New Bethel Baptist Church (Detroit, Michigan)

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New Bethel Baptist Church
New Bethel Baptist Church Detroit.jpg
New Bethel Baptist Church, 2019
Location8430 Linwood St. (C. L. Franklin Blvd.)
Detroit, Michigan
Coordinates42°22′5″N 83°6′17″W / 42.36806°N 83.10472°W / 42.36806; -83.10472Coordinates: 42°22′5″N 83°6′17″W / 42.36806°N 83.10472°W / 42.36806; -83.10472
MPSThe Civil Rights Movement and the African American Experience in 20th Century Detroit MPS
NRHP reference No.100006130[1]
Added to NRHPFebruary 8, 2021

New Bethel Baptist Church is a Baptist church located at 8450 C. L. Franklin Boulevard (also called Linwood Street)[2] in Detroit, Michigan. Founded in 1932, the church was led by the Reverend C. L. Franklin from 1946 until 1979 and was at the center of the Civil Rights Movement in Detroit. Since 1982, Rev. Robert Smith, Jr., has been the pastor. The building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2021.[1]

Early years[edit]

The church was founded March 6, 1932. V. L. Bolton was the first pastor and was followed by Horatius "H.H." Coleman (1932-1935), N. H. Armstrong (1935-1940) and William E. Ramsey (1940-1946).[3]

C. L. Franklin years[edit]

Growth of the congregation[edit]

In May 1946, Rev. C. L. Franklin became the pastor.[4] When Rev. Franklin became pastor, the congregation had 400 members and met in a bowling alley at Willis and Hastings.[5] In October 1951, the church moved into a new church, built at a cost of $250,000 with a seating capacity of 2,500, at 4210 Hastings Street in Detroit.[3]

In the 1950s, New Bethel became known for its gospel choir which had weekly radio broadcasts. Participants included Rev. Franklin, music director Thomas Shelby, and Rev. Franklin's daughter Aretha Franklin. James Cleveland served as organist and sometimes conductor in the early 1950s.[6][7] In 1956, a 14-year-old Aretha Franklin made her first recordings for J-V-B Records at New Bethel.[8]

In 1961, the church lost its Hastings Street building to construction of the Chrysler Freeway. The church, which had 4,000 members at the time, moved to the Gold Coast Theater (8210 Twelfth) for the next two years.[5]

Move to Oriole Theater building[edit]

On March 10, 1963, the church moved to the previously-dilapidated Oriole Theater at the corner of Linwood and Philadelphia in Detroit.[5][4] Detroit architect Nathan Johnson oversaw the remodeling which cost more than $500,000.[9] The project was Detroit's "first major all-Negro building project", using an architect, contractors, and financing from the African-American community. The Detroit Free Press described the new structure as follows: "The row of glass doors at the entrance and the vast expanse of whiteness inside gives one the feeling of entering a miniature Cobo Hall."[5] More than 2,000 persons participated in a procession of cars from the temporary home at the Gold Coast Theater to the new site. At the time, Rev. Franklin described the trip as a "trip from the valley to the mountain."[5]

Civil Rights Movement[edit]

During the 1960s, New Bethel under Rev. Franklin became a center of the Civil Rights Movement in Detroit. Events occurring at New Bethel included:

  • In May 1963, Rev. Franklin was elected chairman of the Detroit Council of Human Rights and petitioned Detroit's Common Council for permission to conduct a march that became known as the Detroit Walk to Freedom. The group also adopted the "Declaration of Detroit" noting that 30% of Detroit's population was African-American, yet 70% of the city's African-Americans lived in substandard housing.[10] The Detroit Walk to Freedom, planned by Rev. Franklin and members of New Bethel, took place on June 23, 1963. The protest had 125,000 persons, was the largest civil rights demonstration in the country's history to that point, and culminated in a speech by Martin Luther King, Jr. at Cobo Hall.[11][12][13]
  • In February 1965, a rally was held at New Bethel to raise funds for Dr. King's voter registration drive in Selma, Alabama.[14]
  • In November 1965, Coretta Scott King delivered the key note address at the annual Women's Day services at New Bethel.[15]
  • In April 1969, a memorial for Dr. King was held at New Bethel on the first anniversary of his assassination.[18]

Police shootout[edit]

On March 29, 1969, the church was rented by the Republic of New Africa as the site of a black separatist convention. A shootout between police and members of the movement resulted in the death of a police officer. Police raided the church and arrested 150 persons in attendance. A controversy followed after the attendees were held and questioned without counsel.[19][20] During the incident, police fired into the church, causing extensive damage, and resulting in the need for financing to repair the "bullet-scarred" building.[21][22]

In May 1969, as the controversy over the police raid and shooting continued, Rev. Franklin was arrested by Detroit police who claimed that they found marijuana in his luggage; Franklin denied the charge, wondered if the incident was connected to the church shooting, and asserted, "Somebody wants to disgrace me."[23] Police had held the luggage for 24 hours, and Rev. Franklin claimed he had never in his life smoked marijuana.[24] The charge was dismissed one month later for insufficient evidence.[25]

1970s and Rev. Franklin's shooting[edit]

In January 1974, two gunshots were fired into the church during a service conducted by Rev. Franklin. Two attendees were injured.[26][27]

In June 1979, Rev. Franklin was shot twice by burglars at his home in Detroit.[28] Franklin remained in a coma until his death from heart failure on July 27, 1984.[29] His funeral, held at New Bethel, was reported to be the largest in Detroit history, and featured Jesse Jackson as a speaker. [30] In June 2016, the portion of Linwood Street adjacent to the church was renamed Rev. Dr. C. L. Franklin Boulevard.[31]

Notable funerals and weddings[edit]

Since the 1960s, New Bethel has been the site of funerals and memorial services for many notable Detroit residents, including the following:

Aretha Franklin was also married to Glynn Turman there in April 1978 in a ceremony featuring singing by The Four Tops.[37]

Later years[edit]

After Rev. Franklin's shooting in 1979, the church suffered from a power struggle for more than two years. In June 1982, Rev. Robert Smith, Jr., became the new pastor.[38] Rev. Smith remains as the church's pastor as of 2020.

