MAAP | Mapping the African American Past

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Robert O'Meally on the Abyssinian Baptist Church
Robert O'Meally, Professor of English at Columbia University, discusses the Abyssinian Baptist Church.
Then
Now

Founded in 1808 and located on Worth Street, the Abyssinian Baptist Church first moved to 166 Waverly Place (pictured) and then farther north to West 40th Street in 1902.

African-American congregation in front of Abyssinian Baptist Church at Waverly Place, New York City, c. 1907

In 1923, the congregation moved into the Tudor Gothic–style church at 132 West 138th Street (Odell Clark Place),  where it became the largest and most influential black church in New York.

Current view of Abyssinian Baptist Church

Abyssinian Baptist Church

Known for its charismatic leadership and community outreach, the Abyssinian Baptist Church was formed in 1808 by a group of African Americans and Ethiopians who refused to accept the segregated seating in the First Baptist Church of New York City.

A long line of highly effective, dedicated early ministers included Rev. William Spellman (1856 –1885) and Rev. Robert D. Wynn (1885 –1902), who put the church on solid financial footing and significantly increased the membership.

In 1908, the church selected the Rev. Adam Clayton Powell, Sr., a well-known charismatic minister, as their new pastor, ushering in “the Powell years.” In 1922, the present-day Gothic- and Tudor-style Abyssinian Baptist Church was built, thanks to money collected from Powell’s tithing campaign.

Powell retired in 1937 and his son, Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., became pastor. An articulate visionary, champion of justice and equality, and power in the so-called “Black Revolution,” he served 14 terms in the U.S. House of Representatives and increased the membership of the church from 7,000 to 10,000.

Powell retired in 1971 and was succeeded by Dr. Samuel Proctor, a minister with a distinguished background as an educational leader and administrator. Dr. Proctor carried on the “Powell legacy” with the assistance of his executive minister, Rev. Calvin O. Butts III, who succeeded him in 1989.

Dr. Butts has dramatically expanded the church’s programs throughout the greater Harlem community to include tutoring, scouting, music, housing, and health care.

This entry contributed by Curriculum Concepts International

Related Media


Video
Kenneth Jackson, Columbia University Professor of History, describes New York City's Abyssinian Baptist Church.
Robert O'Meally, Professor of English at Columbia University, discusses the Abyssinian Baptist Church.

Images
In 1923, the congregation moved into the Tudor Gothic–style church at 132 West 138th Street (Odell Clark Place), where it became the largest and most influential black church in New York.
This view of the Abyssinian Baptist Church was originally published around 1921.
Founded in 1808 and located on Worth Street, the Abyssinian Baptist Church first moved to 166 Waverly Place (pictured) and then farther north to West 40th Street in 1902.



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