150-year-old Detroit church has been a backdrop for city’s history


A public affairs manager for the Detroit Salt Co. by day, George Davis also has a musical side. The versatile Detroit native has sung operas, classical music, jazz, R&B and gospel and performed in musicals. And one of his most notable experiences occurred when he was a member of the 2,000-voice choir that performed at Tiger Stadium during Nelson Mandela’s historic visit to Detroit on June 28, 1990. 

Members of the 1000 voice choir wait to enter Tiger Stadium for their Mandela rehearsal ahead of his visit in June 1990.
Members of the 1000 voice choir wait to enter Tiger Stadium for their Mandela rehearsal ahead of his visit in June 1990.
Sean Meyers, Detroit Free Press

These days, however, Davis, 54, is more likely to talk about his efforts to amplify the voice of Historic Ebenezer African Methodist Episcopal Church in the Nardin Park neighborhood on Detroit’s west side. In response to the pandemic, the 1985 graduate of Cass Tech sank his technical chops into beefing up his church’s online communications channels to ensure members maintained a sense of family and community — as a time when those connections were needed most. 

“The church needed my help to communicate, and now we have been able to bring our church into the digital age,” said Davis, a member of Ebenezer since 1972 who has helped to manage the church’s website and social media platforms and produces Ebenezer’s weekly livestream broadcasts of church services. “Not only are our members connecting with each other, but we also are connecting with past members from literally all over the world. It’s been a tremendous blessing.” 

George Davis, 54, of Southgate at the Historic Ebenezer African Methodist Episcopal Church in Detroit, which will celebrate its 150th Anniversary on Nov. 7th, 2021.  It is the 6th oldest African American congregation in Detroit. Organized in 1871 to serve as a harbor for newly freed Black Americans migrating from the antebellum South, the history of the Historic Ebenezer AME Church is entrenched in the traditions of social progress in Detroit. From housing Negro soldiers during WWII to serving as a training center for boxing great Joe Louis, Ebenezer has been a backdrop for Detroit's history. By housing the homeless and providing clothes for the needy the church continues its time-honored motto of
George Davis, 54, of Southgate at the Historic Ebenezer African Methodist Episcopal Church in Detroit, which will celebrate its 150th Anniversary on Nov. 7th, 2021. It is the 6th oldest African American congregation in Detroit. Organized in 1871 to serve as a harbor for newly freed Black Americans migrating from the antebellum South, the history of the Historic Ebenezer AME Church is entrenched in the traditions of social progress in Detroit. From housing Negro soldiers during WWII to serving as a training center for boxing great Joe Louis, Ebenezer has been a backdrop for Detroit’s history. By housing the homeless and providing clothes for the needy the church continues its time-honored motto of “Love Makes the Difference.” The name Ebenezer means Stone of Help.
Kimberly P. Todd, Detroit Free Press

The ability to consistently adjust to the times in ways that improve the lives of people in and outside of the church has been a must for Ebenezer, which was organized in 1871 to serve as a harbor for newly freed Black Americans migrating from the antebellum South. As Ebenezer continues a celebration of its 150th anniversary, which includes an anniversary worship service on Sunday, devoted members reveal that Ebenezer’s history is in fact interwoven with Detroit’s history.

“Ebenezer has been a center of community, culture and politics, while also being an anchor church for families,” said 66-year-old Darlene Jackson, a lifelong Ebenezer member who also is the church’s historian. 

The cornerstone at the Historic Ebenezer African Methodist Episcopal Church in Detroit on Nov. 5, 2021. Ebenezer AME will celebrate its 150th Anniversary on Nov. 7th, 2021.  It is the 6th oldest African American congregation in Detroit. Organized in 1871 to serve as a harbor for newly freed Black Americans migrating from the antebellum South, the history of the Historic Ebenezer AME Church is entrenched in the traditions of social progress in Detroit. From housing Negro soldiers during WWII to serving as a training center for boxing great Joe Louis, Ebenezer has been a backdrop for Detroit's history. By housing the homeless and providing clothes for the needy the church continues its time-honored motto of
The cornerstone at the Historic Ebenezer African Methodist Episcopal Church in Detroit on Nov. 5, 2021. Ebenezer AME will celebrate its 150th Anniversary on Nov. 7th, 2021. It is the 6th oldest African American congregation in Detroit. Organized in 1871 to serve as a harbor for newly freed Black Americans migrating from the antebellum South, the history of the Historic Ebenezer AME Church is entrenched in the traditions of social progress in Detroit. From housing Negro soldiers during WWII to serving as a training center for boxing great Joe Louis, Ebenezer has been a backdrop for Detroit’s history. By housing the homeless and providing clothes for the needy the church continues its time-honored motto of “Love Makes the Difference.” The name Ebenezer means Stone of Help.
Kimberly P. Todd, Detroit Free Press

Through her expressive voice and her extensive research on Ebenezer, Jackson can take listeners on a magical trip back in time. That journey includes a moment during 1901 when a young Henry Ford approached the leadership of Ebenezer to request a contribution, which would assist Ford’s efforts to develop his automobile company. The request was granted by the Rev. C.E. Allen, and many years later Ford remembered his early benefactor in personal letters and through financial contributions to the church. 

