The Abyssinian Baptist Church is the home of one of New York City’s oldest church organizations and the second oldest within the family of African-American churches in Manhattan. Organized in 1808 by a small group of black worshippers who withdrew from the predominantly white First Baptist Church on Gold Street, the Abyssinian Baptist Church was incorporated in the following year, adopting the ancient name for Ethiopia.
The northward movement of the Abyssinian congregation, which occupied several successive locations from its first home in a wooden church on Worth Street to its imposing stone edifice in Harlem, followed the residential patterns of New York’s black population. Under the leadership of the Reverend William Spellman during the second half of the nineteenth century, the church grew rapidly into one of the wealthiest of the “African” congregations.
In the twentieth century, the Reverend Adam Clayton Powell, Sr.’s “social gospel,” blending social activism with spiritual leadership, set the tone for Abyssinian’s ongoing mission to serve its community. Commissioned during Powell’s tenure, the striking church building and the adjoining community house were the work of Charles W. Bolton & Son, a productive Philadelphia firm which specialized in churches. The neo-Gothic design of the church reflects the tradition of Protestant church architecture of the 1920s. Powell’s son and successor, Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., who served eleven terms as a U.S. Congressman, put Abyssinian at the forefront of the national crusade for social reform and civil rights.
During his pastorate, the church membership grew to over 10,000, placing it among the largest Protestant churches in the world. Today, the church leadership under the Reverend Calvin Butts continues its commitment to religious and social service and economic development in Harlem.
STATUS Designated Individual Landmark
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Doreen Gallo: DUMBO Neighborhood Alliance
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Fern Luskin: Lamartine Place Historic District; Friends of Lamartine Place & Gibbons Underground Railroad Site
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Zella Jones: NoHo Historic District; NoHo East; and NoHo Extension
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Erika Petersen: West End Preservation Society
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City Lore, Folklorist
Bronx Music Heritage Center, Co-Artistic Director
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founder and Executive Director,