Michigan attains federal grant for civil rights preservation

Monday, October 7, 2019

$500,000 grant will be used to make renovations to King Solomon Baptist Church in Detroit

 Photo of the King Solomon Baptist Church courtesy of National Register Historic Places,
National Park Service

The Michigan State Historic Preservation Office has been awarded a $500,000 African American Civil Rights grant from the National Park Service, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation announced today. The funding will be used to rehabilitate the roof of the King Solomon Baptist Church in Detroit, a nationally-prominent historic site in the Civil Rights movement of the 1950’s and 1960’s.

“The King Solomon Baptist Church played a significant role in the Civil Rights movement, and its rehabilitation is crucial to preserving the memories of the African American struggle to gain equal rights as citizens in the 20th century,” said State Historic Preservation Officer Brian D. Conway. “We’re pleased to receive this grant and looking forward to working with the church to restore the roof and ensure its preservation.”

The grant will fund the roof work with the goal of protecting the building to stop further weather damage while a plan for its reuse is developed. Funded work will also include construction drawings, insulation, shingles, drain slopes and drains, metal edging, copper valleys and saddles, and repair and replacement of fascia trim.

King Solomon Baptist Church, located at 6125 14th Street in Detroit, was built in 1917 for a white Baptist congregation. As the Northwest Goldberg neighborhood evolved from white to black after World War II, it was purchased in 1955 by an African American congregation led by historian and writer Rev. Thomas Boone. The church complex also includes a 5,000-seat auditorium, one of the few places of its size that African Americans could utilize in Detroit in the mid-20th century.

The church became a significant site in the Civil Rights movement as a popular speaking venue for nationally-recognized leaders. In 1954 Thurgood Marshall, then lead council for the NAACP, spoke at the church immediately following their victory in the Brown V. Board of Education ruling, which overturned segregated schooling. In 1956 U.S. Rep. Charles Diggs gave a national radio address about the murder of Emmett Till.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke twice at King Solomon. The church is best known as the site where Malcolm X gave his revolutionary “Message to the Grassroots” speech in 1963 that changed the course of the civil rights movement and led to the establishment of the Black Power Movement.

The church was also significant in the Black Arts Movement housing an African American cultural center known as Boone House (demolished) that fostered black artists, musicians, writers, and poets including Langston Hughes and Dudley Randall at a time when they were barred from other Detroit venues due to de facto segregation.

In recognition of its Civil Rights significance, the King Solomon Church complex was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2015.

“Our goal in this restoration is to continue the church’s tradition of empowerment, education and research,” Rev. Charles Williams II, pastor of King Solomon Baptist Church said. “The black church from its inception has had a mission to deal with oppression and disparities in black communities. The way we intend to appreciate the past is by carrying that torch forward.”

Congress appropriated funding for the African American Civil Rights Grants Program in 2018 through the Historic Preservation Fund, presenting 44 awards to projects across 17 states. Other grants awarded include historic documentation of the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala.; the African American Women’s Suffrage experience in Mount Vernon, N.Y.; and the rehabilitation of the Juanita Craft Civil Rights House and Memorial Garden in Dallas, TX.

“Through the work and engagement of public and private partners, these grants will preserve a defining part of our nation’s diverse history,” National Park Service Deputy Director P. Daniel Smith said. “By working with underrepresented communities to preserve their historic places and stories, we will help tell a more complete narrative of the African American experience in the pursuit of civil rights.”

This is the second National Park Service African American Civil Rights grant the Michigan SHPO has received. The first grant in 2016 documented thirty 20th Century civil rights sites in Detroit, developed National Register of Historic Places nominations for five sites, and will place Michigan State Historical Markers at three civil rights sites. A bike tour encompassing 15 civil rights sites is also being developed.

Today’s announcement is the first to be made since SHPO officially moved to the MEDC under Executive Order 2019-13 issued by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, which took effect Aug. 11, 2019.

Focused on the historic preservation of culturally or archaeologically significant sites throughout the state, Michigan's State Historic Preservation Office’s main function is to provide technical assistance to local communities in their efforts to identify, evaluate, designate, interpret and protect Michigan’s historic above- and below-ground resources. SHPO also administers an incentives program that includes federal tax credits and pass-through grants available to certified local governments.

“SHPO’s efforts in the areas of historic preservation-based economic development, cultural tourism and promotion of Michigan’s historic resources perfectly align with MEDC’s community development programs,” said MEDC CEO Jeff Mason. “We are excited to welcome SHPO and the State Historic Preservation Review Board to continue building on our shared goal of preserving the character of our local communities, revitalizing downtowns, promoting tourism, creating jobs and strengthening local economies.”


This material was produced with assistance from the African American Civil Rights grant program, administered by the National Park Service, Department of the Interior. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Department of the Interior.

About Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC)

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