Jackson also has the power to bring to life vivid images from the mid-1930s through the early 1960s, when Ebenezer’s former home at the corner of Willis and Brush was exalted for its architectural beauty as well as its efforts to nourish and enrich Detroit’s Black community during a heavily segregated period in the city’s history. But in recounting the housing of Black soldiers at Ebenezer during World War II and how Joe Louis used the church’s gymnasium to train, along with other Ebenezer initiatives that helped everyday Detroiters, Jackson says an over-glorification of the past is not her intent. Instead, she expressed a desire to show how a proud past can offer solutions for the future.      

Edna Todd Walker left, and Darlene Jackson sit in the original chapel at the Historic Ebenezer African Methodist Episcopal Church in Detroit on Nov. 4, 2021. Walker is the director of the Ebenezer Community and Cultural Center and Jackson is the church historian. It is the 6th oldest African American congregation in Detroit. Organized in 1871 to serve as a harbor for newly freed Black Americans migrating from the antebellum South, the history of the Historic Ebenezer AME Church is entrenched in the traditions of social progress in Detroit. From housing Negro soldiers during WWII to serving as a training center for boxing great Joe Louis, Ebenezer has been a backdrop for Detroit's history. By housing the homeless and providing clothes for the needy the church continues its time-honored motto of
Edna Todd Walker left, and Darlene Jackson sit in the original chapel at the Historic Ebenezer African Methodist Episcopal Church in Detroit on Nov. 4, 2021. Walker is the director of the Ebenezer Community and Cultural Center and Jackson is the church historian. It is the 6th oldest African American congregation in Detroit. Organized in 1871 to serve as a harbor for newly freed Black Americans migrating from the antebellum South, the history of the Historic Ebenezer AME Church is entrenched in the traditions of social progress in Detroit. From housing Negro soldiers during WWII to serving as a training center for boxing great Joe Louis, Ebenezer has been a backdrop for Detroit’s history. By housing the homeless and providing clothes for the needy the church continues its time-honored motto of “Love Makes the Difference.” The name Ebenezer means Stone of Help.
Kimberly P. Todd, Detroit Free Press

“What is the difference between using Sunday School to teach our people (adults and children) to read as we did in those earlier days, and today’s children that people say can’t learn?” Jackson asks. “The difference is, back then, we taught our people to read ourselves and we can do that today. That’s why the purpose and meaning of why this church was started still exists. I don’t concern myself with the size of the congregation, the purpose is still there be it with five members or 5,000 members because there is something in our church that has always screamed survival.” 

One person who heard that “scream” is the Rev. Mikarl Thomas, who in 2014 returned to the church that nurtured him as a youth to become the senior pastor. 

“Any son who would not help a sick mother is not fit to live,” said Thomas, who described the period when he took over the leadership of the church as a “challenging time.”

“I love the church, I love the people and I’m honored that I was chosen to lead.” 

The Historic Ebenezer African Methodist Episcopal Church in Detroit, Michigan will celebrate its 150th Anniversary on Nov. 7th, 2021.  It is the 6th oldest African American congregation in Detroit. Organized in 1871 to serve as a harbor for newly freed Black Americans migrating from the antebellum South, the history of the Historic Ebenezer AME Church is entrenched in the traditions of social progress in Detroit. From housing Negro soldiers during WWII to serving as a training center for boxing great Joe Louis, Ebenezer has been a backdrop for Detroit's history. By housing the homeless and providing clothes for the needy the church continues its time-honored motto of
The Historic Ebenezer African Methodist Episcopal Church in Detroit, Michigan will celebrate its 150th Anniversary on Nov. 7th, 2021. It is the 6th oldest African American congregation in Detroit. Organized in 1871 to serve as a harbor for newly freed Black Americans migrating from the antebellum South, the history of the Historic Ebenezer AME Church is entrenched in the traditions of social progress in Detroit. From housing Negro soldiers during WWII to serving as a training center for boxing great Joe Louis, Ebenezer has been a backdrop for Detroit’s history. By housing the homeless and providing clothes for the needy the church continues its time-honored motto of “Love Makes the Difference.” The name Ebenezer means Stone of Help.
Kimberly P. Todd, Detroit Free Press

