King Solomon Baptist Church/NW Goldberg
By Charles E. Simmons
Special to The Michigan Citizen
The KSBC Church was 75 years old this year. When the congregation moved to this site in 1955 it was the first African American church in Detroit to be located on a major street. It became the major community gathering place in this area, known as Northwest Goldberg.
The many youth activities herein those days included roller skating, teen dances and a youth choir. This was one of the few boxing centers for Detroit youth. One of the middle weight boxers trained here by the legendary Emanuel Stewart was Tommie “The Hit Man” Hearns, who became a champion in that category.
The church was also a center for political, civil rights and cultural education and activities. Among the speakers who addressed audiences here was the late Attorney Thurgood Marshall, who was the chief counsel for the NAACP and later appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court by President Lyndon Johnson.
The Honorable Elijah Muhammad held the Nation of Islam conferences here during the late 1950s and early 1960s. Minister Malcolm X delivered two of his historic speeches here in 1964 and 1965, the “Message to the Grassroots” and the “Ballot or the Bullet”.
On the cultural front, the church was the home of the Boone House, a center for local artists and writers. It was named after the minister, Rev. Theodore. S. Boone, an historian of the National Baptist Convention.
King Solomon was especially popular among the local and nationally known musicians who sang gospel and spiritual music. Among the “Who’s Who” of talent that sang their souls out in that auditorium: the Five Blind Boys, The Gospelairs, The Clouds of Joy, and Rev. James Cleveland. What remains today is the renowned organization founded there by Rev. James Cleveland, the National Gospel Workshop, which continues to thrive and grow throughout the nation.
The church’s surrounding blue-collar and ethnic community, was called Northwest Goldberg, named for a WWI era School Board member. During the mid-fifties and the next decade, the 14th Street and West Grand Blvd corridor remained stable with a prosperous or functional small business presence. Nearby, there was the headquarters of the Michigan Black Nurses Association, and the site that would become the headquarters for Motown.
However, the community prospered and declined with the national and local economy. A multitude of factors beginning after W.W. II., combined to reduce Detroit from the preeminent international industrial city to a peripheral community. The federal legislation of the Highway and Housing Administrations provided funds to construct and give access to new suburban communities, and the Veteran’s Bill provided stipends for the returning soldiers to attend college and purchase new homes without down payments. In addition, the beginning of the de-industrialization process was felt early in this community of factory workers. A radical change in the manufacturing process caused by new technology led to the rapid decline in the need for unskilled labor. As plants and jobs fled south and out of the country, the demographics of NW Goldberg and King Solomon were among the first to reflect the structural downsizing that would impact on the entire metropolitan area and the industrial Great Lakes region.
Not only has there been a consistent pattern of deep cuts in the numbers and quality of employment, there has also been a profound and wretched decline in city infrastructure, city services and education.
Just as there are many who are disheartened by the social impact of de-industrialization, there are also those who are seeking new paths to a resurrection of the community. Now on the path to renovation and revitalization, spearheaded by a new minister, Rev. Ullysses O. Hollowell, Jr., King Solomon is a site for youth from all over the U.S. who come to learn about rebuilding a community from the ground up. College students from the region are joining hands with community activists of CPR-Detroit to paint the church chapel and to assist in community gardening.
In the coming fall and winter, a host of the veteran and youthful gospel singers will return to the historic auditorium, and they will be followed by slam poets, hip hop performers, jazz musicians, stand up comics and serious theater artists. It is certain that a new day is dawning in Northwest Goldberg. The task is not only to resurrect, uplift and reconstruct the old bricks and mortar throughout the community, but to re-spirit the people to create new and better relationships within and among the human family beginning with the person in the mirror and the neighbor next door. These are the dreams of resilient and patient Detroiters who have stayed behind and, like the Phoenix, intend to build something new out of the ashes and rise again — even more beautiful.
Professor Charles Simmons teaches journalism and media law at Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti. He is a Co-Chair of CPR-Detroit, a long time resident of NW Goldberg and a Trustee at KSBC. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.