History of New Calvary Baptist Church
Founded in June, 1949
Perhaps more than any decade in the history of the nation, the 1940s left an imprint of war upon the United States. WWII signaled a new America being born on the stage of world politics. At stake were more than just philosophical differences between western and eastern Europeans. The ideology of Nazis Germany had become a veritable world threat by 1940. It took a collaboration of world allies joining together to defeat a potential totalitarian regime from taking over the world. While the United States may have entered the fracas as a major stakeholder, by the time the war was over in 1945, there was no doubt that America was now the force to be reckoned with in the western hemisphere, indeed, in the world.
By the time the war ended and veterans began to settle down throughout the nation, something had changed. In a ten-year span, three times as many college degrees were conferred in 1949 as 1940. By 1947, television became available to virtually every American family who could afford one. The average salary in 1949 was $1299.00. A teacher's salary was $1,441.00. While the decade began with the amazing sounds of the Big Band, it ended with the cool of Be Bop in American Jazz.
And in the city of Detroit, demographic change was taking place at record pace. Blacks were sweeping into the city, coming primarily from the southern states of Alabama and Mississippi. The promise of employment was a major lure for former veterans and those wishing to improve their living conditions, instead of continuing as tenant farmers and sharecroppers. Jobs were plentiful and the "Black Bottom" area of Detroit began to fill to the brim with people of color in hope for greater opportunities. The city had a burgeoning population that reached nearly 1.9 million in 1940. This was slightly less than all of Los Angeles and Detroit was ranked the fourth largest city in the United States.
Hope, optimism and dreams of a better day filled the hearts of people of color. Anchored in a deep faith in God that was rooted in their southern heritage, blacks in Detroit participated heavily in local churches. One of them was Calvary Baptist Church located on Joseph Campau in the heart of Black Bottom. A leading African American congregation, Calvary was easily 2,000 strong by 1945, making it one of the largest and most strategic black churches in the city.
In that year, the church extended a call to Joseph T. Thomas of Long Branch, California. Thomas had been pastor of a small congregation in Long Branch for a few years. While there, he did graduate work at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. He had already earned his B.A. from Morehouse College in Atlanta, GA. He had also attended Howe Institute in Memphis, TN. Rev. Thomas had begun to make a name for himself in the National Baptist Convention, Inc. when the call came for him to go to Calvary in Detroit.
Joseph T. Thomas was born July 31, 1915 in Belzonia, Mississippi. Converted at the age of eleven, he received the call to ministry at an early age and was ordained by the Reverend L.C. Carter of Atlanta, Georgia. He was formerly educated in Lanier High School in Jackson, Mississippi; the Howe Institute in Memphis, Tennessee; and Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia (B.A.). He also did graduate work at the University of Southern California, the University of Michigan and the Oberlin Graduate School of Theology in Oberlin, Ohio. He was granted the honorary Doctor of Divinity degree by Natchez College in Natchez, Mississippi. At the time of the founding of New Calvary, Pastor Thomas' family included his wife Bessie and their infant son, Joseph Thomas, Jr.
On Thursday, June 23, 1949, three hundred and fifty persons assembled in a "fellowship meeting" at the Wright Temple of Service located at 505 East Hancock. They met to declare themselves no longer members of the Calvary Baptist Church and to urge Rev. Joseph T. Thomas to change his plans to leave the city of Detroit and, instead, to remain, organize and pastor a newly formed church. The Reverend Thomas had served as pastor of the Calvary Baptist Church from January 1945 to June 1949. Specific words used at the meeting have become a part of the lore of New Calvary. Rev. Thomas responded to the congregation in a humble and courageous way and stated, "I am ready to serve, but I wonder if you realize what you are requesting?" The response was so loud and enthusiastic that the presiding officer had to call for order. At that point Rev. Thomas stated, "We own no property other than a few pencils and cards for registration purposes." He went on to say, "I am no storefront preacher." To which one person said, "And we are no storefront congregation."
On Sunday, July 3, 1949, the New Calvary Baptist Church was organized at the Wright Temple of Service. The Reverend J.F. Green, Pastor of the Mount Vernon Baptist Church, officiated at the organizational meeting. Also in attendance were the Reverends W.E. Ramsey of Gospel Temple Baptist; S.D. Ross of Shiloh Baptist; H.H. Coleman of Macedonia; A.L. Merritt of Holy Cross Baptist; W.M. Bishop of Central Baptist; F.A. Williams of Second Ebenezer Baptist; J.S. Williams of New Mt. Zion Baptist; H.E. Owens of Mt. Olive Baptist; Robert Wright of New Bride Baptist; J.S. Williams, Sr. of New Mt. Zion; T.S. Boone of King Solomon Baptist; W. Bronson, Dean of the School of Religion- Michigan District Association; W.M. Ferrell of New Grace Baptist; J.F. Green of Mt. Vernon Baptist; A.M. Martin of New Light Baptist; C.E. Askew of Third Baptist; H.P. Wilson of St. Mary's Baptist; W.H. Riggins of New Calvary Baptist; T.J. McMillan of New Calvary Baptist and M. Martin of New Calvary Baptist.
Just for the record: It was moved that the minister of New Calvary would be the founder of said church, in the person of Rev. Joseph T. Thomas. The motion was made by the presiding officer. The motion was seconded by Mr. Delmar White. An unreadiness to the motion was addressed by the Rev. W.H. Riggins, who offered an amendment to the original motion that stated, "Rev. Thomas would be called for life." This amendment was seconded by Mr. James Harrold. The amendment was carried unanimously by the 450 members present.
Following are listings of the first official boards of the church:
J. Ralph Daniel, Chairman
Joseph E. Williams, Secretary
Delmar Wm. White, Chairman
James L. Bonner, Co-Chairman
William C. Varnado, Treasurer
A.G. Wright, Sub-Signer
Dr. M. G. McCall
George K. Daniel
Henry C. Mitchell
Doris Martin, Secretary-Clerk
Grace E. Wailes, Minister of Music
Motto: "To Serve Rather Than Be Served"
Church colors: White and Royal Blue
Church flower; The Gladiolus
The first candidate for baptism in Calvary Baptist Church under the pastorate of Rev. Joseph T. Thomas, Mrs. Mattie Henley, was the first to enroll her name on the new pages of New Calvary Baptist Church in its organization. The first hymn sung was "Free at Last." The first prayer offered was by Mr. J. Ralph Daniel. The first meeting was presided over by Mr. Joseph Walker Williams.
