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The History of the Michigan Street Baptist Church

The Michigan Street Baptist Church standing at 511 Michigan Street, Buffalo, NY was often the last stop on for fugitive slaves on the Underground Railroad before crossing over to Canada. Built by African-american for African-Americans in 1845, the building stood as a beacon and safe haven for the community. It served as a place for ant-slavery and reform movements to meet. Today, the Church still possesses some remnants of those hiding places of the Underground Railroad. After the abolition of slavery, the Church remained central to the historical and cultural significance of Buffalo's African-American community. 

At the turn of the century, two compelling community figures became associated with the Michigan Street Baptist  and contributed greatly to the politicization of Buffalo's African-American community. The first was the Rev. Dr. J. Edward Nash (1868-1957)who became pastor of the Church in 1892 and remained there for 61 years during which time he was instrumental in founding the Buffalo Urban League and the local branch of the NAACP. In 1953. Potter Street, behind the Church was renamed Nash Street in his honor.

The second prominent figure associated with the Michigan Street Baptist Church was Mary B. Talbert, a neighbor and active parishioner. Her house (now demolished) was at 521 Michigan Avenue, two doors down from the Church. In 1905, W.E.B Du Bois and other prominent African-American leaders met at Mrs. Talbert's home and adopted the resolutions that led to the founding of the Niagara Movement. This was the seed that eventually became part of the Civil Rights Movement. By the third decade of the 20th century, the "Great Migration" and related factors had begun to transform northern African-American communities like that of Buffalo. By 1930, the African-American population of Buffalo had grown to more than 13,000 and the Church continued to serve the religious needs of the community. 

the history


Original Church

”Second Baptist” was constituted

The original congregation, Second Baptist Society, was constituted in March 1836, and it met in a brick schoolhouse on South Division St.  Membership was open to “colored male persons of full age.”


the Church “Second Baptist” hosted a large gathering to celebrate the Amistad rescue


Building Begins

the 50 + members of the church decided to build their own church in the 4th ward, just east of downtown Buffalo.  The land for the church was purchased in 1845 by the congregation. In 1845 when the land was purchased, the congregation was led Pastor Samuel Davis and six trustees, the first of the many independent, strong local leaders nurtured by MSBC.  Deacon Peyton Harris found lumber, brick and stone.  He was the wealthiest member of the church, by far, and Pastor Davis did the masonry work, and the women of the church raised money through sales of their needlework.


The church was as large as it would be in the 19th century with 94 members.  From then until the Rev. J. Edward Nash arrived in 1892, church membership would decline.  The founding generation was dying off, and the young people were not replacing them.  The church struggled and even had to mortgage the property in 1868 to stay afloat. Rev. Nash would service as pastor for the next 62 years.


The Great Depression hit the church hard, as it did everywhere.  Rev. Nash took a 15% cut in pay, which he vowed to continue until two-thirds of his congregation was working.  As of 1942, he still had not resumed his full pay.


the building was sold to El Bethel Assembly, and Bishop William K. Henderson’s leadership began. He has championed the efforts to keep the church and building alive. Also, under his stewardship, the church was added to the National Register of Historic Places.


Visit from Charles B. Ray

In 1837, the noted black minister, New York City abolitionist and author Charles B. Ray, came to Buffalo and said, “The colored community of Buffalo are, in many respects above any community of our people I have visited during my western tour.  In regard to mind, enterprise, appearance, and profound respectability, they are not only an honor to themselves, and to the colored community at large, but an honor to Buffalo, and would be, were they known, to the country.”


Frederick Douglas first spoke in Buffalo, and records show that the “Church [was] thrown open” to him.


Building Dedication and Henry Bibb spoke from the church pulpit. 

The Building was dedicated Henry Bibb was an escaped slave and a noted author and lecturer. The fact that prominent abolitionists like him and Frederick Douglas would come to Buffalo proves how important this community was to the larger national movement.


Due to the Great Migration, the church grew from a few members to over 500


the 600 members bought the Humboldt Parkway Methodist Church and moved.  This building was sold to the Macedonia Baptist Church, and they worshipped here until 1975.


Present Day

local preservationists and community leaders created the BNFSC to preserve and promote the heritage of the MSBC.   The Coalition is charged with the use and care of the property, planning and implementing its restoration, and conducting educational and cultural activities. The Light of the World Mission currently conducts church services at the Church.

The legacy continues 

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