Twelfth Baptist Church
150 Warren Street Roxbury, MA
Author: Angelica Coleman
Twelfth Baptist Church is the oldest direct descendent of the African Baptist Church of Beacon Hill, organized in 1806. In the 1800s the Twelfth Baptist Church, situated on Beacon Hill, served as an anti-slavery meetinghouse and provided spiritual guidance to free blacks and fugitive slaves.
Twelfth Baptist Church was formed when there was a split in membership at the African Meeting house in 1840. The reasons for the split are unclear, but it is speculated that there was a difference of opinions about how to protest slavery and race oppression. There is also speculation that the integration over segregation strategy divided the membership and the overall lack of a permanent unifying minister lead to disagreements about how to run the Meeting House. Either way, a small group of people moved out of the Meeting House and started their own Twelfth Baptist Church led by Reverend Black, who had been pasturing at the Meeting House.
Twelfth Baptist Church had no permanent minister for nearly eight years after leaving the African Meeting House. They also had little money to build a church building or to hire a permanent minister. Weekly they had different ministers, basically anyone who would volunteer. Surprisingly, members’ faith never wavered, despite their shaky conditions. In 1848 Rev. Leonard A. Grimes of New Bedford, MA was invited for a Sabbath, and liked the church so much, stayed for a three month period, marking the beginning of a 26-year ministry for him at the Twelfth Baptist. He was minister of Twelfth Baptist from 1848-1874.
With the hiring of Rev. Grimes, church membership doubled and by late 1848, he and members agreed to raise funds to build their own permanent house of worship. On August 1, 1850 the cornerstone of Twelfth Baptist Church was laid and slowly, construction for the new home began. Unfortunately, the passing of the Fugitive Slave Law (law that allowed slave-owners with assistance from federal agents and the court to arrest escaped slaves and have them returned to slavery in the South) in September of 1850 halted construction. Many members who were escaped slaves fled to Canada to avoid being re-captured, but not were so lucky. A few members were captured and arrested. Though some were eventually able to purchase their freedom, Twelfth Baptist Church was forced to close their doors temporarily.
Rev. Grimes had a strong drive, however, and with the help of other ministers and white abolitionists, such as William Lloyd Garrison and Charles Sumner, he raised enough money to complete and open the new church by 1855 and he also had enough money to purchase those church members who were captures and save them from slavery. Rev. Grimes also fought hard to allow Africans the right to bear arms in the Civil War. Because many of them were technically free, they wanted to fight for their country and help abolish slavery. Grimes appealed directly to the governor of Massachusetts and eventually got the right for blacks to join the war.
Unfortunately, Grimes died in 1874 and a feeling of emptiness and loss hit the church. Some months later began a long string of pastors. In 1895 the Church moved from Joy Street to a new building on Phillips Street and in 1899 Rev. Matthew A. N. Shaw from Jamaica, West Indies was brought to Twelfth Baptist and led the church for 24 years.
When Rev. Shaw came to Twelfth Baptist, black residents on Beacon Hill were moving from the West End community into the South End and Lower Roxbury. Membership to the Church began to drop and by the early 1900s, 5% of the Church’s members had moved. In November 1906, Twelfth Baptist moved from Phillips Street to the corner of Shawmut Avenue and Madison Street in lower Roxbury.
The new location became famous when Rev. Shaw began studying medicine and combined his medicine practice with his ministry. After Shaw, in July 1924, the Church brought in Rev. William H. Hester. Hester focused on Sunday school, the Baptist Young People’s Union, summer vacation Bible School, Week Day Religious activities, and panel discussions. He put a lot of emphasis on the youth and the community.
The most recent long-standing pastor of Twelfth Baptist was Rev. Michael Haynes, who started a pre-college club to motivate and help high schoolers toward higher education. He focused on recreational and social activated. He developed interchurch and interdenominational programs for the youth, and put together a small basketball team. Haynes also had nationally prominent people speak at the church, such as Chuck Cooper in 1953, who was the first black payer for the Boston Celtics and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr..
As smoothly as everything was going for the Church, the building was moved again, several times. The location on the corner of Shawmut and Madison was quickly deteriorating and the building had to be closed. They had several temporary locations until they finally settled on Columbus Avenue and also purchased land on Warren Street to be used as The Second African Meeting House. Despite all the moves and a fire hitting the Church in 1978, all the goals set by Rev. Haynes and Twelfth Baptist were achieved.
No information on the current architecture is listed.
In October of 2004 Rev. Dr. Michael E. Haynes retired as the senior minister of Twelfth Baptist Church, leaving the associated minister Rev. Arthur T. Gerald Jr. as Interim pastor. Today the church has over 800 members which include children, the youth, senior citizens, and everyone else. Programs include: youth ministry, the Flower Club, The School of the Bible, Churchwomen, Social Action Committee, Counseling Ministry, College and Young Adult Fellowship, Children’s Choir, Chapel Choir, Scouting, and the King Solomon Club and more.
25th Pastoral Anniversary-Twelfth Baptist Church
Faith, Culture, and Leadership: A History of the Black Church in Boston by Robert C. Hayden