HARTFORD MEMORIAL BAPTIST CHURCH, MARTIN LUTHER KING DAY 2009
“A good old fashioned revival in the middle of January,” is how pastor Charles G. Adams described the coming together of his congregation on January 18, the Sunday prior to the national observance of what would have been the eightieth birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King. The weather was in the throes of the biggest deep freeze of the winter, but nothing could quell the exuberance of the house, which had additional reasons for pride and hope: The Tuesday following, America would inaugurated Barack Obama, her first African American president.
Hartford Memorial Baptist Church has a history that’s as fascinating and convoluted as the nation herself. Founded in 1917 under the pastorship of the Reverend Edgar Wendell Edwards who was soon called to mission in Chicago, his successor, the Reverend Charles A. Hill, Sr., remained in his position until 1968, throughout was is arguably the most monumental years of change for Detroit’s black population. An outspoken champion of civil rights, the Reverend Hill was one of the first African Americans to run for the Detroit City Council, and in a show of courage, opened the Hartford pulpit to nonconformists like W.E.B. Dubois (of whom Dr. Martin Luther King wrote: "History cannot ignore W.E.B. Dubois because history must reflect truth and Dr. Dubois was a tireless explorer and a gifted discoverer of social truths”) and Paul Robeson, the controversial actor, singer, athlete and Stalin Peace Prize laureate. A strong supporter of organized labor, Reverend Hill allowed the UAW Ford Local 600 to organize in Hartford Church.
Hill was succeeded by Dr. Charles Gilchrist Adams, a native Detroiter and an honors graduate of the University of Michigan and Harvard University. The doctoral fellow in Union Theological Seminary in New York City, the Reverend Adams has been awarded twelve honorary doctorates from such institutions as Morehouse College, Marygrove College, Dillard University, Morris College, Kalamazoo College in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and the University of Michigan. A prolific writer, Dr. Adams has published locally and nationally in scholarly journals and daily and weekly in newspapers. His sermon, "Drunk on the Eve of Reconstruction" appeared in the Winter 2001-2002 Edition of The African American Pulpit (Judson Press). Judson Press also published 9.11.01 African American Leaders Respond to an American Tragedy in which a sermon by Dr. Adams is featured. In September of 2002, Westminster John Knox Press published Power in the Pulpit, in which Dr. Adams describes how he prepares, writes and delivers his sermons.
So wide-reaching and ecumenical are the words of Reverend Adams that at Sunday’s service, the esteemed Rabbi, Daniel B. Syme of Bloomfield Hills’ Temple Beth El, referred to him as “his mentor.” Rabbi Syme, whose respect and admiration for the passionate freedom of African American religious expression began in his early childhood, gave a post-sermon message of inspiration that was filled with both humor and hope at the Sunday service, referencing both Dr. King and President Obama in the most joyful of terms. The hope is that we are witnessing a significant coming together of two divergent faiths and races on the eve of the inauguration and the events of 2009 are harbingers of better times to come.