King Solomon Baptist Church seeks to canonize its roots, broaden its scope

Every Saturday morning, members of the National Action Network Michigan Chapter meet in the expansive auditorium of King Solomon Baptist Church at 14th and Marquette Streets in NW Goldberg. Rev. Charles E. Williams II, the pastor of the church as well as the president of the Michigan chapter of the national civil rights organization, often is responsible for delivering the meeting’s closing words, calling for government and corporate accountability across the city.

The church, which was founded in 1926 in the Black Bottom neighborhood and moved to its current two-building complex in November 1951, is no stranger to spirited speeches by religious and social activists in the African American community, from Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X to Thurgood Marshall, according to its website. Additionally, its services attracted up-and-coming performers — such as Diana Ross, Mary Wilson, and Florence Ballard of the Supremes — who were ultimately discovered there.

To ensure its history is preserved, King Solomon Baptist Church received a $500,000 Michigan State Historic Preservation Office and African American Civil Rights grant from the National Park Service in September 2019, which will be used to rehabilitate the roof of its shuttered 70,000-square-foot church building directly across the street. The currently used building, at 15,000 square feet, once served as the 5,000-seat auditorium and community center and now fulfills all purposes for the congregation after the other building was abandoned around 2008 due to a broken furnace. From there, it was a rapid descent into blight as vandals began stripping whatever valuable fixtures remained, Williams says.

“We’re going to build something that helps us further explain who we are,” says Rev. Charles E. Williams II of King Solomon Baptist Church.

Today, broken and missing windows checker the weathered façade, but Williams is optimistic about the plans the church is committed to putting into motion. After all, in the decade that he’s been pastor, the congregation has grown from roughly a dozen members to 200 (NAN Michigan currently boasts around 300 members, with some overlap), and church and community members have countless expansion ideas for King Solomon’s programs and services, such as educational opportunities for young adults, that they hope will come to fruition courtesy of a lot of hard work and additional fundraising to supplement the grant.

“We’re going to build something that helps us further explain who we are,” Williams says. To him, that includes creating a space where prominent scholars and researchers will come to study the obstacles faced by African Americans in Detroit, propose strategic interventions, and help canonize the community’s history. Additionally, there have been talks of providing organizing space for nonprofits that align with the church’s mission.

But the first step has to be the roof, says Josh Mack, a member of the church for three years. Past attempts to perform wall repairs were sabotaged by the leaking roof, and that’s why he says the grant, which is expected to cover the entire costs of replacement, is so significant.

“We’ve had painstaking experiences trying to have fundraisers, go get material donated,” he says. “We’ve tried to patch the roof up — on two different occasions, we’ve gotten a little small amount of money,” but the roof’s poor condition and the church’s limited funds made a complete repair job impossible, he explains. Mack adds that the endeavor “was draining us financially.”

Once a full roof repair is completed, “that’s going to set the foundation for us to do a lot of the things to the facility that we’ve been unable to do,” he says.

Now that construction has been planned for this summer, the church board, congregation, and Friends of King Solomon committee — which consists of local residents regardless of affiliation — are eyeing such structural improvements as window replacement, rewiring of the electricity, and the installation of a new HVAC system at the same time members including Mack are brainstorming programs such as daycare, tutoring, vocational training, and even dormitory space for incoming college students.

To Williams, the restoration of the building, the resulting programmatic uses for said building, and the church’s focus on Black liberation theology are the sparks for a political and socioeconomic climate in which Black Detroiters control their own destinies and define themselves rather than be defined by outside developers or newer (white or non-Black) residents. “You can be my neighbor,” Williams says, “and I have no problem with it, but I’m not going to change who I am for you to be comfortable. And that’s what our development is about.”

Indeed, King Solomon Baptist Church and NAN Michigan have appealed to Black residents from all over Metro Detroit due to their storied histories and focus on Black empowerment. Williams lives on the east side of the city with his wife and two kids, while Mack lives near University District.

Virginia Emanuel, a Redford resident who began attending King Solomon’s NAN meetings about four months ago, says the church’s history has the potential to uplift the entire neighborhood amid the threat of gentrification.

Virginia Emanuel, a Redford resident who began attending King Solomon’s NAN meetings about four months ago, says the church’s history has the potential to uplift the entire neighborhood amid the threat of gentrification.

She says the church and NAN serve as rallying points for Black progress, and “if the church can restore some of [itself] … maybe more and more people will come [to live in the neighborhood] and something would be done about the neighborhood.”

Daniel A. Washington, a lifelong resident of the neighborhood, also believes King Solomon is key. Having founded NWGoldberg Cares, a community development corporation, in 2017 — and having recently discussed King Solomon’s potential uses with Williams as a part of general community outreach efforts on the church’s part — Washington believes that the revitalization effort could be the “catalyst” for improvement elsewhere.

Daniel Washington, founder of NW Goldberg Cares, says the revitalization effort of King Solomon could be the “catalyst” for improvement elsewhere.

“This neighborhood doesn’t have a real strong chance of surviving or continuing to exist without that building being really assessed and being brought back to real use,” he says, referencing its historic service as a community pillar. “I think it’s going to be a very hard sell for some people, but I think that it’s a real realistic sell for other people. We just have to find those people, together as a neighborhood and as a community, and that’s something I’m looking forward to is working with [Williams] and his congregation to try to see what is the best solution for a project that size.”

This article is part of our Equitable Development series, in partnership with Henry Ford Health System, where we explore neighborhood progress and impact of Henry Ford Health System and community partners. Stories illustrate growing an inclusive Detroit in a way that allows people from all races, classes, and abilities to participate and benefit.

 

 

Signup for Email Alerts