Spirits were high. It was said that many of the members experienced a "second conversion" and began to tithe. Everyone wanted to be the first one to register. Mrs. Sarah Gillian (in whose home in 1919, the Calvary Baptist church had been organized) was the first to register. Officers and chairmen were appointed by the Reverend Thomas. Deacon Lorenzo Davis, followed by Mrs. Rosa Tyus and Mrs. Eliza Ellison were the first to pledge and pay $100.00. Mrs. Grace Wailes, Mrs. Elizabeth Geans and Mrs. Rosa Tanner were the first to bring tithes. Inspired by their example, other members were encouraged to do their share in supporting the new movement of the New Calvary Baptist Church.
The spiritual growth and organizational structure of the church were strengthened within the first year. There were 326 new additions to the membership, 56 of whom were candidates for baptism. Auxiliaries and clubs formed, included the Mission Department, Nurse's Guild, Church School, Young People's Choir, Ethereal Choir, Auxiliary Council, Courtesy Committee, B.T. U. (Baptist Training Union) Young People and Adult Usher Boards, Dramatic Club, Literary Guild and an Athletic Department for youth that included Bowling and Baseball, Parent's Club, Scholarship Committee, Tithing Committee, Young Married Couples Club. The leaders of these groups comprised the Auxiliary Council.
In July, 1949, the Young People's Usher Board was organized following the organization of the church. The same applied to the Altar Circle. On August 2nd, the Senior Usher Board was organized. The Pastor's Chorus was organized on July 28th at Wright's Temple of Service.
Among the first officer's of the church's auxiliaries were;
Mattie Anderson, President
Frances Butler, Vice President
Nettie Hastie, Financial Secretary
Beatrice Barnett, President
Janice Martin, First Vice-President
Martha Blount, Recording Secretary
Minnie Cooper, Financial Secretary
Beauty Ogletree, Program Chairman
Etta Martinear, Chaplain
Pearl Hutchinson, Second Vice President
Mattie Anderson, Chairman of the Sick Committee
Elizabeth Brown, Chairman of Social Concerns
The Altar Circle was organized in the home of Sister Helen Cannon
Lena Deny, President
Fannie Wright, Vice-President
Carnnie Mitchell, Recording Secretary
Lillian Stephens, Assistant Secretary
Lee Ann Hawk, Chairman of Sick Committee
Josephine O' Neal
Beatrice Blackmon, President
Luckie Griggs, Vice President
Zelma Lightfoot, Recording Secretary
Minnie Martin, Recording Secretary
Hattie Walker, Head Usher
Jimmie Lee Williams
Henry C. Wolfe
James S. Phillips
Rosa Tanner, President
Beatrice Humphrey, Vice-President
Betty Nicholson, Corresponding Secretary
Fannie Bell, Secretary
Lucille Banks, Sally Smith, Lena Cockrell and Willie Falls
Mary L. Cade
Johnnie Smith (Marshall)
Josephine House, Chaplain
Lillian Hunter, Program Chairman
Lucy A. Bryant
In September, 1949 the "Articles of Incorporation" were approved by the body.
The name assumed by this corporation and which it shall be known in law is:
The members of this church shall worship and labor together according to the discipline, rules and usage of the Baptist Church in the United States of America.
Plans were made for the acquisition of a permanent church home. A fashion show titled, "Judy's Dream" was presented at the Music Hall in Downtown Detroit. The "Jackson College Vesper Choir" was in concert at the Ebenezer A.M.E. Church. Both were outstanding fundraisers for the building fund.
With a strong, aggressive membership, supportive and dynamic pastoral leadership, the New Calvary Baptist Church purchased a three building structure, comprised of a sanctuary, an activity building and a nine-room parsonage at Concord and Stuart on Detroit's eastside. The Building Fund Group of the New Calvary Baptist Church was very active in the church's first year. The entire church membership pledged its financial support by tithing and generous giving. Approximately fifty percent of the membership were tithers. During the first year, members and friends contributed over $42,000.00.
A special notation must be shared regarding Mr. and Mrs. A.G. Wright, owners and directors of the A.G. Wright Temple of Service. They contributed with great generosity during this time to the Building Fund of New Calvary. Their loyal support, love and appreciation should forever be a part of the permanent records of New Calvary.
Tremendous growth occurred during the first year of the church. There were also a great many achievements that were accomplished throughout the various auxiliaries of the church. Membership of the Church School grew to 300 regularly attending members. The overall membership of the church increased from an organization of 450 members to 800 members. Fifty-six of the new members were candidates for baptism. Eight babies were dedicated during the first year. There were 350 auxiliary meetings held during the first year. A bus was secured to transport many members who lived in outer lying neighborhoods. A welfare fund was established for the relief of those in need. The church also established a Blood Bank for members of the Detroit Chapter of the American Red Cross. Members who were physically able, were asked to donate blood in the name of New Calvary in order to have blood available when needed by a parishioner (or anyone in the city).
On August 6, 1950, Reverend Thomas led a motorcade of 227 automobiles and two busses carrying 1,470 persons from the Wright Temple of Service to the beautiful sanctuary located at Concord and Stuart, for a Triple Celebration: First Anniversary of the Church, Dedication of the new Church Home and the Pastor's First Anniversary.
The late Rev. A.A. Banks, Jr., Pastor of The Second Baptist Church was guest preacher at the afternoon service. The celebration was held August 6th to August 21, 1950.
For the purposes of our church's history, following is the full sermon preached by Rev. Joseph T. Thomas at the Sunday morning worship service, held August 6, 1949.
By Pastor Joseph T. Thomas
"…Upon this rock I will build my Church: and the gates of hell shall not
prevail against it." Matthew 16:18
During nineteen years of my life spent in the Christian Ministry, I have had many strange and phenomenal experiences, all of which have contributed greatly to the formulation of my convictions about the Christian Church. Consequently, I wish to take advantage of this momentous and historical occasion to state, in brief, the truth thereof, for the benefit of those who have followed my leadership the past twelve months.
