Sunday School at Bethel A.M.E., ca. 1930


Sunday School at Bethel A.M.E., ca. 1930

African Americans established a close-knit community in this neighborhood near their churches and the Dunbar Center, a gathering place for all blacks. Bethel African Methodist Episcopal and Second Baptist churches evolved from the small 1853 Union Church nearby at 504 High Street. Nineteenth century blacks were carpenters, masons, blacksmiths, barbers, and draymen, as well as domestics and laborers. They helped build the railroad and the university. In 1890, George Jewett, son of a blacksmith, was UM's first black football player. He later owned a dry-cleaning business on South State Street. Katherine Crawford, an 1898 UM Medical School graduate, opened a medical practice in her family's Fuller Street home.

The 1920s building boom created jobs; Ann Arbor's black population doubled to almost 600. Post World War II prosperity brought that number to 3,200 by 1960. Few, however, were employed in city offices, or on school or university faculties, or held elected positions. Segregated housing practices restricted most black families to this area.

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Bethel A.M.E. Church


Bethel A.M.E. Church

Bethel A.M.E. Churchwas at 632 North Fourth Avenue from 1895 to 1971. In the late 1940s Rosemarion Alexander Blake became City Hall's first female black office worker.

Frame location: Corner of North Fifth Avenue and Detroit Street

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Bethel A.M.E., 1973


Bethel A.M.E., 1973
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Ann Arbor District Library



Union Church, 1854


Union Church, 1854

504 High Street

Union Church, 1854

This small brick structure appears on the 1854 map of Ann Arbor labeled simply as "Union Church." It apparently was not finished until 1857, for the Michigan Argus of December 25th of that year reported: "The Union Church has been completed by the Colored People of the City and is to be dedicated Sunday by Reverend J. M. Gregory. S. H. Estabrook will officiate." Although its simple classical lines are obscured by a later porch, the building serves as a fine example of the vernacular use of the Greek Revival idiom for non-residential purposes.

It continued to be used as a church into the 1870s, though by 1871 a split had occurred within the local African-American religious community. This resulted in the formation of two congregations: the African Baptist (later known as Second Baptist) and the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church. Both continue in operation today and trace their roots to this building on what was then known as Fuller Street.

By 1872, the AME congregation had begun to worship on the east side of Fourth Avenue between Summit Street and what is now Beakes Street. Although the Baptists continued to use the High Street Church until 1881, from 1883 until 1888 they have no listing in City Directories. In 1890 they reappear as the Second Baptist Church, worshipping in a building on the southwest corner of Fifth Avenue and Beakes Street.

In 1884 the High Street property was sold to Michael Kearns who converted it into a residence. When his widow Mary sold the property in 1907, more than 20 years later, it was still referred to in the deed as "the church lot," perpetuating the memory of its first use. It continues to be used as a residential property today.

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Photos used to illustrate Historic Buildings, Ann Arbor, Michigan / by Marjorie Reade and Susan Wineberg.



Bethel AME Church, 1891-96


Bethel AME Church, 1891-96

632 North Fourth Avenue

Bethel AME Church, 1891-96

Before the Civil War, African-Americans in Ann Arbor worshipped in a small Greek Revival church which still stands today at 504 High Street. Then it was simply known as the "Union" church or the "Colored" church.

Eventually two denominations developed: the African Methodist Episcopal (AME), organized in 1855, and the Second Baptist. The date of the first AME church building is unclear. All sources agree, however, that the present church building was begun in 1891 after the older structure was moved to the rear of the property. Bishop Henry McNeal Turner, an important figure in the AME church who had served President Lincoln as the first black chaplain in the United State Army, laid the cornerstone. Due to financial problems, however, the building was not dedicated until 1896.

During the Depression of the 1890s a trustee mortgaged his own home so the church would be saved. In the ensuing decades Ann Arbor's African-American population grew and so did this congregation. Racial discrimination was endemic, neighborhoods were segregated, low-paying jobs were the norm. But the church was a refuge in these hard times. As one member recalled: "__Our lives revolved around the church. We socialized there, did our homework there. If you were passing by and saw the light on, you went in to see what was going on."

The congregation eventually prospered and built a new church on Plum Street selling the old one to the New Grace Apostolic congregation in 1971. New Grace Apostolic belongs to the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World of Apostolic Faith, an interracial group of fundamentalists.

Rights Held By: 
Photos used to illustrate Historic Buildings, Ann Arbor, Michigan / by Marjorie Reade and Susan Wineberg.



Union Church, 1854


Union Church, 1854

504 High Street

Union Church, 1854

This small brick structure appears on the 1854 map of Ann Arbor labeled simply as "Union Church." It apparently was not finished until 1857, for the Michigan Argus of December 25th of that year reported: "The Union Church has been completed by the Colored People of the City and is to be dedicated Sunday by Reverend J. M. Gregory. S. H. Estabrook will officiate." Although its simple classical lines are obscured by a later porch, the building serves as a fine example of the vernacular use of the Greek Revival idiom for non-residential purposes.

It continued to be used as a church into the 1870s, though by 1871 a split had occurred within the local African-American religious community. This resulted in the formation of two congregations: the African Baptist (later known as Second Baptist) and the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church. Both continue in operation today and trace their roots to this building on what was then known as Fuller Street.

By 1872, the AME congregation had begun to worship on the east side of Fourth Avenue between Summit Street and what is now Beakes Street. Although the Baptists continued to use the High Street Church until 1881, from 1883 until 1888 they have no listing in City Directories. In 1890 they reappear as the Second Baptist Church, worshipping in a building on the southwest corner of Fifth Avenue and Beakes Street.

In 1884 the High Street property was sold to Michael Kearns who converted it into a residence. When his widow Mary sold the property in 1907, more than 20 years later, it was still referred to in the deed as "the church lot," perpetuating the memory of its first use. It continues to be used as a residential property today.

Rights Held By: 
Photos used to illustrate Historic Buildings, Ann Arbor, Michigan / by Marjorie Reade and Susan Wineberg.



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