The Way It Was


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PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF THE BURTON HISTORICAL COLLECTION, DETROIT PUBLIC LIBRARY (HARVEY C. JACKSON COLLECTION)

1915 Everyone got into the act in this circa-1915 shot, when the congregation of the Bethel A.M.E (African Methodist Episcopal) Church posed in front of their house of worship on Napoleon and Hastings streets in what was called Black Bottom, an African-American enclave on the east side. Adjoining the church is the Bethel Social Services building. As the historical papers at the University of Michigan’s Bentley Historical Library attest, Bethel A.M.E. Church has a long history. The seeds were planted in 1839 when a group of 50 people formed the Colored Methodist Society. Two years later they became allied with African Methodist Episcopal denomination. The first church was on Lafayette, but the cornerstone was laid in December of 1889 for the growing church in this picture. In 1925, the congregation moved to a new edifice on Frederick Street at St. Antoine Street and was known for several years as Greater Bethel. Finally, in 1974, the church relocated to a new building on St. Antoine near Warren Avenue, where the congregation continues to thrive. According to Bethel A.M.E.’s website, the church in this photo also invited prominent people to address the congregation, including writer and activist W.E.B. Du Bois. Throughout its history, Bethel A.M.E. Church has been in close touch with its community. Various church-affiliated groups included the Housewives’ League, which promoted the awareness of black-owned businesses, and the Nurses Guild, which offered training in nursing while extending complimentary community service. 

 

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Ginsburg Branch, Detroit Public Library, 1916
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