Experience has taught me that it is impossible for any one to live well without certain convictions, pertaining to those things which are supremely worthwhile. As Christians, if we wish to live meaningful lives in Christ, we must have some knowledge of and faith in the eternal truths of the Christian Church.
Since the organization of our church one year ago, a new light of truth of the idea of the Church has dawned upon my mind and heart as never before. Our success has been almost miraculous, but not without the aspects of faith, loyalty and devotion on the part of everyone who has followed. Obviously, at the beginning, much faith was required us to launch out into the "deep" one year ago, not knowing where we were headed, nor what was in store for us on the way. It is now quite evident to all that God had more than ample preparation for us, and we believe now that "all things work together for good to them that love the Lord." In the meantime, while we are rejoicing over our accomplishments, we must pause and consider the meaning of all this that has happened through us. I believe, among many things, that God through Christ has used the perpetuation of the true spirit of His Church in a restricted sense. There is no doubt about this. When Christ said to Peter, "Upon this rock I will build My Church…," we were included.
Generally speaking, there is a wide spread lacking as to the meaning of the idea of the Christian Church, and its function in a changing world. According to our tradition, the Church has been called a "body of baptized believers in Christ Jesus." Leaving out the traditionally denominational aspect, the Church is a group of people who believe in and attempt to live by the Spirit of the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. It probably is more, but certainly no less. Dr. Joseph F. Newton expresses my sentiments, and I hope that of yours in the following words: "The Church is an institution afloat- at a moment adrift- upon the waters that flow where they list, but do not run at random. We go, trusting, God willing, that good seamanship and a wise Pilot shall win to some undiscovered shore of human redemption." We see readily a reflection of ourselves in the experiences of a recent past. God help you to believe!
The Church in the beginning, because of its ability to unite all classes, clans, and races, was called "the Fellowship." It included folks of many origins who were drawn together, like us, by an unbelievable quest for happiness and a haunting sense of goodness. Although persecuted and driven to the ends of the earth, the Christian Church has survived because it was founded on a "rock."
For ages it has been argued and debated by the Clergy of many faiths that Christ built his Church on one thing or another. In spite of the fact that there have been many viewpoints set forth on this matter, it is my honest conviction, supported by many great contemporary thinkers, that Christ built His Church on the Spirit of Peter's confession, which emanated from a heart of faith in Christ as Redeemer and Savior of all mankind. That being true, the Church was built insofar as we believe that Christ is the Son of God, and so let us live as we honestly believe it. We can readily see that being a Christian is not a matter of repeating the words of any creed or ritual, but rather it is living a life in Christ Jesus.
Although our efforts have been tremendously rewarded in the form of physical accomplishments, our Spiritual and moral growth still remains at the infant state. This, however, is a true sign of hope. Now is the time for us to accept the challenge of the Christian Church, whose position in the world is being constantly questioned by those who have not understood its mission. In the second place, because of the appalling shortcomings of the organized Church, such as the evils of sectarianism, and the gross errors and disappointments of those within the "fold," there is much room allowed for objective criticism.
In a changing world, such questions: "Can the Church lead us out? Is Christianity enough?" Many more questions than these are raised concerning the position and dignity of the Church. According to the interpretation we have generally given of the life and teachings of Jesus Christ, the answer is a cut and dried, "no." We must conceive of Christ as being the mediator between man and God, and also as mediator between man and man. This latter truth unites all peoples, classes, and nations into one common bond of fellowship.
Being a part of this "fellowship" identifies us with the struggles, sorrows and sins of our fellowman, regardless of race, creed or color. Furthermore, this common bond of fellowship indicates togetherness; together we rise, together we fall. God, by virtue of the nature of His Creation, has so ordained it. Real Christianity puts at the head of all conduct, the Creed of Christ, which is supreme love to God and supreme love to men. Anyone who exemplifies the spirit of helpfulness, love and compassion towards others is a true representative of the Church of Christ. The trouble has been, and still is, it has not been tried. Before we deride or condemn the Church, let's give it a chance. This is our challenge, New Calvary, and let us accept it with faith in God, who has brought us so far. Amen.
The following is a schedule of the activities and events occurring during this time:
Sunday, August 6th
11:00 A.M.- Rev. Joseph T. Thomas, speaker.
3:00 P.M.- Auxiliary-in-charge, Nurse's Guild
Visiting Church- Second Baptist Church, Rev. A.A. Banks, Jr. speaker.
Monday, August 7th-
8:00 P.M.- Auxiliary-in-charge, Deacon Board
Visiting Church- New Bride Baptist Church, Rev. R.W. Wright, speaker.
Tuesday, August 8th-
8:00 P.M.- Auxiliary-in-charge, Pastor's Chorus
Visiting Church- Greater Mt. Moriah Baptist Church, Rev. J.S. Murray, speaker.
Wednesday, August 9th-
8:00 P.M.- Auxiliaries-in-charge, Church School and B.T.U.
Visiting Church- Olivet Baptist Church, Dr. J.H. Bruce, speaker
Thursday, August 10th-
8:00 P.M.- Auxiliary-in-charge, Senior Usher Board
Visiting Church- Mt. Olivet Baptist Church, Dr. H.E. Owens, speaker
Friday, August 11th-
8:00 P.M.- Auxiliary-in-charge, Altar Circle
Visiting Church, Greater Macedonia Baptist Church,
Dr. H.H. Coleman, speaker
Sunday, August 13th-
10:40 A.M.- Rev. Joseph T. Thomas, speaker
3:30 P.M.- Auxiliaries-in-charge, Young People's Choir and
the Courtesy Committee.