With that love, came action from Thomas, who immediately began reforms to Ebenezer’s administration, the music department and building maintenance. He also continued Ebenezer’s tradition of awarding scholarships to college-bound seniors and launched the Garfield Johnson Health Ministry to address health disparities among Detroit residents. And during the pandemic, Thomas gave his blessing to the creation of a communications ministry to bring members together. When asked about Sunday’s anniversary worship service, he expressed thankfulness for the church’s ability to resume in-person, public activities. But Thomas cautions that the celebration should not take the focus away from the church’s current public-service agenda.   

“I’m hoping the people understand that we cannot live in the past,” said Thomas, who was the youth pastor at Ebenezer in 1969-72. “We have to reach this generation and meet the people where they are. What are you doing right now? That is why this celebration has to be a call to action.” 

The Historic Ebenezer African Methodist Episcopal Church in Detroit remembers and honors pastors.  It is the 6th oldest African American congregation in Detroit. Organized in 1871 to serve as a harbor for newly freed Black Americans migrating from the antebellum South, the history of the Historic Ebenezer AME Church is entrenched in the traditions of social progress in Detroit. From housing Negro soldiers during WWII to serving as a training center for boxing great Joe Louis, Ebenezer has been a backdrop for Detroit's history. By housing the homeless and providing clothes for the needy the church continues its time-honored motto of
The Historic Ebenezer African Methodist Episcopal Church in Detroit remembers and honors pastors. It is the 6th oldest African American congregation in Detroit. Organized in 1871 to serve as a harbor for newly freed Black Americans migrating from the antebellum South, the history of the Historic Ebenezer AME Church is entrenched in the traditions of social progress in Detroit. From housing Negro soldiers during WWII to serving as a training center for boxing great Joe Louis, Ebenezer has been a backdrop for Detroit’s history. By housing the homeless and providing clothes for the needy the church continues its time-honored motto of “Love Makes the Difference.” The name Ebenezer means Stone of Help.
Kimberly P. Todd, Detroit Free Press

Recently, an all-star collection of musicians with connections to Ebenezer answered Thomas’ call to action during the For Love of Ebenezer 150th Anniversary Premier Concert. The fundraising event showcased “some of Detroit’s finest musicians showing love for the church of their childhood,” with a lineup that included tenor George Shirley; saxophonist Leroy Hyter; composer, producer, arranger and pianist LaShawn Gary; jazz vocalist Dennis Rowland; and Lori Waddles & Testimony Sings under the direction of Alvin Waddles. 

The assemblage of talent on display during the Oct. 23 concert had special meaning to 83-year-old Beverly Thomas, a former music director and organist at Ebenezer, who said it represented something even more grand to her than just music.  

“People think of me as a musician, but I want people to know that Ebenezer has always been a family church,” said Beverly Thomas, who has been a member of the church since she was 5. “Family has been very crucial and very important, and I think that has been the strength of Ebenezer.” 

The choir stand and organ in the Historic Ebenezer African Methodist Episcopal Church in Detroit, Michigan on Nov. 4, 2021.  It is the 6th oldest African American congregation in Detroit. Organized in 1871 to serve as a harbor for newly freed Black Americans migrating from the antebellum South, the history of the Historic Ebenezer AME Church is entrenched in the traditions of social progress in Detroit. From housing Negro soldiers during WWII to serving as a training center for boxing great Joe Louis, Ebenezer has been a backdrop for Detroit's history. By housing the homeless and providing clothes for the needy the church continues its time-honored motto of
The choir stand and organ in the Historic Ebenezer African Methodist Episcopal Church in Detroit, Michigan on Nov. 4, 2021. It is the 6th oldest African American congregation in Detroit. Organized in 1871 to serve as a harbor for newly freed Black Americans migrating from the antebellum South, the history of the Historic Ebenezer AME Church is entrenched in the traditions of social progress in Detroit. From housing Negro soldiers during WWII to serving as a training center for boxing great Joe Louis, Ebenezer has been a backdrop for Detroit’s history. By housing the homeless and providing clothes for the needy the church continues its time-honored motto of “Love Makes the Difference.” The name Ebenezer means Stone of Help.
Kimberly P. Todd, Detroit Free Press

LaShawn Nichols enjoyed the benefit concert with her 9-year-old daughter Lauren. Nichols also cherishes “sitting at the knee” of elders like Beverly Thomas and soaking up Ebenezer’s history and high “standards.” 

