From Montgomery to Detroit – Founding a New Congregational Church

OldchurchThis post was written for the 5th and newly reborn Carnival of African American Genealogy (CoAAG), hosted by Luckie Daniels of  Our Georgia Roots and Our Alabama Roots and founder of  the facebook community African-American Genealogy & Slave  Ancestry Research (AAGSAR).

I decided to write about my maternal grandfather and the church he helped found in 1919, Plymouth Congregational Church. Please click on the images to enlarge them and read the articles below.

newsarticle1_907My grandparents, Mershell and Fannie (Turner) Graham met in the First Congregational Christian Church in Montgomery, Alabama. They  were married there by Rev. Scott on June 14, 1919.  After the ceremony, Mershell took his new bride back to Detroit to begin their new life.  One thing that would be familiar was the worship service at the newly formed Plymouth Congregational Church.

Fannie and Mershell soon after their marriage in 1919.
Fannie and Mershell soon after their marriage in 1919.

When Mershell, migrated to Detroit from Montgomery, AL in 1917, many of his friends,  were also leaving.  In 1919, nine of them gathered together to form Plymouth Congregational Church.  At first they met in members homes and in borrowed and rented spaces.  In 1927 they were able to purchase their own building, a former Synagogue. They moved in May 15, 1927.

notice of organization.

Plymouth Congregational Church Garfield and
Plymouth Congregational Church at the corner of  Garfield and Beaubien streets on the East Side of Detroit.
After church about 1927. Mershell holding my mother Doris, Fannie, Mary V. and Mershell Jr.
After church about 1927. Mershell holding my mother Doris, Fannie standing behind Mary V. and Mershell Jr. in front.
Plymouth Congregational Church – September 30, 1928. Detroit, Michigan

Plymouth had been in the building about 1 year when this photo was taken. My grandfather, Mershell C. Graham, is standing behind his daughters, Mary V. and Doris (my mother).  Their cousin, Margaret McCall, is standing between them.  They are in the front row, towards the left side of center.  The minister, Rev. Laviscount, is standing behind Mary V.  My grandmother, Fannie, had just given birth to their youngest son, Howard, so she was not able to be there.

An article about the history of Plymouth.
An article with some of the history of Plymouth Congregational Church.
plymouth_founders 3
Mershell Graham’s name was misspelled as “Gardner” above.

  My parents met at Plymouth’s youth group.  My father was ordained there. In November of 1943, my parents were married at Plymouth by Rev. Horace White. On a visit home to Detroit while we were living in Springfield, MA, I was Baptized there, also by Rev. Horace White.

Invitation to my father's Ordination.
Invitation to my father’s Ordination.
My grandmother Fannie, my grandfather Mershell and my mother Doris. I am standing on the table.
My grandmother Fannie, my grandfather Mershell and my mother Doris. I am standing on the table.  I believe it was during this visit that I was Baptized at Plymouth.

Because I attended my father’s church on Sunday’s, I don’t have many memories of sitting in the pews at Plymouth. My memories are of going with my grandfather to fix thing, usually the furnace. My sister and my cousins and I would roam around the empty church while we waited for him to make the repairs.

Plymouth Congregational Church, now Plymouth United Church of Christ, was forced to relocate when the area was urban renewed in order to build the Medical Center in the 1970s. White churches were allowed to remain in the area while black churches were forced to relocate. The new church is located at 600 E. Warren Ave. and continues in use by Plymouth today.

Plymouth United Church of Christ
Plymouth United Church of Christ from Google maps

You can read more entries  by clicking this link  5th Edition of CoGAAC

History of Plymouth

20 thoughts on “From Montgomery to Detroit – Founding a New Congregational Church

  1. It is good to see that this church’s history was not lost to time. Love the picture of the congregation standing in front of church.

  2. Thank you so much for this post about the history of Plymouth United Church of Christ, Detroit. I understand that your father, Rev. Albert Cleage was ordained at the Plymouth UCC by Rev. Horace White. I am the current pastor of Plymouth UCC Detroit. I will share this post with my membership. Thank you.

    Rev. Dr. Nicholas Hood III

    1. Thank you for visiting and leaving a comment. I’ve added the invitation of my father’s Ordination and some other information – my parents were married and I was Baptized by Rev. White at Plymouth in the 1940s.

  3. I loved the “Old Building” but Glad the Congregation is still standing. Your family pictures are amazing. Ordination invite was special too. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Enjoyed the story of the founding of Plymouth Congregational church, and of your family’s links to the church.

  5. Wow, loved the story on the history of the Plymouth United Church of Christ. It’s was a pleasure reading about your family’s ties to the church. History like that needs to be told and you did an outstanding job. The accompanying pictures were great!

  6. What a beautiful family legacy & memories to inherit Kristin. They can relocate Plymouth Congregational Church but there’s no shaking the karma yielded from a lifetime of service (and surely sacrifice) offered by your Ancestors. I’m patiently waiting for the CLEAGE Family Legacy [coffee table], hardbound book. Peace & ease GRAHAM & CLEAGE Ancestors! You did GOOD!:)

  7. Kristin,

    To capture the churches history as you’ve done is phenomenal. Great photos and historical articles. Now, you got me thinking, and asking questions about the church my family attended. Thanks for sharing PlymouthCongregational Church with us.

  8. Kristen, a wonderful piece of legacy…..I am glad to be surrounded by people with so much passion in telling their own history. I hope to learn from you and the rest of the contributors.

  9. Kristin what a great story.for me it was like reading about my home town.I was born in Detroit 1943.lived on the east side close to your church. moved to the west side and graduated from Northwestern in 1961.beautiful pictures of your family!!! Bernita’s MOM
    Ella Mae Allen

    1. Hi Ella,
      Thanks for stopping by! Plymouth was actually my grandparents church. My father’s church, originally Central Congregational and eventually the Shrine of the Black Madonna, on Linwood and Hogarth on the West Side. It wasn’t too far from Oregon, where both of us lived for awhile and Northwestern High School.

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