Sunday, August 13th (continued)-
Visiting Church- Gospel Temple Baptist, Dr. W.E. Ramsey, speaker
7:30 P.M.- Musical
Guests, The Troubadors, The St. Stephen Ladies Chorus,
Directed by James Johnson
Monday, August 14th-
8:00 P.M.- Auxiliary-in-charge, Trustee Board
Visiting Church, Sacred Cross Baptist, Rev. M. Franklin, speaker
Tuesday, August 15th-
8:00 P.M.- Auxiliary-in-charge, Missionary Society
Visiting Church, Shiloh Baptist, Dr. S.D. Ross, speaker
Wednesday, August 16th-
8:00 P.M.- Auxiliary-in-charge, Young People's Usher Board
Visiting Church, Tabernacle Baptist, Dr. J.J. McNeil, speaker
Thursday, August 17th-
8:00 P.M.- Auxiliary-in-charge, Ethereal Choir
Visiting Church, New Bethel Baptist, Dr. C.L. Franklin, speaker
Friday, August 18th-
8:00 P.M.- Auxiliary-in-charge, Athletic Activities
Visiting Church, Mt. Vernon Baptist, Dr. J.F. Greene, speaker
Sunday, August 20th, Dedication Services-
10:40 A.M., Dr. J.H. Jackson, Pastor Mt. Olivet Baptist Church
Chicago, Illinois (Vice-President, National Baptist Convention)
3:30 P.M.- Auxiliary-in-charge, Deaconess Board
Dr. J.H. Jackson, speaker
7:30 P.M.- Special Music
Ebenezer A.M.E. Senior Choir, Mrs. Elizabeth Gary, Directress
On January 21, 1951 Rev. Thomas called ten men of New Calvary together to form a Study Group to organize a Credit Union. They were; Delmar White, James Bonner, Joseph W. Williams, William C. Varnado, James Edwards, James Ponder, Clarence Branham, A.G. Wright, Louis Forrest and E.A. Wolfe. Under the direction of Mr. Edward B. Swintt, President of the Second Baptist Church Credit Union, meetings were held weekly until March 2, 1951. At this time the study group petitioned the church membership for the privilege of organizing and operating a Credit Union within New Calvary. The purpose was "to promote thrift and provide a source of credit for its members at legitimate rates." The Michigan State Banking Commission acknowledged the notice of intention to organize a credit union to be known as "Detroit New Calvary Baptist Church Credit Union," together with proposed by-laws on March 12, 1951. The certificate of organization and by-laws were approved April 4, 1951 by the state and placed on file with the Wayne County Clerk. The Credit Union began operations near the church office in the original Thomas Center Building, 6632 Stuart, Detroit, MI, 48207 with a treasury of $1,100.00.
On April 4, 1951, the New Calvary Baptist Credit Union was organized with assets of one thousand one hundred dollars. In a few short years, assets were valued at over a quarter of a million dollars.
In September, 1951 the New Calvary Unit System was instituted by Rev. Thomas. It was put into effect to accomplish several crucial areas regarding the membership of the church. These included; 1) To further the efforts of personal contact, 2) To encourage members to join an auxiliary wherever they can use their God-given talent(s), 3) To advance the spirit of fellowship towards New Calvary and its activities, 4) To teach tithing and generous giving on the part of all members, 5) To enjoy social as well as spiritual fellowship. The system began with ten units and each member was assigned.
Also in the early 1950s, Rev. Carl Marbury became New Calvary's first student intern. He attended Oberlin College and later taught at Alabama State University.
Demonstrating deep social consciousness for church and community, New Calvary became a life member of the N.A.A.C.P. on July 1, 1957.
On July 2, 1958, eight short years after entry into the new building, the final payment was made on the Church property. On August 3, 1958, the Mortgage Burning Ceremony was held in a dual celebration of the Church and Pastor's Anniversary. The guest preacher was Reverend H.H. Coleman, Pastor of Greater Macedonia Baptist Church.
On June 28, 1959, the cornerstone was laid by the Prince Hall Grand Lodge during ceremonies.
Without question, the 1950s proved to be a miraculous, God anointed and progressive decade for the New Calvary Baptist Church family. While there were certainly challenges that needed to be met, it appeared that growth and development were taking place in every week of the month, every month of the year and all the combined years of the decade. Both national and international changes were rewriting the progress of human civilization. The decade began with North Korea's invasion of South Korea in 1950. This set off a worldwide race with Democracy and Communism attempting to convert developing countries. At the end of the decade, Fidel Castro achieved victory in Cuba and gave allegiance to the U.S.S.R., though the island nation was almost within a stone's throw of the United States. Other major events of note included the revolution of Bolivia in 1952 and the domination of the Peron family in Argentina from 1943 to 1955. In 1957, Ghana became the first independent nation on the African Continent and Kwame Nkrumah rose to prominence. A few short years later, nearly every African country would achieve its own independence after hundreds of years of colonialism by European countries.
The poor, the neglected, the abused and oppressed peoples of the world were beginning to rise. Old world domination that came through racism and discrimination was in for the fight that would forever change the landscape of the world. How important it is to see the progress of New Calvary Baptist Church of Detroit, Michigan in this larger context. Blacks in Detroit were affected, positively and negatively by what was happening worldwide. Yet, the incredible growth of New Calvary stands as a veritable testimony to the determination and faith of a people, combined with the power and presence of God.
The 1950's began with a war in Korea and ended with the escalation of U.S. troops in Vietnam. However, at New Calvary there was evidence of a sweet, sweet spirit. There was a focus on the family, a hunger for the word of God and a genuine fellowship which combined to create a church that was relevant for the community. By now, the membership had grown to well over one thousand and there appeared to be no ending to the amazing numerical growth of the congregation.
The 1960s began with a spirit of optimism unmatched in the brief history of New Calvary. The founding pastor was in his mid-forties, an age where most African American pastors are able to combine education, experience, love for God and knowledge of the congregation. Such a combination usually meant implementation of plans for personal and church growth.
O April 30, 1961, the Reverend Vernon Johns, prominent preacher and predecessor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama was preacher of the hour at New Calvary. At the time of his visit to New Calvary, he made his home in Petersburg, Virginia. On the third Sunday in October, 1961, Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was the guest speaker at New Calvary's Annual Men's Day. There was an overflow crowd and speakers were installed in the Thomas Center to accommodate the overflow. Speakers were also mounted outside so those standing in the streets could hear the preacher of the hour.
Considerable attention must be given regarding the leadership, service and commitment of New Calvary's first pastor, Joseph T. Thomas. African Americans were on the verge of tremendous change in the decade of the 1950s. Old Jim and Jane Crow were being met with challenges that would prove to be their undoing. In 1954, the case of Brown vs. the Topeka, Kansas Board of Education, struck down discrimination in public schools. A year later, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. led the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which would lead to the end of discrimination in public transportation. It would also start an all out assault on all forms of racial discrimination occurring in the Deep South. Rev. Thomas was a native of the Deep South. Born and raised in Mississippi, there is no question that his heart was filled with considerable joy over the changes taking place.
