King Solomon Baptist Church added to historic site list

Candice Williams
The Detroit News

King Solomon Baptist Church in Detroit, where Malcolm X delivered his “Message to the Grass Roots” address in 1963, has been added to the National Register of Historic Places, state officials announced Friday.

“We are elated,” said the Rev. Charles Williams II, pastor of the church for the past six years. “There is so much history in our church. We look forward to not only sharing that with the Detroit area, we want to share it with the rest of the world.”

The church, at 6100 14th St, is one of four sites to join the more than 1,600 Michigan sites on the national list which recognizes historically significant locations worth preserving. The others are the Ezra E. and Florence (Holmes) Beardsley House in Bronson Township, the Otsego Hotel in Jackson and the Francis Metallic Surfboat in Douglas.

King Solomon Baptist Church played a prominent role in the civil rights movement, according to the Michigan State Historic Preservation Office. The Progressive National Baptist Convention, an association of African American churches, held its second annual conference there.

“It was then that Malcolm X delivered his famous, and one of the most influential, speeches,” the preservation office wrote in a release Friday. “During that conference and others, the church helped to cement Detroit’s position as one of the leading cities in the nationwide movement.”

The building, completed in 1917, is recognized for its impressive Tudor Revival architecture, historians wrote, adding it’s the only known remaining work of architect J. Will Wilson, who in 1922 was considered one of the leading architects of Detroit.

Williams said the designation will allow the church to apply for federal money to make building improvements to the church campus, which is comprised of two structures.

As Detroit experiences a revival with new development projects, Williams said the city’s historic churches should not be forgotten.

“We can’t move forward without understanding our past,” he said.

The church’s numerous guests have included civil rights leaders the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., the Rev. Ralph D. Abernathy and the Rev. Benjamin Mays.

In more recent years guest speakers have included longtime U.S. Rep. John Conyers, Jr., civil rights activist the Rev. Al Sharpton and human rights activist Martin Luther King III, Williams said.

The church also has historical significance as the home of Temple Baptist Church prior to 1951. Its pastor was the Rev. J. Frank Norris, a Baptist fundamentalist who, according to historians, promoted his brand of conservative ideology.

“He worked to shift the center of fundamentalism from cities in the northern United States, where it had originated, to its present-day center in the South,” historians wrote.

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