These church buildings could serve as the focal point for a fascinating and elaborate story about religion, race and demographic change in Detroit. Perhaps the two most significant events to occur here were speeches by Malcom X. On November 10, 1963 he gave what be his most memorable oration entitled “Message to the Grassroots" which was his response to Dr. Martin Luther Kings’ “I have a Dream Speech". Then, a few months later, Malcolm X gave what may be his second most important speech “The Ballot or the Bullet”. But the buildings pictured here have a much longer story to relate to us.
The original congregation was known as Fourteenth Avenue Baptist with a sanctuary near the corner of Fourteenth and Marquette. As Detroit’s population grew, the congregation increased in size, and by 1920, they had the resources to construct one of the buildings you see pictured here. This is what is now known as the Education and Recreation Building at 6125 Fourteenth, but it was built to serve the congregation as a church. When the new sanctuary opened in 1920, I believe they changed the name to Temple Baptist. The congregation grew rapidly as southerners migrated to Detroit to take the many jobs in the vehicle industry. At this time, the Northwest Goldberg neighborhood became densely populated, primarily with blue-collar workers building cars.
This church was among the early megachurches in the country. In 1934, the Temple Baptist needed a new pastor and they selected the Reverend J. Frank Norris of Fort Worth, Texas. He already served as pastor of a very large and prosperous congregation there so he was reluctant to give up that Texas appointment. He opted to become pastor of both churches and decided to commute back and forth from Texas to Detroit. He was a very entrepreneurial leader and, within five years of his appointment, the Reverend Norris’ Temple Baptist congregation in Detroit exceeded 6,000. The Art Deco building at 6102 Fourteenth is a tribute to his entrepreneurship. Detroit suffered much more than most large cities during the Depression with the unemployment rate probably greatly exceeding 25 percent for most years in the 1930s. Nevertheless, Reverend Norris’ congregants contributed funds to build a huge auditorium seating 5,000 or more and it opened in the Depression year of 1937. Quickly thereafter, it became the church for this congregation and the building across Fourteenth was used for education. So far as I know, it is the only Art Deco church to be found in Detroit. Alas, I do not know which architect was fortunate enough to get a commission to design a very large Art Deco building for Temple Baptist in the midst of the Depression. Two other buildings were constructed on the other side of Fourteenth and they greatly hemmed in the church that opened in 1920. One of these is a two and one-half story educational building constructed in 1937. The other is a somewhat similar, but certainly not matching three-story classroom building built in 1940. The Arts and Crafts and Tudor Revival features of the church that architect Will Wilson designed are quite hidden by the more recent additions. They were used for classrooms and meeting rooms after the Art Deco structure became the sanctuary.
Reverend Norris was a strongly committed fundamentalist endorsing a literal interpretation of the Bible. He came to believe that the leading Baptist conferences in the United States were not sufficiently fundamental in their religious beliefs. As a consequence, he withdrew his large Fort Worth and Detroit congregations from, respectively, the Southern Baptist Conference and the Northern Baptist Conference. As a substitute organization for like-minded Baptist congregations he established the Premillennial Missionary Baptist Fellowship which is now known as the World Baptist Fellowship. Reverend Norris was a leader in the movement to establish the legitimacy of fundamentalism in the Southern Protestant tradition. That is, many religious congregations and organizations—Catholic and Protestant—gradually moved away from a very fundamental and literal interpretation of Sacred Scripture. They came to accept the idea of evolution, the equality of the races and were willing to discuss the idea that the Bible might be figurative rather than literal. But conservative Baptists did not share that view. The teaching and entrepreneurial work of Reverend Norris and his collaborators sustained fundamentalism in the ranks of Baptists. Early in his career, Reverend Norris endorsed the Ku Klux Klan and their efforts to deny rights to black. He also argued that, if given the opportunity, Catholics would kill Protestant pastors and disembowel Protestant women in an effort to terminate Protestantism in this country. In fairness to Reverend Norris, during the McArthur era, he praised the strong stand the Pope took against the spread of Communism in Europe.
