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The Negro Churches of Harlem in 1930, Part 2 by George H. Hobart

During the 1930s, Harlem was the greatest Protestant center in New York City.

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Mother Zion AME 1925

 

Here is the largest Negro city in the world, having a population of 160,000. Here is the greatest Protestant center in New York City. This has come to pass within a period of thirty years, the greatest growth taking place since the war. These churches have contributed a remarkable service to the honor and glory of God, and to human welfare.

 

Table Negro Churches of Harlem

 

CENSUS OF CHURCHES IN HARLEM

In the entire area studied north of 110th Street and east of Morningside and Convent Avenues there are 37 Protestant, 13 Catholic churches, and 12 Synagogues serving the white groups. Within the immediate Negro section of Harlem and near its borders are 25 Protestant churches serving white groups. In this number are included some foreign language churches. In this same section there is a Protestant Spanish [church] serving white and colored, 5 Catholic [churches] serving white and colored, and 2 Catholic [churches] serving white groups.

Harlem Aerial, 1930s. Photo: Unknown

Harlem Aerial, 1930s. Photo: Unknown

 

RESIDENCE AND STORE-FRONT CHURCHES

The churches in stores and residences are said to be a marked indication of the initiative of the Negro. By far the larger number of the 122 listed (there are many others in halls and homes that could not be listed) are in residences. Of this number forty-four bear standard denominational names; the rest are a miscellaneous group of many names. Some of these forty-four are recognized by and are members of denominational organiza­tions. Some of this group were organized to fill what was conceived to be a real Christian need…Others of the group were organized to give expression to particular tenets of faith or particular modes of worship. Some came into being because of disagreements in other churches. Some have been organized by charlatans to prey upon the credulity of the people.

In the main the entire group of churches must be thought of as an important factor in the religious life of Harlem. Out of such be­ginnings some of the strong denominational churches have developed; and who can tell the power resident in some of them that will make possible a large and influential p1ace in the future religious and social life?

Pilgrim Pentecostal Church of God at 132nd Street, 1936. Photo: Bernice Abbott/New York Public Library.

Pilgrim Pentecostal Church of God at 132nd Street, 1936. Photo: Bernice Abbott/New York Public Library.

 

SYNAGOGUE OF "BLACK JEWS"

In the course of this study the "Black Jews" were referred to a number of times with the statement that they had one or two synagogues in Harlem. Diligent search revealed the fact that the organizations had been broken up and that the "Black Jews" are not Jews at all, but American and West Indian Negroes who have adopted the Jewish faith. Although adopting this faith they were not recognized by the Jewish religious organizations, and their purposes were not at all in harmony with the Jewish faith.

 

Black Jews, 1929. Photo: James Van der Zee

Black Jews, 1929. Photo: James Van der Zee

Ethiopian Hebrews. Photo: New York Public Library

Ethiopian Hebrews. Photo: New York Public Library

 

SCHOOL CHILDREN

There are four parochial schools serving Negro children. These have 960 Negro children. This is a total of 24,489 Negro Children in the schools.

Harlem kids, 1939. Photo: Sid Grossman

Harlem kids, 1939. Photo: Sid Grossman

 

SOCIAL SERVICE

The social programs of forty churches reporting is varied, indicating a studied attempt to meet the social needs of the various groups. Few churches have the equipment for an adequate program, but many of them are using the-facilities possessed to good advantage.

One of the major concerns of the pastors was their inability to conduct the program they know should be projected. Not only does lack of equipment deter them but also inability to finance a program…

While some of the churches are limited in their program, all have some type of social activity and service. The questionnaire asked for returns on Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Camp Fire Girls, Social Workers, Clubs, Health Service, Employment Service. Thirty-five out of forty churches in­terviewed report some form of activity in at least one of these fields. Several report activity in a majority of them.

There are seventeen Boy Scout troops, fourteen Girl Scout troops, one Camp Fire Girls. There are hundreds of clubs to care for all phases of social life. One of the chief of these is the dramatic club. The Negro is a lover of dramatics and the churches have made possible a channel through which its people can express themselves… Many churches have a lyceum feature. Quite often this is a regular Sunday afternoon feature.

