In 1808, a group of Ethiopian seamen were visiting New York and attended the First Baptist Church in the City of New York for Sunday services. Disgusted by the segregation they were subjected to they, along with allied African American parishioners, left in protest. The new congregation they began together was called the Abyssinian Baptist Church, Abyssinian being the historic name of Ethiopia.
Under the leadership of Adam Clayton Powell, Sr., the church finally found a permanent home in 1920, after Powell initiated purchasing of property in the new African American neighborhood of Harlem. In 1937, Powell turned over the reigns to his son, who became pastor of the largest Protestant congregation in the U.S. with over 4,000 members.
Since Abyssinian’s move north, it has served as the touchstone for religious music in the Harlem Renaissance, conducting the wedding of Nat King Cole and the funeral of “The Father of Blues”, W.C. Handy, in 1958. Today, the church continues to be an important part of the Harlem community and is a common stop for foreign tourists wishing to hear in person real Gospel music. Services are held at 9 and 11am on Sundays but get there early to find a seat. Regular church members are let in first and then the queue of tourists, which can extend around the block, are ushered in.
Abyssinian Baptist Church
132 Odell Clark Place, New York, NY 10030-2303 – (212) 862-7474
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