Reverend Norris was a busy religious leader with two huge congregations and a major Baptist organization to lead. Gradually, he turned over some responsibilities for Temple Baptist to his assistant, the Reverend G. Beauchamp Vick who was the music director. Gradually, Reverends Norris and Vick disagreed about issues and, sometime about 1950, Reverend Vick replaced Reverend Norris as pastor at Temple Baptist. Reverend Vick also established a rival organization of fundamental Baptists now known as Baptist Bible Fellowship International. Thus the pastors of Temple Baptist were responsible for the organization and development of two of this nation’s largest organizations of conservative and fundamentalist Baptist congregations.
Demographic trends are very influential for religious congregations. The Northwest Goldberg neighborhood quickly changed it racial make-up after World War II. Pastor Vick prohibited African-Americans from attending Temple Baptist, but he recognized the importance of population change. In 1952, Reverend Vick successfully moved the congregation to a then-white neighborhood along Grand River. The congregation prospered for some time and claimed, in 1955, that more than 5,000 attended its Sunday School each week. But population change continued in Detroit as the federal housing policies and federal support for the nation’s expressways encouraged whites to invade the Crabgrass Frontier that surrounded the city. In 1961, the Temple Baptist congregation was uprooted once more and moved to a new location in a largely white neighborhood at 23,000 West Chicago near the intersection of West Chicago and Telegraph. They built a major new church and remained there for quite some time, but their catchment area again changed and the congregation shrank. I read that membership declined from 10,000 to 1,000 while this church was located on West Chicago. Apparently, the congregation succeeded in selling its attractive building for a substantial sum. The Temple Baptist Congregation then constructed a new church in the distant suburb of Plymouth, Michigan. The congregation did not prosper out in the distant suburbs. Eventually, their new church became Northridge Church in Plymouth, Michigan. The former of Temple Baptist Church at 23,000 West Chicago is now home to the Detroit World Outreach Church.
During the 1980s, Truman Dollar was the pastor who led the Temple Baptist congregation. He wished to address the racial segregation issue. In 1985—twenty years after the Civil Rights Revolution—the elders, apparently prodded by Pastor Dollar, voted to allow Whites and Blacks to worship together. Times do change. If you go to the website of the church that emerged from Temple Baptist, Northridge Church, you will be greeted with the picture of a smiling African-American.
King Solomon Baptist was founded in 1926 and held its early worship services at 1551 Rivard on Detroit’s East Side black area. This congregation merged with Mount Nebo Baptist in 1927. Services were held in various places but, by the early 1930s, the congregation had a home in a church near the corner of Riopelle and East Alexandrine, close to the heart of Detroit’s Black Bottom.
As the black population grew in Detroit in the 1920s, an African-American financial elite emerged, including professionals, real estate brokers and merchants who served the needs of the growing and increasingly prosperous black population. They led the movement of black residences northwest from the riverfront, but in neighborhoods just to the east Woodward contiguous to the established black ghetto. By the 1930s and early 1940s homes in such neighborhoods now known as the East Kirby Historic District, the North End and the Arden Park-East Boston Historic District were sold to prosperous African Americas. In 1941, King Solomon Baptist acquired the synagogue that had served the Ahavath Achim congregation at 9244 Delmar Street not far from Arden Park-East Boston. I believe that this synagogue no longer stands.
In 1944, King Solomon recruited the talented, energetic and prolific Reverend Theodore Sylvester Boon, who was then one of the most prominent black pastors in Texas. In addition to his skills as a religious leader, he was a lawyer with a degree from the University of Chicago and an author who had written a book about the contributions of Booker T. Washington. Not surprisingly, Reverend Boone identified himself as a Republican. Once he assumed his responsibilities at King Solomon in Detroit, he realized that the congregation needed a much larger facility. Temple Baptist was quite willing to leave its increasing black neighborhood so King Solomon Baptist purchased their former church which is pictured here in 1951 and, the next year, moved to the corner of 14th Street and Marquette in the Northwest Goldberg neighborhood. The Art Deco 1937 building at Temple Baptist seated 5,000 so it well suited the needs of Reverend Boone and his congregation.
