Abyssinian Baptist Church, Manhattan


Abyssinian Baptist Church, Manhattan. Image 1

The church traces its roots to 1808, when visiting free Ethiopian seamen and allied African American parishioners left the First Baptist Church in the City of New York in protest over being restricted to racially segregated seating. They named their new congregation the Abyssinian Baptist Church after the historic name of Ethiopia. Through the years, Abyssinian Baptist Church moved north on the island of Manhattan, as Harlem became a center of African-American population.

In 1908, Adam Clayton Powell, Sr. became pastor of the church. In 1920, the church purchased property in Harlem for a new Gothic and Tudor style church featuring stained glass windows and marble furnishings. The congregation's tithing and offerings covered the expenses, and in 1923 the church moved to its current location on West 138th Street in Harlem. By the time Powell handed the reins of the church to his son Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. in 1937, the Abyssinian Baptist Church was the largest Protestant congregation in the United States, with more than 4,000 members.

Abyssinian Baptist Church, Manhattan. Image 2

During the 1930-31 school year, the young Dietrich Bonhoeffer attended the church consistently for six months while studying at Union Theological Seminary in New York. He had completed his Ph.D. in theology from the University of Berlin, and accepted a teaching position there but chose to study abroad before he began teaching. This experience gave him insights about the power of the black church and struggle for social justice which informed his later work as a pastor. It helped form his resistance to the Nazis' takeover in his German homeland. He returned to Germany with a collection of recorded spirituals.

Contact info:
132 Odell Clark Place (W 138th St),
New York, NY 10030