Abyssinian Baptist Church
The church was founded in 1808, when visiting free Ethiopian seamen and allied African-American parishioners left the First Baptist Church in the City of New York in protest over being restricted to racially segregated seating. They named their new congregation the Abyssinian Baptist Church after the historic name of Ethiopia. The church was originally located in lower Manhattan, only to relocate to Harlem.
In 1908, Adam Clayton Powell, Sr. became pastor of the church. In 1920, the church purchased property in Harlem for a new Gothic and Tudor style church featuring stained glass windows and marble furnishings. The congregation's tithing and offerings covered the expenses, and in 1923 the church moved to its current location on West 138th Street in Harlem. By the time Powell handed the reins of the church to his son Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. in 1937, the Abyssinian Baptist Church was the largest Protestant congregation in the United States, with more than 10,000 members.
During the 1930-31 school year, the young Dietrich Bonhoeffer attended the church consistently for six months while studying at Union Theological Seminary in New York. He had completed his Ph.D. in theology from the University of Berlin and accepted a teaching position there, but chose to study abroad before he began teaching. This experience gave him insights about the power of the black church and struggle for social justice which informed his later work as a pastor. It helped form his resistance to the Nazis' takeover in his German homeland. He returned to Germany with a collection of recorded spirituals.
The church was an important site for religious music in the Harlem Renaissance. It remains a center of the Harlem gospel tradition. Fats Waller's father was once minister at the church. Among many important events, the church conducted the wedding of Nat King Cole and his bride Maria; and the funeral of "The Father of Blues", W.C. Handy, in 1958.
Under the direction of Rev. Calvin O. Butts, the church has continued to be a vital political, social, and religious institution in New York. In 1989 Butts founded the Abyssinian Development Corporation ("ADC"), creating a non-profit arm of the church to work on community development and social services. It has created $500 million in development, including the first new high school in Harlem in 50 years, the first large supermarket, a retail center, and housing.
In 1989, the church was one of the first to respond to Pernessa C. Seele's call for a Harlem Week of Prayer, started to mobilize the religious community in support of people with AIDS and their families. Seele has since founded the Balm in Gilead, Inc., now an international non-profit providing education and prevention for HIV/AIDS, and developing other health initiatives in the US, Africa and Caribbean.
- Cary D. Wintz; Paul Finkelman (1 January 2004). Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance. Vol. 1: A - J. Taylor & Francis. pp. 2–3. ISBN 978-1-57958-457-3. Retrieved 13 November 2012.
- The Manhattan African-American History & Culture Guide, Museum of the City of New York
- Eberhard Bethge. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Man of Vision, Man of Courage. Transl. by Eric Mosbacher. Harper and Row Publishers. pp. 109–110.
- "The New Heyday of Harlem," Tessa Souter, The Independent, June 8, 1997
- Timothy Williams, "Powerful Harlem Church Is Also a Powerful Harlem Developer", New York Times, 17 Aug 2008, accessed 23 Jan 2009
- Abyssinian Baptist Church - Official Website
- Abyssinian Development Corporation, Official Website
- "New Yorkers Seek Religious Roots in Ethiopia", Fox News