abounds in historic Black churches. The Black Ecumenical
Commission of Massachusetts lists some eighty such
An excellent description of ten major Black churches
can be found in Robert C. Hayden's: Faith, Culture
and Leadership: A History of the Black Church of
Of course there is no single or unified Black church-rather,
the phrase is meant to represent a spectrum of religious
institutions comprising an elusive whole.
The majority of Black Bostonians in the early twentieth
century belong to the Baptist, African Methodist
Episcopal, Episcopal, and Congregational denominations.
Of the 150 - 200 Black churches operating today,
the largest number are Pentecostal, Holiness, and
Taken together, the Black churches constitute, in
"the only continuous cultural and self-controlled
institution that Blacks in Boston and the nation
have been able to maintain as their own from
slavery to the present."
Strong in spirituality and numbers, the Black church
has also been a moral force at the center of the
struggle for equality and civil rights. The worship
style in these churches has tended to be staid,
giving rise to the expression "the frozen chosen"
in reference to Black Bostonian churches.
However, in those houses of worship with strong
ties to the American South, one can find testifying
- The African Meeting House,
built on Smith Court on Beacon Hill in 1805,
now the Museum of Afro-American History, on the
Black Heritage Trail, is the site of the First
African Baptist Church (popularly known as "The
Abolitionist Church), organized in 1805, at the
heart of what was Boston's small Black community
until the 1890s.
- Peoples Baptist
Church (1805 and 1915) traces its roots directly
back to the African Meeting House church.
At a time of Black migration-amid competition
for housing from European immigrants-from Beacon
Hill into the South End, the Meeting House was
sold to a Jewish congregation, and members purchased
a building at Camden and Tremont Streets in lower
It became Peoples Baptist after an interlude
when it was called St. Paul's. It is the oldest
church historically connected to the first church
among Black residents, and the seventh oldest
Black church in the United States, using the
(129 Camden Street, South End. 617-267-4556)
- Union United Methodist
Church (1818), began on Beacon Hill, and
moved to its present Columbus Avenue in the South
Many of its members originally came from North
( 485 Columbus Ave., South End, 617-536-0872)
- Charles Street
A.M.E. [Bethel Society] Church (1833) now
stands at the corner of Warren St. and Elm Hill
Avenue in Roxbury. (see image in upper right
of this page)
Like the First African Baptist, it played a role
in the Abolition era, hosting many stirring anti-slavery
This prominent church became the last Black institution
to leave Beacon Hill and relocate in Roxbury
when in 1939 it left its home on the corner of
Charles Street and Mount Vernon on Beacon Hill.
Its pastor, the Reverend Ralph Epps, described
it in the 1920s as having "built up the reputation
of being a church of the 'Black elite.' Some
were in government jobs, others had been teachers,
waiters at the Parker House, and the old Young's
Hotel. A few were professionals-doctors and lawyers."
Epps himself was a Post Office retiree. "When
I started in the Post Office in 1937," he quipped,
"I became acceptable."
( 551 Warren St., Roxbury, 617-442-7770) ; see
the church website.
- The Columbus Avenue
A.M.E. Zion (1838) met first at a private
home on Southac (Phillips) Street and various
other locations on Beacon Hill.
In 1903 it dedicated its new sanctuary in what
was formerly Temple Adath Israel. Membership
lists and U.S. Census records show that half
of the 254 members were born in the South.
This church was the site, just one month after
the move to its new site of the famous Boston
Riot, in which William Monroe Trotter, editor
of the Boston Guardian, confronted Booker T.
Washington in a verbal battle that ended with
Trotter's arrest and jailing.
( 600 Columbus Ave., Roxbury, 617-266-2758)
- Twelfth Baptist
Church, "the Second African Meeting House,"
began in 1840, with 46 members who left the original
(1805) Meeting House.
Like the first African Meeting House it served
the anti-slavery cause and provided spiritual
guidance to Boston's free Black and fugitive
slaves. One of its pastors was the eminent Rev.