There was also a feeling of great exuberance among African Americans in the Motor City. A majority of African American residents in Detroit, were born in the south themselves. Black Detroiters possessed significant ties and connections to black southerners. Rev. Thomas was a spiritual leader at a time when there was pride in one's southern heritage. At the same time, Detroit was a northern town. They celebrated the changes in the south and often wanted to play a role in assisting and aiding their family members who were still there.
In addition, New Calvary members loved Rev. Thomas. He possessed an ingratiating spirit, endearing friends and strangers alike. There was much that Rev. Thomas sacrificed personally, in order to fulfill the call of God to pastor New Calvary. Barely thirty when he first arrived in Detroit, New Calvary eventually became his home and its members surely became his family. A studious preacher, he wrote a majority of his sermons and several manuscripts remain in the archives of the church. For a time he served as Chairman of the Stewardship Division of the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc. He was a leading minister in Detroit in the changing and challenging decade of the fifties. His love for New Calvary and the people was consuming. The depth of his mind, the friendliness of his character, the directness of his personality, all endeared him into the hearts of the church family.
After a very brief illness, on October 5, 1962, God called the valiant leader, Rev. Joseph T. Thomas, Pastor and Founder of the New Calvary Baptist Church, from labor to reward. At the time of his death, Rev. Thomas was a graduate student at Oberlin College's Graduate School of Theology in Oberlin, Ohio. He was scheduled to have graduated in January, 1963. The last sermon he preached at New Calvary was on Sunday, September 2, 1962 and was titled, "The Words of Eternal Life."
Funeral services were held Monday, October 8, 1962 at 1:00 P.M. The Rev. Charles W. Butler delivered the eulogy. Just before his death at the University of Michigan Hospital in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Rev. Thomas called several deacons to his bedside. He recommended to them that the church consider another pastor in Detroit, as his successor. The man was Charles William Butler, who was then pastor of Metropolitan Baptist Church in Detroit. Rev. Butler's work experience included three years as Assistant Professor of Biblical Literature at Morehouse College and the Morehouse School of Religion. On December 31, 1962, New Calvary called Reverend Butler to be it's second pastor. He assumed leadership as pastor on April 1, 1963.
Pastor Charles William Butler
What possible summation can accurately and succinctly describe the decade of the sixties for African Americans? This is especially true for those living in urban centers throughout the United States. The decade began with great hope and firm belief that positive changes would soon create an environment of equality and justice for people of color throughout America. Sit-in demonstrations in the Deep South had already proven to be a strong mechanism for the creation of change. The old system of inequality was falling away. The 1950s included important judicial changes in the south that benefited the progress of African Americans.
With the election of John Fitzgerald Kennedy as president of the United States, the Black community possessed a confidence that broad, sweeping reform would take place. The pace and quantity of demonstrations picked up tremendously. However, the resistance to such change was also greatly intensified. Peaceful demonstrations now resulted in full-fledged attacks by white southerners opting for an old way of life that was based on separate but (so called) equal. It became evident that any progress and development would come only after an all out escalation against public discrimination and a full protest for complete integration.
Tragedy after tragedy soon beset the nation. A year after the loss of Joseph T. Thomas, Medger Evers, president of the Mississippi NAACP, was assassinated in the driveway of his home in Jackson. Soon after, President John F. Kennedy was felled by an assassin's bullet in Dallas, Texas. Many men and women engaged in the struggle for equality were also killed in the Deep South. In 1965, Malcom X was killed by fellow Muslims in a power struggle with Elijah Muhammed on the direction of the Nation of Islam. In April of 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. died from an assassin's bullet on the balcony of the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis, Tennessee. In June of that same year, presidential candidate Robert Kennedy was silenced by an assassin's bullet in a hotel in California.
In 1967, the city of Detroit experienced perhaps one of the most traumatic episodes to ever occur in an urban center in the history of the United States. Nothing in our nation's history could compare to the magnitude, the violence and the altering of a city's landscape, as the riot (or "rebellion" as some African American Detroiters have called it) of 1967. Most Detroit historians would be the first to remind people that this was not the city's first race riot. The entire nation was engulfed in racial unrest during the summer of 1919 when Negro soldiers returned from Europe after the end of WWI. Faced with the same practices of discrimination they had left, many soldiers refused to accept such inequality. As a result, the summer is often known as the "Bloody Summer of 1919." Detroit also experienced another racial incident in 1925 when Ossain Sweet, a prominent African American physician was tried for murder after shooting into a crowd of several hundred angry whites who surrounded his newly purchased home in a white neighborhood. In 1942 a massive protest against black families moving into the new Sojourner Truth development sparked a riot in which 40 people were injured, 220 people were arrested and 109 people were held for trial. Another riot occurred in 1943, beginning at Belle Isle. Racial tensions had always been in existence in Detroit, long before the summer of 1967.
On July 23, 1967 in the middle of a swelteringly hot summer, eighty-five people were arrested at an illegal, after-hours bar on Twelfth Street. This was the center of one of Detroit's largest neighborhoods where blacks resided. By morning, thousands of people had gathered to protest the arrests. After five days of rioting, forty-three people were dead, 7,231 men and women were arrested and property damage affected 2,509 buildings. While the worst riot in the history of the nation occurred in 1967, the underlying implications for the riot found their genesis decades earlier. And it was into this kind of atmosphere that New Calvary's second pastor arrived.
Charles William Butler was born May 4, 1922 in Dermott, Arkansas, the fifth of nine children born to George Jackson Butler and Effie Leon Russell Butler. He earned a B.A. in Chemistry from Philander Smith College in 1943. During WWII he served as a Sergeant in the United States Army where he was stationed in Nancy, France. He received his call to ministry during this time. Upon his return to the United States he married his college sweetheart, Helen Odean Scoggins. He earned a B.D. and M.Div. He also began doctoral studies work at Columbia University in New York, New York. In 1951 he accepted an invitation to teach Biblical Literature at Morehouse College's School of Religion. In 1958 he accepted a call to pastor Metropolitan Baptist Church in Detroit, Michigan. He was awarded honorary Doctor of Divinity degrees from Morehouse College and Birmingham Baptist College. Upon his arrival, Pastor Butler's family included his wife, Helen Odean Scoggins Butler and children; Charles Jr., Keith Byron, Kevin Bryan, Ifetayo Beverly. After the death of his wife, Pastor Butler married Rosalind Curry and became stepfather to her son, Keith.