In the 1950s, the city of Detroit began their urban renewal program that removed the homes of thousands of African-Americans on the East Side and then the federal government provided extensive funds for the interstate highway system that rapidly razed thousands more homes. Persons who lost their homes were given money for them but little help in relocating. And blacks faced the challenge of entering a Detroit housing market with rigidly enforced Jim Crow rules. The Northwest Goldberg and surrounding neighborhoods on the West side were open to blacks so African Africans, forced from their homes by urban removal and highway construction, moved into the catchment area for King Solomon.
Under the dynamic leadership of Reverend Boone, the congregation quickly became a locally and then nationally prominent church, attracting as visitors prominent African-American including Thurgood Marshall who later served on the Supreme Court and Dr. Martin Luther King who visited at least twice as well as the first two African-Americans to represent Detroit in Congress: Charles Diggs and John Conyers. Pastor Boone made great efforts to bring meetings of black religious organization and prominent African Americans to his church. Several national meetings of civil rights leaders were held at King Solomon in the 1960s.
King Solomon, however, may be most remembered as the site of the November 10, 1963 “Message to the Grass Roots” speech of former Detroit resident Malcom X. This was the response of Malcom X to the August, 1963, “I have a Dream” speech of Dr. Martin Luther King. Malcom X called the six major black leaders of the civil rights movement: James Farmer, Martin Luther King, John Lewis, A. Phillip Randolph, Roy Wilkins and Whitney Young, “Uncle Toms” and said that were selling out blacks to the nation’s white leaders who wished to suppress African Americans by co-opting so-called black leaders. He contended that the March on Washington was organized by the Democratic Party’s political leadership to damp down the revolution that was brewing among rank and file blacks in Detroit and elsewhere. Malcom X then went on to call for a real “Black Revolution” and cited as examples the revolution in China led by the Communists and the bloody revolution in Algeria against French domination. Malcom X stated that “Revolution is bloody, revolution is hostile, revolution knows no compromise, revolution overturns and destroys everything that gets in its way.” Malcolm X was seen by many as calling for a bloody revolution on the streets of the United States. I wonder if the nation would tolerate such radical views and calls for violence in this post 9-11 era? The speech was also interpreted by many as Malcolm X splitting from Elijah Mohammad’s Black Muslim movement. Clearly, Elijah Mohammad wanted to be the major spokesperson for Black Muslims but Malcom X was pushing him out of that role. And Elijah Mohammad had never called, as Malcolm X did, for a revolution that would almost certainly involve very much black-white violence.
Recall that this speech was made in 1963 before the most serious riots of the decade: Newark, Detroit, and Los Angeles. Many whites were disturbed by the call of Malcom X for a revolution and his bitter denunciation of the civil right leaders which included calling them house Negroes. While many whites were upset by the prospect of urban violence, many blacks were even much more upset. By the 1960s in Detroit, there was a large black middle class based upon the high wages and generous fringe benefits that the United Auto Workers had negotiated with the major auto firms. A substantial black bourgeoisie had developed in Detroit serving the needs of the economically secure black middle class. Blacks in the Detroit ghetto did not drive out to the white suburban ring to get their hair done, their teeth fixed, their car repaired or to shop. They dealt with merchants in their own neighborhood, many of them African Americans. Middle class blacks knew that if
Malcom X and others who called for a black revolution, including the Black Panthers were successful, it was black neighborhoods and black businesses that would be destroyed. And black ministers knew that urban rioting would destroy the homes in the neighborhoods where their church were located as well as their own sanctuaries. The emerging black middle class would be among the first to be destroyed in a black revolution.