Fifteen churches have some sort of health service. Such service is given by one church through the emp1yment of a physician, who serves the needy of the congregation at church expense. One church employs a dentist, some have Red Cross units or a Red Cross Worker, two have clinics, some have health lectures, some cooperate with the Urban League, four churches give direct service to the unemployed, five give service in­directly.

An interesting feature found in six churches-there may be others--is a Benevolent Society. This bears different names in different churches, but the operation is the same. For a stated monthly fee certain sick benefits are paid, and in case of death a stated amount is paid…

St Mary's Convent & Orphanage, 1928. Photo: James Van Der Zee

St Mary's Convent & Orphanage, 1928. Photo: James Van Der Zee

 

RELIGIOUS EDUCATION

The program of religious education is reaching 20,046 through the Sunday-schools and Parochial schools, 1,615 children through nineteen Week-­Day Schools (three schools not reporting), 2,147 through fourteen Daily Vacation Schools. Twenty-seven such schools were reported, but seven gave no figures. Daily Vacation Bible School figures are for 1929, as they were obtained before the schools for 1930 were organized.

Twenty schools have some type of teacher training class, where 399 teachers receive instruction. Six other schools have such classes, but the number receiving instruction was not available. In addition to these training classes in the churches, the Harlem League, cooperating with The Greater New York Federation of Churches, which in turn cooperates with Columbia University, conducts a Teacher Training School each year. For the year 1929-1930 this school held three sessions. The registration for the Winter session was 188 for the Spring 183, for the extra Spring 84, a total of 455. Eliminating duplicates 283 different persons received instruction in this high grade school.

Lord is Risen 1937. Photo: Aaron Siskind

Lord is Risen 1937. Photo: Aaron Siskind

 

ITEMS OF INTEREST

St. James Presbyterian Church has a tennis court and a tennis club.

Fourth Moravian uses the second Sunday of each month as Children’s Day. Lectures are given on school, home, health and parents.

St. Mark’s Methodist Episcopal has a large junior choir. This church has a burial plot in Cypress Hills.

Abyssinian Baptist has an Old People's Home.

Grace Congregational has a Day Nursery, and through the Summer conducts a kindergarten.

Spiritualist Church, 1941. Photo: Keeve Brodman

Spiritualist Church, 1941. Photo: Keeve Brodman

The Chapel of the Crucifixion, Protestant Episcopal, has a day school of 112, in which all branches up to the fifth grade are taught. The school is approved by the Board of Education. It was organized to take care of children whose parents were at work.

Salem Methodist Episcopal has a school teaching high school and first year college subjects. …The course supplements the high school, has the approval of the Board of Education, and is made possible by nine public school teachers who are members of the church. Salem also has a kindergarten where mothers can leave their children.

… Ephesus Seventh Day Adventist has a school teaching grades from one to twelve, with 115 scholars.

Palm Sunday at Salem Episcopal Church, 1930s. Photo: Fred Snelson

Palm Sunday at Salem Episcopal Church, 1930s. Photo: Fred Snelson

 

 

ANALYSIS OF DATA

 

CHURCH ATTENDANCE

Church attendance is an index of the appeal of the church and the interests of the members. The average morning attendance of 38 churches reporting 46,635 members is 24,890, the evening 12,475. The average prayer meeting attendance for this same group is 5,875.

These figures reveal that approximately one-half of the membership attends morning service, one-fourth attend evening service, and one-eighth attend prayer meeting.

On the basis of these fractions the churches that do not report attendance and which have 17,846 members have 8,923 at the morning service, 4,461 at the evening service, 2,230 at prayer meeting. This means that 33,813 are at Sunday morning service, 16,936 at evening service--a total of 50,749 at worship every Sunday; and 8,105 at prayer meeting.

Religious play, 1935. Photo: James Van Der Zee

Religious play, 1935. Photo: James Van Der Zee

 

NEGROES IN THE CHURCHES

The estimate of the Negro population of Harlem varies so largely that one is not justified in using any one of them as a basis of comparison with church membership. But that some idea of the percentage of the people in the churches may be gained 160,000 is used, as this is the figure employed by the Harlem Y. M. C. A. in an article in "Men of New York," February, 1930, on "Needs of Negroes Brought Up to Date."