During the transition period between the death of Pastor Thomas and the call of Pastor Butler, New Calvary presented a $1,000 gift to the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, Georgia to help build a dormitory for Baptist students. Dr. Benjamin E. Mays, President of Morehouse College was guest speaker for the 10:30 A.M. and 3:30 P.M. worship services.
Installation services were held for Pastor Butler at 4:00 P.M. on May 26, 1963. Mrs. Dorothy Easley served as chairperson of the Installation Committee. The Reverend W. H. Riggins, Assistant to the Pastor at New Calvary, presided. Included on the program were;
Rev. Fulton O. Bradley (Pastor, Tabernacle Baptist Church)
Rev. William Reed (Pastor, Greater King Solomon Baptist Church)
Rev. Jacob C. Oglesby (Pastor, Greater Christ Baptist Church)
Rev. Henry Parker (Vicar, Church of the Resurrection Episcopal, Ecorse)
Reverend L. Juan Burt (Pastor, The Calvary Baptist Church)
Reverend E.C. Copeland (Pastor, Second Baptist Church, River Rouge)
Rev. Estel I. Odle, Director of Christian Education, Detroit Council of Churches)
Mrs. Dorothy Easley and,
Rev. Joseph H. Williams (Pastor, First Baptist Church Institutional).
The Reverend Charles A. Hill, pastor of Hartford Avenue Baptist Church, of Detroit, introduced the speaker who was Dr. H.H. Coleman, pastor of Grater Macedonia Baptist Church of Detroit.
Through Pastor Butler's leadership the church's path was paved with spiritual growth and progress. He organized the Religious Education Committee, instituted New Member's Orientation Classes and began conducting Lenten and Maundy Thursday services. Pastor Butler began an innovative building program to construct a new Thomas Memorial Center. This effort was financed through bond issues. Six homes were purchased adjacent to the Church. The Thomas Center was officially dedicated on July 21, 1974.
New Calvary applauded the achievements of many of its civic-minded members, including the Honorable Coleman A. Young, Detroit's first Black Mayor. To honor great contributors in the community, the church began an annual "Bridge Builder's Breakfast." This gathering created opportunities for persons in the city to be recognized and awarded fore their contributions to society. The event became so popular that it was held at Cobo Hall Arena for a number of years.
Pastor Butler served as president of the Michigan Progressive Baptist Convention, 1980-82; president of the Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc., 1982-84; president of the Council of Baptist Pastors, 1987-91 and chair of the Congress of National Black Churches beginning in 1981.
Under the leadership of Pastor Butler, New Calvary also became deeply involved in various civic affairs in the city of Detroit. A non-profit, neighborhood rehabilitation organization, EXODUS, began. Designed to provide specific assistance to the local neighborhood, Exodus served as a liaison between neighborhood residents and city hall. Neighborhood Block Grants, opportunities for home owners and specific programs for senior citizens were all supported and shared through the efforts of Exodus. In addition, another non-profit housing organization VISION (Vital Investments Serving in Our Neighborhood) was founded. This organization spearheaded the building of ninety-nine affordable housing units on East Vernor named the Helen Odean Butler Apartments (in memory of the former First Lady of New Calvary). The apartments remain a viable and important part of southeast side community, located in the area formerly known as "Black Bottom." Yet another organization was founded under the leadership of Pastor Butler and the New Calvary officers, NECABA (taken from the first two letters of New Calvary Baptist). Designed specifically as a management group, NECABA came into existence when an opportunity arose to manage the Gethsemane Cemetery located on Gratiot Avenue near Conner. New Calvary entered into a twenty-five year agreement with the City of Detroit, to manage the public cemetery.
Pastor Butler held various positions at the local and national level, during his tenure with New Calvary. Respected and admired among his peers throughout the nation, he was often called "The Pastor-Theologian" of the Black Church.
Pastor Butler served New Calvary during a remarkably challenging time in American history. As leader of the church, he successfully guided the church family through the turbulent sixties. He served as a leading member of the city's clergy during an era of civil unrest and protracted demonstrations for freedom and justice. When Dr. King spoke in Detroit in January, 1963, Pastor Butler was one of the clergy who planned the march that culminated at Cobo Hall. He also guided the church family through the untimely deaths of outstanding visionaries and leaders like President John F. Kennedy, Medgar Evers, Malcom X, Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr.
As already stated, in the summer of 1967, civil unrest broke out throughout the United States. None was worse than in Detroit. Much of the city was burned. Businesses were destroyed, homes were burned to the ground, men and women were killed and it soon became evident that the city would never again be the same. During this time, Pastor Butler stayed the course, and continued the progress and development of New Calvary. Certainly his mantra could have been, "this too shall pass."
In 1973, African Americans in the city rejoiced when Coleman Alexander Young became the first Black Mayor. There was for the first time, a tremendous and heightened sense of anticipation. Hope filled the streets of the city. There was a firm belief that after so many years of mistreatment at the hands of white city officials and particularly, white police officers, that justice and equality had finally arrived.
For the next eighteen years, Pastor Butler served as pastor and personal advisor to Mayor Coleman A. Young. They helped to move the city of Detroit forward after "white flight" created a tremendous girth of resources. As the city became transformed and the resident population became poorer and predominately African American, Pastor Butler held out hope that the best was yet to come. To that end, he applied himself to the work of councils, committees and conventions, hoping that the effort would yield fruit for years to come.
After the tragic consequences of the 1967 riots, Detroit had settled into the 1970s. Obviously it was a time for renewed hope and faith that things in the city of Detroit would improve, particularly under an African American administration. The decade of the seventies was marked by monumental opportunities for growth and development in African American communities throughout the nation. Changes in higher education created the chance for nearly any high school student who desired, to attend a college or university. Funds were available. Many white schools began Black Studies departments, hired Black professors and began to show some concern about black students. Likewise, many corporations and companies throughout the nation began hiring Black professionals at rates much faster than in any previous decade. The black middle class was burgeoning as never before.