“What remains consistent at Ebenezer A.M.E. is that there is a family-orientedness that you cannot find anywhere else,” said Nichols, who along with Davis is a co-chair of Ebenezer’s 150th anniversary celebration. “But what might be lost on some people is that we are moving forward. Ebenezer A.M.E. has a rich legacy, but also a bright future. We are open — not just our doors — but we are open to new ideas and open to changing and growing.” 

In an effort to grow in the area of community outreach, the church established the Ebenezer Community and Cultural Center (ECCC) in 2010. An independent 501(c)3 nonprofit human service organization affiliated with the church, the ECCC’s services have included a day camp for neighborhood children; an after-school program with mentoring and homework assistance; a free clothing closet, and adult literacy, job readiness and lifelong learning workshops. 

Diane Gary, 68, and her sister Kim Gary, 60, both of Harper Woods goes through donations in the 'Stone of Help' clothing closet that provides free clothing to the community at the Historic Ebenezer African Methodist Episcopal Church in Detroit, on Nov. 4, 2021.  The history of the Historic Ebenezer AME Church is entrenched in the traditions of social progress in Detroit. From housing Negro soldiers during WWII to serving as a training center for boxing great Joe Louis, Ebenezer has been a backdrop for Detroit's history. By housing the homeless and providing clothes for the needy the church continues its time-honored motto of "Love Makes the Difference." The name Ebenezer means ÒStone of Help.
Diane Gary, 68, and her sister Kim Gary, 60, both of Harper Woods goes through donations in the ‘Stone of Help’ clothing closet that provides free clothing to the community at the Historic Ebenezer African Methodist Episcopal Church in Detroit, on Nov. 4, 2021. The history of the Historic Ebenezer AME Church is entrenched in the traditions of social progress in Detroit. From housing Negro soldiers during WWII to serving as a training center for boxing great Joe Louis, Ebenezer has been a backdrop for Detroit’s history. By housing the homeless and providing clothes for the needy the church continues its time-honored motto of “Love Makes the Difference.” The name Ebenezer means ÒStone of Help.
Kimberly P. Todd, Detroit Free Press

The ECCC will give backpacks with blankets, socks, hygiene kits and snack packs to homeless Detroiters during National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week (Nov. 13-Nov. 20). Edna Walker, a licensed master social worker and Ebenezer member, heads the ECCC and says what the nonprofit does now and in the future will have everything to do with the history of her church. 

“To be a source of help to people in need in our community is very important to us,” said Walker, who praises the largely volunteer support that the ECCC has received since its creation. “At Ebenezer, as a church for 150 years, we have always had that role, but it’s the same thing our (A.M.E.) founder (Bishop Richard Allen) believed in. It would simply be wrong not to do this kind of outreach.” 

Scott Talley is a native Detroiter, a proud product of Detroit Public Schools and lifelong lover of Detroit culture in all of its diverse forms. In his second tour with the Free Press, which he grew up reading as a child, he is excited and humbled to cover the city’s neighborhoods and the many interesting people who define its various communities. Contact him at: [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @STalleyfreep 

HISTORIC EBENEZER A.M.E. CHURCH

Origin: Part of the Connectional African Methodist Episcopal Church founded in 1787 by Bishop Richard Allen, Historic Ebenezer A.M.E. Church was organized in 1871 to serve as a harbor for newly freed Black Americans migrating from the antebellum South. In 1964, the church moved to its present home in Nardin Park at 5151 West Chicago Blvd., after fires destroyed the domed ceiling of Historic Ebenezer’s previous home at the corner of Brush and Willis. Throughout its history, at five locations, the church has been entrenched in the traditions of social progress in Detroit.

Motto: “Love Makes the Difference”

Senior pastor: The Rev. Mikarl D. Thomas Sr.

Anniversary celebration: On Sunday, Historic Ebenezer A.M.E. Church will host a 150th anniversary worship service. Newly elected A.M.E. Bishop Silvester Beaman, who gave the noteworthy benediction at the inaugural ceremonies of President Joe Biden, will be the keynote speaker during the 10 a.m. anniversary service. A livestream of the service also will be made available to the public on YouTube. For more information on Historic Ebenezer A.M.E. Church, visit historicebenezeramedetroit.org. For more information on the Ebenezer Community and Cultural Center, visit ebenezerccc.org. 



Source link

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

0
    0
    Your Cart
    Your cart is emptyReturn to Shop