In 1987, Aretha Franklin recorded the album, One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism, at the church, releasing the album on the Arista label. The album was re-released in 2003 with previously unreleased songs.[39]


  1. ^ a b "Weekly List 2021 02 12". National Park Service. February 12, 2021. Retrieved February 12, 2021. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  2. ^ "Michigan big wheels | Detroit Free Press |". Detroit Free Press. 3 June 2007. Retrieved 17 October 2015. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  3. ^ a b "About Us". New Bethel Baptist Church. Retrieved April 7, 2017. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  4. ^ a b "New Bethel Baptist Church - About Us". Retrieved 12 October 2015. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  5. ^ a b c d e "Oriole Becomes a Fine Church: New Glory for Old Theater". Detroit Free Press. March 11, 1963. p. A3.
  6. ^ "James Cleveland sued over missed concerts". Detroit Free Press. February 1, 1984. p. 3.
  7. ^ "Churches remember Cleveland, gospel giant". Detroit Free Press. February 11, 1991. p. 12.
  8. ^ "Aretha Franklin". Rhino Records. Retrieved April 7, 2017. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  9. ^ Hiley H. Ward (March 16, 1963). "His Ideas Add Sparkle To 'Sidewalk' Churches". Detroit Free Press. p. 4.
  10. ^ "Race March By 100,000 Asked Here". Detroit Free Press. May 20, 1963. p. 3.
  11. ^ "125,000 Walk Quietly in Record Rights Plea". Detroit Free Press. p. 1.
  12. ^ Galster, George (17 January 2014). Driving Detroit: The Quest for Respect in the Motor City - George Galster - Google Books. ISBN 9780812222951. Retrieved 12 October 2015. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  13. ^ "A once-great institution, New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit now fights for survival against the ravages of time, social change and economic depression". Retrieved 12 October 2015. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  14. ^ "500 at Rally Raise Cash for Selma". Detroit Free Press. February 10, 1965. p. 21.
  15. ^ "Mrs. King: Peace Warrior". Detroit Free Press. November 29, 1965. p. 3.
  16. ^ "King Lists Cures for City's Ills". Detroit Free Press. October 17, 1966. p. 3.
  17. ^ "James Meredith Advises Negroes To Band Together". Detroit Free Press. November 7, 1966. p. 11C.
  18. ^ "Memorial Tribute Paid Slain Leader". Detroit Free Press. April 5, 1969. p. 1.
  19. ^ "Two Charged After Slaying Of Policeman Outside Church". Detroit Free Press. March 31, 1969. p. 1.
  20. ^ "Cavanagh Defends Police Acts". Detroit Free Press. April 2, 1969. p. 1.
  21. ^ "Fund Will Repair Church: Reward Begun For Officer's Killer". Detroit Free Press. April 5, 1969. p. 3.
  22. ^ "City Aid To Church Is Sought". Detroit Free Press. April 8, 1969. p. 10.
  23. ^ "Minister Arrested in Drug Case". May 25, 1969. p. 20.
  24. ^ "Pastor Calls Pot Charge 'Frameup'". Detroit Free Press. May 30, 1969. p. 3.
  25. ^ "Dope Trial Killed For Rev. Franklin". Detroit Free Press. June 24, 1969. p. 3.
  26. ^ "Wild Shots Hurt Two In Church". Detroit Free Press. January 21, 1974. p. 38.
  27. ^ "New Bethel Minister Calls Church Shooting 'Senseless'". Detroit Free Press. January 22, 1974. p. 8.
  28. ^ "Aretha Franklin's Father Is Shot: Rights leader is attacked by bandits at home". Detroit Free Press. June 11, 1979. p. 1.
  29. ^ "C. L. Franklin passes; preacher and activist". Detroit Free Press. July 28, 1984. p. 1.
  30. ^ "10,000 bid farewell to Rev. C. L. Franklin". Detroit Free Press. August 5, 1984. p. 1.
  31. ^ "Street Named for Franklin's Dad". Detroit Free Press. June 25, 2016. p. A4.
  32. ^ "Hosts of Admirers Pass By Bier of Dinah Washington". Detroit Free Press. December 16, 1963. p. 3.
  33. ^ "Last Goodby For Edwards". Detroit Free Press. November 7, 1974. p. 16D.
  34. ^ "Rites For Ex-Supreme Lure Fans for a Glimpse of Stars". Detroit Free Press. February 28, 1976. p. 1.
  35. ^ "Going home". Detroit Free Press. July 27, 1984. p. 3.
  36. ^ "Gone with a song in the heart: Fans, stars mourn David Ruffin". Detroit Free Press. June 11, 1991. p. 1.
  37. ^ "Four Tops and white mink: It's Aretha's wedding day". Detroit Free Press. April 12, 1978. p. 1.
  38. ^ "New Bethel appoints a co-pastor". Detroit Free Press. June 11, 1982. p. 3.
  39. ^ Discogs - One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism 2003

External links[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • "Singing in a Strange Land: C. L. Franklin, the Black Church, and the Transformation of America", by Nick Salvatore (Little, Brown 2007)