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Michigan Street Baptist Church starts $1.3M rehab

The Michigan Street Baptist Church
Thomas O'Neill-White

The walls are bulging at one of the oldest churches in Buffalo and repository of city history and its African American community. Now, $1.3 million is going toward strengthening the walls and fixing long-standing roof problems at the Michigan Street Baptist Church.

The East Side church was built in 1845 by those who came north on the Underground Railway, heading toward freedom in Canada. It saw the birth of the NAACP in the Niagara Movement and the fall and rise of the city.

The church now belongs to the Buffalo Niagara Freedom Station Coalition. said there is history on what is now the Michigan Street African American Heritage Corridor.

"The Michigan Avenue street was such a vibrant kind of center for the African American Community and the church really stood at that symbol as the heart of the community," said Coalition Chair Lillie Wiley-Upshaw, "but we know that the legacy of the people who made this church, who built it and who made it great by their work, is important for our entire community."

Wiley-Upshaw said restoring the church's structural integrity is only the first part of the project.

"Stabilizing the church for the future," she said. "Then the next phase is building an annex that will make the church accessible. And then, we tell the story now, but we are going to make physical interior changes to restore it to a historic period of time. This is just the beginning of a four-phase process. We want to create a community garden that reflects back on Mrs. Nash and the things that she did."

The Coalition has an active program of education for young Black people, to let them better understand where they came from and how their ancestors fought to keep their people and their community developing, even with the hidden quarters in the basement for escaped slaves heading across the Niagara River.

"It is so important to have the tangible, physical treasures for our kids to try to understand this," Wiley-Upshaw said. "This is isn't just a concept in a book that you read about that seems so abstract. You can come here and you can see that hiding space and you can experience that and I see that has such a profound impact on the kids."

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.