King Solomon Baptist had signed a contract with Malcom X for two lectures before he gave his “Message to the Grassroots” on November 10, 1963. The elders let him know that he would not be welcome to give the second lecture which was scheduled for April 12 1964. And the black ministerial association of Detroit protested Malcolm X’s second speech and sought to block it. Malcolm X’s lawyers went into the local courts, pointed out the contract and King Solomon Baptist was ordered to comply with their contract. The second speech of Malcolm X is known as “The Ballot or the Bullet” and was foreshadowed by a presentation he made at Cory Methodist in Cleveland earlier in April, 1964. When Malcom X gave his second presentation, he eschewed condemning civil rights leaders, identified himself as a black revolutionary, called for a black revolution but toned down his praise for violence. He encouraged blacks to become active in politics and argued that Black Nationalism meant that blacks should control the governance of their own community. This certainly happened in Detroit and within a decade of his speech blacks controlled the city government, the police, the school board and other governmental organization in the city. His concept of Black Nationalism was carried out in such cities as Newark, Gary, Camden and Detroit since most of the elected and appointed officials were African Americans within a decade or so of the speech Malcom X gave at King Solomon. In this speech Malcolm X widening his split with Chicago’s Elijah Muhammad. In the view of some observers, the two speeches at King Solomon in Detroit gave the Elijah Muhammad and the Chicago leaders of the Black Muslim movement strong motivation to silence Malcom X. Under mysterious circumstances, the man who once called himself Detroit Red was shot and killed in New York on February 21, 1965, less than a year after his second famous speech at King Solomon. Three men who were members of Elijah Mohammed’s Nation of Islam were convicted in the murder of Malcom Little. So far as I know, there is no audio recording of Malcolm X’s “The Ballot or the Bullet” speech.
Reverend Theodore Sylvester Boone continued as pastor of King Solomon until his death in 1973. The survival and prosperity of a church depends, to a considerable degree, upon the composition of the neighborhood where it is located. After about 1990, the suburban ring became open to blacks and Detroit’s African American population has been steadily declining since then. The movement to the suburbs was led by middle class blacks who, presumably, desire the same amenities and quality of life that motivated whites to leave the city in earlier decades. The neighborhoods near King Solomon Church included many modest workingmen’s home built in the 1920 lacking the attractions of suburban homes. I infer that the congregation’s membership declined rapidly. I have read newspaper reports that electric power and water to the church were terminated in 2011 or 2012 for non-payment of bills. The church apparently no longer maintains a website.
The Northwest Goldberg neighborhood is bounded, roughly but West Grand Boulevard on the North, Grand River on the West, the tracks of what is known as the Conrail Shared Assets Railroad on the South and the Lodge Freeway on the east. It is, frankly, a depressed area with many vacant lots where homes once stood and quite a number of dilapidated homes and small apartment. However, it is not far from the major employment center at Henry Ford Hospital and from the New Center area that appears to be prospering. However, it takes strong faith to believe that the Northwest Goldberg neighborhood will be rejuvenated in the near future.
Architect for the Church: J.Will Wilson
Date of completion of the original church: 1920
Architectural Style: Arts and Crafts inspired Tudor Revival
Architect for the auditorium: Unknown to me
Architectural Style: Art Deco
Date of Completion of the auditorium: 1937
Website for Northridge Church in Plymouth (the successor congregation of Temple Baptist): http://northridgechurch.com/
Website for Detroit World Outreach Church: https://www.dwo.org/
Book about the Reverend J. Frank Norris: Barry Hankins, God’s Rascal: J. Frank Norris and the Beginnings of Southern Fundamentalist. (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1996).
Audio of Malcolm Little’s “Message to the Grassroots” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZDW-MHbzORY
Text of Malcom Little’s “The Ballot or the Bullet” speech: http://americanradioworks.publicradio.org/features/blackspeech/mx.html
Biography of Malcom Little: Manning Marable, Malcolm X: A Life of Revolution (New York: Viking, 2011).
Autobiography of Malcolm Little: Malcolm X, The Autobiography of Malcolm X (New York: Random House, 1966)
Link to Detroit Historic Advisory Board description of church: http://www.detroitmi.gov/How-Do-I/HDAB-Final-Reports
Use in 2015: Apparently dormant religious buildings
City of Detroit Designated Historic District: Listed March 22, 2011
State of Michigan Registry of Historic Sites: Not listed
National Register of Historic Places: Listed April 10, 2015
Photograph: Ren Farley; June 26, 2015
Description prepared: August, 2015
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