Perhaps more than any other decade in American history, blacks began to express tremendous pride in their heritage and culture during the seventies. Significant attention was given to forging an identity with Africa. Married couples began giving their children African names. African attire was worn. Men and women wore their hair in "naturals" as a way of expressing pride in their heritage. Added to the concentration on Africa was a newfound sense of pride in African-American culture. Music, dance, clothing and other components found in the black community, were lifted up to be revered and admired. In Hollywood, any number of Black "exploitation" movies were made and released, aimed primarily at black consumers. For the most part, young people growing up in African American communities during the seventies were taught that the sky was the limit. They were told that they could achieve anything they set their minds towards.
And it was in this kind of atmosphere that Pastor Butler continued to lead the congregation of New Calvary, raising his own four children in this period of great possibilities.
A number of persons served in ministry at New Calvary, under the leadership of Pastor Butler. They included; Rev. Worshard H. Riggins, Rev. Connie Hildreth, Rev. Fidy R. Giles, Rev. Henry Holt, Rev. James Curenton, Rev. Ronald Warner, Rev. Larry Rand, Rev. Richard Patterson, Rev. Herbert Ford and Rev. Aswad Issa.
After thirty-four years of dedicated service to the congregation of New Calvary, Pastor Butler retired in 1996. He left behind a strong legacy of excellence and service. He became Pastor Emeritus of New Calvary and held that title until his death on June 21, 2004. One of his oldest and dearest friends, Rev. Jack Ealy delivered the eulogy and over 100 pastors and ministers from around the nation, were in attendance.
Pastor Michael C.R. Nabors
The decade of the nineties proved to be one filled with ambiguities for African Americans in Detroit and throughout the nation. Without question, the great strides in the African American community were evident. Never had there been more African Americans to reach the middle class. And there had never been a time when so many had also reached the upper class strata. There were millionaires and billionaires who could trace themselves back to the humble beginnings of slavery. It almost appeared that the many sacrifices and struggles for equality and justice were finally paying off.
And yet, only half of the picture has been painted. True enough, African Americans made great leaps economically, politically and in many other arenas, something proved to be awry. The increasing gap between America's richest and poorest, was growing exponentially. Likewise, this gap was very evident between American's wealthiest blacks and American's poorest blacks. While great opportunity loomed, a vast majority of people were not able to reach it. This was especially true for the city of Detroit.
After seventeen years of meritorious service to the city of Detroit, Coleman Alexander Young (the city's first Black mayor) now passed the baton on to Dennis Archer (the city's second Black mayor). The year was 1994. Archer's administration proved to be markedly different from Young's administration. Focus on Downtown Development appeared to take precedent over other areas. Businesses were encouraged to re-enter the city, and to accept very generous tax incentives. Deals were made for two of Detroit's professional athletic teams (the Detroit Tigers and the Detroit Lions) to build stadiums in Downtown Detroit. A master plan was unveiled regarding development of Detroit's beautiful waterfront. In an effort that was pushed by former Mayor Young, Detroit now became home to three casinos located in (or near) the downtown area. Business was indeed, booming.
However, a closer look into the city also revealed disturbing realities. Poor neighborhoods, poor people, environmental and ecological challenges, all loomed as tremendous problems in the city. In early 2000, Detroit was designated as the poorest city in the nation. In another study, the city was ranked among the most violent urban centers in America. The rate of unemployment, underemployment and permanent poor all proved to be increasing, at the same time the business future of the city looked bright.
After eight years of service, Archer passed the baton of leadership to a young, thirty year-old, Kwame Kilpatrick. Born into a political family (his mother is Carolyn Cheeks-Kilpatrick, member of Congress), Kilpatrick continued down the avenue begun by his immediate predecessor, Dennis Archer. Business continues booming in the downtown area. At the same time, great challenges continue to arise for Detroit's poor and permanently poor residents. This is not more evident than on Detroit's southeast side, the very area where New Calvary Baptist Church has engaged in ministry for nearly fifty-eight of its fifty-nine years.
As a new century began, the city was beset with a plethora of problems. At the same time, it could also boast of triumphs and successes regarding business and corporate growth. General Motors elected to house its permanent, international headquarters at the Renaissance Center in downtown Detroit. The public school system of the city proved to be one of the worst in the nation. Major computer mogul Compuware, built a new, multi-million dollar building in downtown Detroit, electing to leave a neighboring suburb. At the same time, violent crimes were not reduced throughout the city. The city hosted both a baseball All-Star Game and the Super Bowl. And yet, homelessness, hunger, abandoned buildings and homes abounded, throughout every geographical region of the city.
Detroit, as is true of several urban centers in America, stands at a crucial point in its history. The start of a new millennium has proven to be filled with excitement-filled opportunities and agonizing realities regarding poverty and its accompanying features. One of the most telling factors during this time, has been the shrinking population of the city. Once swelling to two million residents, Detroit is now closer to (or under) nine hundred thousand. As the entire state faces grave challenges in light of the massive downsizing of the automobile industry, Detroit may well stand to decrease even further in size.
Many persons leaving the city and state, are those who can afford to re-locate. These usually include middle and upper middle class men and women who decide to find gainful employment in other regions of the nation. This trend has probably been occurring over the past ten years. How does this bode for the city? And regarding the religious community and houses of worship, what does the future? Indeed, New Calvary faces its most formidable challenge; adjusting its ministries and mission to meet the changing trends so evident within the Detroit Metropolitan Area. It was in this flux of change, that Pastor Michael Nabors accepted the call to become New Calvary's third pastor in its vaunted history.
Michael Charles Ramon Nabors was born in Kalamazoo, Michigan the youngest of nine children born to Clarence Lee Nabors and Kathleen Whaling Nabors. He was educated in the Kalamazoo Public Schools. He received his call into ministry at an early age. He earned his B.S. degree in English and Creative Writing at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo. He also earned the Master of Divinity and Master of Theology degrees from Princeton Theological Seminary in Princeton, New Jersey. He earned his Doctor of Ministry degree from United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio where he studied as a Samuel DeWitt Proctor Fellow. In 1985, he was called to pastor The First Baptist Church of Princeton where he served faithfully as a minister for ten years. He also served as Assistant Pastor of Shiloh Baptist Church in Trenton, New Jersey for four years. At the time of his arrival to New Calvary, Pastor Nabor's family included his wife Sydni and four children; Simone Charice, LaNez Dominic, JaRell Desmond and Spencer Alexandria. In 2004, Pierce Alexander was born.
