Douglas celebration in honor of the births of the great emancipator and of Fred Douglas. It meets on the first Thursday of each month and its committees are ever alert in securing needed assistance against the transgression of private or public rights of colored citizens. Its officers are: Wm. S. Osby, President; Rev. R. W. Bagnall, Corresponding Secretary; Miss Hattie Butler, Recording Secretary; Walter D. Johnson, Treasurer; Francis H. Warren. Attorney.

The foregoing Afro-American organizations must serve as an index to a large number of like bodies throughout the state, especially in the larger cities. There is for instance the State Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs in Michigan, which has representatives from every center of colored population in the state, but the work of these clubs Is indicated by those here given and the time is too short in which to secure the necessary data to give individual information regarding each. Many of them are connected with the church societies, while some others are adjuncts of secret orders, all of which serves to show the activity of the Afro-American people in club uplift work, in addition to which social clubs are almost equally as numerous.

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