Harlem 7th Avenue looking east toward Lenox Avenue, 1930

Harlem 7th Avenue looking east toward Lenox Avenue, 1930

The total membership of all Negro churches is 67,723. With 160,000 as the population, 42 per cent plus of the people are in the churches of Harlem. The above figure includes members who come from sections outside of Harlem, but diligent inquiry through the questionnaire shows the percentage as negligible with the large majority of churches.

It is a challenge to the churches in connection with this membership analysis to note what the U. S. Religious Census of 1926 reveals relative to the percentage of men and women members of Negro churches. In his book "The U. S. Looks at Its Churches," which is an analysis of the census, Dr. C. Luther Fry states: “Negro women are particularly attracted to the churches. The number of colored women 13 years of age and older included on the rolls of Negro churches represents 73 per cent of the total number living in the United States, while for white women this ratio is 62 per cent. Interestingly enough, Negro men not only make a far lower showing than the colored women, but even lower than the white men. Only 46 per cent of all adult Negro men are in church, compared with 49 per cent among the white men.”

Lady Evangelist, 1937. Photo: Aaron Siskind

Lady Evangelist, 1937. Photo: Aaron Siskind

He concludes his statement with these significant and challenging words: "These findings tend to explode the idea that the church has a peculiar hold upon the Negro temperament. Certainly, if interest in organized religion was primarily the result of a racial attitude of mind, the factor should influence Negro men as well as women."

The writer presents the above quotations as a challenge to the thinking of the religious leaders of Harlem, for in such a concentration of Negroes the percentage of women and men members must be practically the same. Of the 4,700,506 members of Negro churches in the United

States, Harlem, counting the churches in stores and residences, has 67,723, which is about one and one~ha1f per cent of the whole.

Grace Gospel Chapel, 1925

Grace Gospel Chapel, 1925

 

NO OVERCHURCHING

The study of the churches located in church edifices and halls and the larger ones in residences and store fronts convinces the writer that Harlem is not overchurched, but a better dis­tribution is desirable.

The writer is strongly convinced that there is no need for any new churches unless the continued influx of Spanish-Speaking and Puerto Rican groups continues. With the future of Harlem, as it now exists, being seriously questioned, it would not be wise to make investments in new enterprises. Investments should be made to increase the facilities and to strengthen and enlarge the program of existing churches.

Mount Lebanon Baptist Church, 1941. Photo: Keeve Brodman

Mount Lebanon Baptist Church, 1941. Photo: Keeve Brodman

 

NEGRO CHILDREN AND RELIGIOUS EDUCATION

The whole number of school children is 24,489. The Sunday-schools plus the Parochial report 20,046 pupils receiving religious instruction. Ten per cent of the Protestant Sunday-schools, which number 18,562, are below school age. This leaves 16,706 of school age in the Sunday-schools. This, plus 1,484 in Catholic Sunday and Parochial schools, equals 18,190 school children receiving religious instruction. This means that 6,299, which is twenty-five per cent-plus receive no religious instruction…

 

PER CAPITA GIFTS

An analysis of the finances of the churches reportingreveals the follow­ing: The per capita gift for local expenses is $12.72, for missions $1.38. The per capita value of church edifices is $136.03. The per capita debt on church property is $52.57. The per capita for total expenditures is $14.10.

These figures compared with those for widerareas as revealed by the 1926 U. S. Religious Census and analyzed by Dr. Fry reveal these interesting facts: The per capita gifts for adult members (13 years old and over) for all churches in New York State are $18.44. For the churches under consideration they are $14.10 per capita for all members. For the white Protestant denominations throughout the United States the per capita is $19.54, and for the colored bodies it is $9.15. This shows the Harlem Negro churches below the white churches, but above the average for the Negro denominations…

The debt per adult member on all church edifices in cities of 300,000 and over in the Middle Atlantic States is $12.49, while that per everymember of the Harlem Negro Protestant· churches is $33.31…The per capita debt is high, being nearly three times that of all churches as given above…

