Detroit church visited by MLK, Malcolm X and Berry Gordy Jr. secures federal grant

By: - September 29, 2019 5:15 am

Detroit’s Historic King Solomon Church | Ken Coleman

A legendary Detroit church that hosted several historic events during the 1950s and 1960s has earned a National Park Service grant to assist in its upkeep.

Martin Luther King Jr. | Creative Commons

The $500,000 grant for Detroit’s King Solomon Church will help to provide roof replacement for the storied site located at 6100 14th Street on the city’s westside. The Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA) is the fiduciary of the grant.

“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 on Sept. 13. “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.”

King Solomon Baptist Church was founded in 1926 in the city’s historic Black Bottom community. It became an important center for gospel music, with such acts as the Reverend James Cleveland, the Five Blind Boys, and The Clouds of Joy performing there over the years.

Detroit’s Historic King Solomon Church | Ken Coleman

In 1954, Thurgood Marshall, then lead attorney for the NAACP, spoke at the church immediately following the civil rights organization’s win in the Brown v. Board of Education case, which overturned legal segregation in American public schools. 

In 1956, U.S. Rep. Charles Diggs Jr. (D-Detroit) gave a national radio address that centered on the murder of Emmett Till, a Black teenager from Chicago who visited a rural town in Mississippi and was brutally killed by whites. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. made two appearances at King Solomon during the 1950s and ‘60s. 

Malcolm X gave his seminal “Message to the Grass Roots” and “The Ballot or the Bullet” speeches there. Motown Records founder Berry Gordy Jr. first heard the Supremes at King Solomon.

Malcolm X | Wikimedia Commons

The Rev. Charles Williams II, King Solomon pastor said the grant “will help the church provide community enrichment programs for the congregation and the greater community.”

Congress appropriated $12 million in funding for the African-American Civil Rights Grants Program through the Historic Preservation Fund to support more than a dozen sites across the country. Other grants were awarded to 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, Texas.

Last year, another historic location in Detroit was awarded the same grant. The city of Detroit secured $500,000 to transform the former home of Dr. Ossian Sweet into a permanent visitation site. Sweet was a Black physician who moved into an all-white neighborhood located at 2905 Garland Avenue on the city’s lower eastside in 1925. 

After a mob of white people converged on Sweet’s property and protested his occupancy of the dwelling, Leon Breiner was fatally shot from a bullet that was launched from the Sweet home. Ossian, his brother Henry and several others who were in the home were charged in connection with Breiner’s death. 

Ossian Sweet Home |Ken Coleman

Ultimately, they were acquitted after two trials and an epic seven-hour closing argument presentation by famed attorney Clarence Darrow. 

Frank Murphy, who would later become mayor of Detroit, governor of Michigan and a U.S. Supreme Court justice, served as judge during both trials in 1925 and 1926. 

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Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman

Ken Coleman covers Southeast Michigan, economic justice and civil rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on black life in Detroit, including Soul on Air: Blacks Who Helped to Define Radio in Detroit and Forever Young: A Coleman Reader. His work has been cited by the Detroit News, Detroit Free Press, History Channel and CNN. Additionally, he was an essayist for the award-winning book, Detroit 1967: Origins, Impacts, Legacies. Ken has served as a spokesperson for the Michigan Democratic Party, Detroit Public Schools, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters and U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence. Previously to joining the Advance, he worked for the Detroit Federation of Teachers as a communications specialist. He is a Historical Society of Michigan trustee and a Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit advisory board member.