Under the leadership of the chairman of the Deacon Board, Jerry Bradford, a Pulpit Committee was formed. New Calvary began the process of searching for its third pastor. After nearly two years, the Pulpit Committee offered the name of Rev. Dr. Michael C.R. Nabors of New Jersey. At a meeting in March of 1998, the church came together in a special call meeting for the purpose of voting for Dr. Nabors as pastor of the church. A necessary two-thirds majority was required. Dr. Nabors received the required number of votes and was extended the call to serve New Calvary. Deacon Jerry Bradford called Dr. Nabors immediately after the vote and issued and announced the results. After careful prayer and deliberation, Dr. Nabors accepted the call to serve as Pastor of New Calvary and officially began service on Easter of 1998.
Pastor Nabors and his wife Sydni Craig, were living in North Brunswick, New Jersey. He was serving as Executive Director of the Joint Commission on Civil Rights in Princeton, New Jersey. For the next six months, he commuted between New Jersey and Detroit.
Installation services for Pastor Nabors included an array of worship services, introducing him to the religious community in Detroit. Services began October 19, 1998 and included:
Dr. Kevin Turman (Pastor, Second Baptist Church)
Rev. Frederick G. Sampson (Pastor, Tabernacle Baptist Church)
Rev. Lawrence Foster (Pastor, The Calvary Baptist Church)
Rev. John Peoples (Pastor, Cosmopolitan Baptist Church)
Rev. Samuel Bullock (Pastor, Bethany Baptist Church).
On Sunday, October 25th the 10:30 A.M. the speaker was Rev. Charles William Butler, Pastor Emeritus. The 4:00 P.M. speaker was Rev. Dr. Michael Eric Dyson of Columbia University, New York, NY.
In 2001, Pastor Nabors became a board member of the Detroit NAACP. He also became a board member of a Minister's Committee for The Skillman Foundation. The Foundation began an after-school program called "A Call to Service" in memory of its former president, William Beckham. Beckham was a member of New Calvary and had spoken with Pastor Nabors about starting a program through the Foundation. After several months, the program began with The Skillman Foundation directing five million dollars of its assets over the following five years. In addition, Pastor Nabors wrote a request for a proposal to begin an after school program at New Calvary titled, "Project Potential." Project Potential included Genesis Lutheran Church, Mount Calvary Baptist Church, St. Luke Missionary Baptist Church and Allen Temple AME Church. The program ran for five years and received nearly $400,000.
Also in 2001, a Ten-Year Strategic Plan was completed by a core group of laypersons in the congregation. The Plan sought to outline the challenges and opportunities New Calvary would experience in the following decade. Many aspects of the plan were put into motion and it was unanimously accepted by the congregation in a Quarterly Business Meeting. Also in 2001, over twenty youth from New Calvary attended the PNBC Annual Session held in Tampa, Florida. Youth Minster Stephen Feagin played a role in supervising the trip.
From 2002-04, Pastor Nabors became president of the Michigan Progressive Baptist Convention. Under his leadership the state convention settled into its permanent offices in the Samaritan Center located on Conner St. in Detroit. MPBC also achieved 501C(3) status and began its website. In 2004, Pastor Nabors worked with members of Wayne State University in writing a request for proposal to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation of New Jersey. The proposal sought to empower community organizations and churches to offer educational programming in the area of physical fitness and health. Detroit was one of ten cities awarded a grant of one million dollars to run its program for three years. New Calvary became the project manager for the program servicing the southeast area of Detroit. Also in 2004, New Calvary had a dynamic church leadership retreat that began in January under the theme "The Best is Yet to Come." A strong spirit of optimism and opportunity began to breathe upon the church as new groups were formed. The Publicity Committee, The Neighborhood Outreach and The Spiritual Enhancement Groups met throughout the year and helped to increase volunteerism throughout the congregation.
In 2005, Paul Johnson, a minister from the United Church of Canada visited New Calvary with a youth group from his church, just outside Toronto. In the fall of that year, Pastor Nabors led a youth group from New Calvary to the United Church of Canada in Toronto for an overnight stay and worship on Sunday morning.
In the fall of 2006, Pastor Nabors was invited to give a five-part lecture series to the Baptist Pastor's Council of Detroit and Vicinity. He selected the subject "The Disappearance of Revolutionary Rhetoric as an Existential Paradigm in the African American Religious Experience." Well received, the lectures became a part of the permanent records of the Council.
For the past five years, Pastor Nabors has taught Theology, Church History, Preaching and African American Religious Thought at the following schools; Ashland Theological Seminary, Ecumenical Theological Seminary and Marygrove College. Under his leadership, New Calvary seeks to remain committed to a faith that challenges the mind, inspires the soul, touches the heart and strengthens the body. Various Bible Studies at New Calvary have included the following themes; The African Presence in the Bible, Reading the Bible in One Year, Fresh Wind Fresh Fire, The Mission of the Church, Making Your Church Hum, The Book of Revelation, The Gospel of John, and several others. A weekly Teen Bible Study has begun and Church School classes for Women and Men have also become a fixture in the area of Christian Education.
During his tenure at New Calvary, Pastor Nabors has licensed to the Christian Ministry, Rev. Donald Beasley, Rev. Johnnie Rivers (the first woman to be licensed to the Christian Ministry at New Calvary) Bernard Robinson and Rev. Deborah Key. He also ordained to the Christian Ministry Rev. Stephen Feagin and Rev. Richard Patterson. Other ministers who have served New Calvary under his leadership have been; Rev. Aswad Issa, Rev. Larry Rand, Rev. Diane Bradford (the first woman to be named Assistant to the Pastor at New Calvary) Rev. Annette Howard, Rev. Barbara Allison-Simpson and Rev. Arnold Purnell.
One cannot help but believe and be well assured, that God has been with New Calvary Baptist Church for these 58 years. Without question, with the many changes occurring in our community and nation, the work of the church continues. And the best is yet to come.
Following is a sermon Pastor Nabors preached at New Calvary, which was later published by the Baptist Progress, the journal of the Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc. It is titled, "Faith and Citizenship."
The New Calvary History can be downloaded as a .PDF file by clicking on this link: newcalvaryhistory.pdf