Daddy Grace, 1938. Photo: James Van Der Zee

Daddy Grace, 1938. Photo: James Van Der Zee

 

ASPIRATIONS AND NEEDS

The Negro does not want charity; he wants help. The Negro wants the white man to work with him, not for him. The Dunbar National Bank is heading in the right direction. The white and colored man can work together because far away from old scars. The colored man can work out his own problem for the hope of the race is within. From within must comethe leaders…

Equal opportunity for those of equal merit is a cardinal need of the Negro…

Some specific needs were revealed by the questionnaires and the inter­views. Girl Scout and Boy Scout troop, and Camp Fire Girls are desired by some of the churches, but they lack either the facilities, funds or leaders to make these possible. Additional troops would afford many boys and girls an opportunity for self-expression now denied them.

Three acute situations call for solution. Lack of employment, high rents, and the health situation are demanding attention not only from the churches, but from all citizens…The solution of these problems must be left to the social and civic agencies in cooperation with the churches, Perhaps no one knows these needs better than the pastors. They should have a large part in bringing the relief needed… The need ofa business training school was suggested. A Catholic priest sees the need of a woman's home. The home to be a place where unemployed women could live until employment is found. This would take them out of the distressing conditions in which many of them are compelled to live during the period of unemployment. Because of the large number of mothers whom the economic condition compels to work, more day nurseries would be welcome.

St. Joseph's House of Catholic Workers, 1938. Photo: Aaron Siskind

St. Joseph's House of Catholic Workers, 1938. Photo: Aaron Siskind

Playgrounds, especially on the east side north of 125th Street, would be a blessing to multitudes of children who now play amidst the dangers of traffic. What chance has a child for a normal expression of life in an environment that deprives him of whole­some play. We are remiss in our duty to abandon him to his own devices in the streets.

A great need in Harlem, also throughout the city, is for some adequate provision to care for dependent Protestant Negro children and de­linquent colored girls… Law enforcement is an acute need. From several sources statements came which, summed up in a phrase, say there would be a new Harlem if the laws were enforced.

Sidewalk world saviors, 1946. Photo: Dummeff/Rapid News Photo

Sidewalk world saviors, 1946. Photo: Dummeff/Rapid News Photo

 

COOPERATION OF NEGRO GROUPS

…A closer fellowship of all groups for cooperation against a common enemy would strengthen the lives of all…Adjustment relative to relocation is a wise Chris­tian courtesy. It promotes good feeling; It makes for wise investment of funds; it prevents overlapping of work and consequent loss of fellowship.

 

COOPERATION OF WHITE AND NEGRO CHURCHES…

 

Harlem is the greatest Protestant center in New York City…

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Also see The Negro Churches of Harlem in 1930, Part 1 

 

 

 

11 Responses to “The Negro Churches of Harlem in 1930, Part 2 by George H. Hobart” Leave a reply ›

  • As always, great job in your own reporting, and now in passing along this report by George Hobart from the 1930's. Who would have thought this about Harlem, especially those of us who are white, do note live in New York City, and know the name of Harlem as little more than a ghetto !!!

    Thank you for helping us break the bonds of our unfortunate and irresponsible ignorance.!!

  • I love your posts about Harlem. I'm from Newark so I can relate.

  • Like this!

  • I also like this post.

  • We appreciate the feedback!

    There is so much more exciting things to discover about Harlem faith! We are going to run quite a few more features but we will hardly scratch the surface. One can begin to understand how the great cultural outpouring of the Harlem Renaissance was built on the foundation of the cultural and social capital of the churches and their people.

  • Hello people. I am from New Zealand and what you would call a unitarian. My great love is American music especially gospel and black rhythm and blues. It seems as if it is all fading into the past now but as far as I can see it was music that powered the civil rights movement in the 60's. I think that the music still retains its potency and is resting until it needs to be called forth again.
    God bless you all.

  • Hi Charles,

    Be sure to check out our historical series on Harlem faith which includes a quite a bit on music and early African American films.

  • Thanks , I've recently been searching for information about
    this subject for a long time and yours is the best I've found.

  • Glad we can help. Let us know if you would like us to pursue anything else.

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