Detroit Episcopal parish recognized for abolitionist, activist, and civil rights heritage

The National Park Service has added St. Matthew’s and St. Joseph’s Episcopal Church in Detroit to its National Network to Freedom.


Before Harriet Tubman escaped slavery, before Abraham Lincoln was elected to Congress and before Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin, members of St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church were helping slaves escape across the Detroit River to freedom in Canada.

Founded in 1846 above a blacksmith’s shop, St. Matthew’s is among the oldest historically black congregations in the Episcopal Church and in the nation, and was a center of local abolitionist activism and community organizing.

Yet that aspect of the church’s past went relatively unrecognized until 2015, when the National Park Service added St. Matthew’s to its National Network to Freedom.

“We found that it (St. Matthew’s) makes a significant contribution to the understanding of the Underground Railroad in American history … (and we) commend you on your dedication to this important aspect of our history,” Diane Miller, network national program manager, wrote in a June 4 letter announcing the award of the designation.

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