Whites and Blacks Come Together to Celebrate the 150th Anniversary of St. Paul's Pilgrim Baptist Church in Minnesota

The legacy of Rev. Robert Hickman lived on Sunday at Pilgrim Baptist Church in St. Paul, 150 years after he founded Minnesota's first black church.

Worshipers hold hands across the aisles during a prayer at Pilgrim Baptist Church during the 150th anniversary service Sunday, June 23, 2013, at the church in St. Paul. (Pioneer Press: Sherri LaRose-Chiglo)
At a worship service that focused on Pilgrim Baptist's history, Dr. George Wesley Waddles told the congregation that the church made it to its 150th anniversary with the grace of God. He also told the full house that the gifts of each member aren't fully used until they're brought to church.

Those high-energy gifts were on display Sunday as the choir, musicians and dancers brought the congregation to its feet.

"I praise God for your celebrative spirit," said Waddles, who was visiting from Zion Hill Missionary Baptist Church in Chicago. He doesn't typically leave his church on a Sunday, he said, but the Rev. Dr. Charles Gill -- Pilgrim Baptist's current senior pastor -- "has a persuasive personality," he added.

Hickman escaped from slavery in Missouri, was ordained as a Baptist minister and founded Pilgrim Baptist in 1863. For decades, the church has been a cornerstone in its neighborhood, off Dale Street near Interstate 94.

Among those in attendance Sunday was Sharon Harper, a great-great-granddaughter of Robert Hickman.

To Harper, Hickman's legacy is tied up in the freedom he sought by escaping slavery and coming north, and the people he brought with him. When he decided to be a minister, she said, "it must have been a strong call," because Hickman had to study for three years after arriving in the north to obtain that status.

The family's emphasis on hard work and education carried out in later generations, too, as John Hickman -- Harper's grandfather -- was the first person of color to graduate from William Mitchell College of Law, she said.

When she was growing up in the neighborhood she often came to Pilgrim Baptist for children's activities, she said. In 1960, the construction of Interstate 94 took her family's home on St. Anthony Avenue. The construction project tore through the neighborhood and many people were forced to move, but the church proved resilient.

Pilgrim Baptist was led by the Rev. Lee Ward Harris from 1922 to 1938. Nate Galloway, a grandson of Harris, has been a member of the church for 53 years.

Galloway, who was in attendance Sunday, remembers his grandfather working "to make the church a beacon of hope for equal rights," he said. In the 1920s, Rev. Harris was also involved in getting the church built at its current location, 732 West Central Avenue.

Source: Twin Cities Pioneer Press | John Welbes --- jwelbes@pioneerpress.com
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