Leonard A. Grimes, abolitionist. The rapid exodus
of African Americans from Beacon Hill led to
the church's move to lower Roxbury, where in
1958 it ultimately settled on Warren Avenue.
At this church Martin Luther King, while a student
at Boston University's School of Theology, preached
on a monthly basis. He also met his future wife,
Coretta Scott, at Twelfth Baptist.
( 150 Warren Street, Roxbury, 617-442-7855);
see the church website.
- Ebenezer Baptist Church
(1871) was founded by Black people who came to
Boston from Virginia and settled in the lower
At first they met in the kitchen of a Mrs. Martha
Their first pastor was Peter Randolph,
a freed slave from Virginia who wrote an autobiography,
From Slave Cabin to Pulpit. I
n 1887 Ebenezer established itself at its present
location at 157 West Springfield Street. The
church thrived, especially under the37-year leadership
of Rev. William Ravenell.
( 157 W. Springfield St., Roxbury, 617-262-7739)
- St. Mark Congregational
Church (1895) started out with the name of
William Lloyd Garrison Memorial (Congregational)
Church, then changed to St. Mark.
Its development saw many fits and starts: it
was located first at 1783 Washington Street,
then until 1919 at 1042 Tremont Street in Roxbury.
After fund-raising for nearly twenty years, in
1919 it purchased a house at 533 Massachusetts
Avenue in the South End, but decided to follow
the continued movement of the community from
the South End and lower Roxbury to upper Roxbury.
The congregation bought a church from The Quaker
Fellowship at Townsend Street and Humboldt Avenue,
where they continue to flourish today.
Under the leadership of the Reverend Samuel Leroy
Laviscount, St. Mark experienced a spiritual,
social and economic awakening. During the 1930s
it contributed to the development of Roxbury's
social services, starting a settlement house
of their own.
After grappling with the threats of urbal renewal
in the 1960s, St. Mark had to rebuild its sanctuary.
The congregation also took up the challenge of
building new housing for moderate-income tenants.
Senator Edward Brooke, a church member, was the
keynote speaker at a 1978 testimony to the 90-year
old Reverend Laviscount.
(200 Townsend Street, Roxbury, 617-442-0481)
- The Church of
Saint Augustine and Saint Martin (1884, 1899,
This High Episcopalian Church was established
by the coming together of St. Augustine (1884)
of the West End and the St. Martin Mission of
Roxbury, organized in 1899.
As a mission, St. Augustine was started "for
the benefit of the colored people of Boston."
(31 Lenox Street, South End, 617-442-6395)
- St. Cyprian's
Episcopal Church (1913) is the first church
to be built by Black people in Roxbury.
It was started by
immigrants from the West Indies-from Jamaica,
Barbados and some of the smaller islands--who
arrived in Boston during the early years of
This church played a role in arranging for
and furthering this wave of immigrants. These
individuals did not want to join the High
Episcopal St. Augustine, and so they created
their own church. In 1911 they chose the name
St. Cyprian, for the Black bishop of Carthage,
North African, in the second century.
They purchased a lot on the corner of Tremont
and Walpole Streets in Roxbury and dedicated
their new church in 1924.
( 1073 Tremont St., Roxbury, 617-427-6175)
The Catholic Church has also attracted many
Historian John Daniels noted nearly a century
"the Roman Catholics lay claim to about one thousand
members of the Negro race in Greater Boston.
The majority of these are immigrants or children
of immigrants from the West Indies; others became
of this faith through receiving their education
in Catholic schools; still others are descendants
of slaves of Catholic masters; and the remainder
are converts in the ordinary course. . .[T]he
largest single group of them have gone to the
Cathedral in the lower South End."
Freedom's Birthplace: A Study of the Boston Negroes,
Other avenues of religious expression among Black
Bostonians include Islam, Pentecostal churches,
Seventh Day Adventist, and membership in an array
of "white" churches.