—By Dino Robinson and Rhonda Craven
Both Ebenezer AME and Second Baptist share a founding history coming from early members attending a predominantly white church in Evanston. Many Black members of the First Baptist Church of Evanston (now Lake Street Church), for many reasons, requested and received their letter of dismission. From there, early member either relocated, or formed what became Evanston’s first two Black church congregations.
Beginning as a shared bible study group, members met in various homes and in downtown Evanston meeting halls. As the group became more organized, they split among denominations and continued to go through the formalities in becoming a functioning congregation.
The histories of both congregations, simplified in this article, was more complex and involved collaboration and connections with First Baptist Church in Evanston, Olivet Baptist Church in Chicago as well as their representing denomination processes.
Ebenezer AME Church
On October 30, 1882 Ebenezer African Methodist Episcopal Church was established, with Rev. George H. Hann as its founding pastor. The first house of worship was located at 1813 Benson Avenue between Clark and University Place and served the congregation until a fire destroyed the building in 1907.
New land was purchased from Northwestern University at 1109 Emerson Street in 1903. In 1907, ground was broken and the building was completed in 1909. Its mortgage was paid off during World War I. In 1923, a sixty-foot addition was built onto the church.
The church purchased a parsonage at 1614 Greenwood Street during the 1950s. In 1972, Ebenezer built Ebenezer Primm Towers and in 2003, the Jacob Blake, Leon and Josephine Robinson senior homes.
Ebenezer A.M.E. took a stance on issues affecting the general community. The Afro-American Budget was published in the 1880s; Its pastor spoke against gambling and issues concerning “Jim Crow” in 1903; Sponsored Evanston’s first African American Boy Scout Troop in 1912; Stood against segregated housing practices during the 1960s; and hosted a well organized Black history program throughout the 1970s.
In 1980, Ebenezer A.M. E. church suffered a fire that gutted its interior. A successful fundraising program remodeled the interior and was re-dedicated in 1982. Ebenezer A.M.E. Church is the first recognized Black church in Evanston.
Second Baptist Church
On November 17, 1882, Second Baptist Church was established with twenty charter members in a room over the post office on Davis Street west of Chicago Avenue. The founding pastor of Evanston’s first black Baptist church was Rev. S. T. Clanton. In 1883, the church acquired an old schoolhouse and moved it to a lot leased from Northwestern University on Benson Avenue north of Church Street. After a fire destroyed that building in 1889 and an old church edifice was purchased in 1890, a land swap with NU allowed the congregation to buy the Benson lot.
In 1912, the church began construction of a brick building that was dedicated in 1915. The mortgage was burned in 1920, and by 1922, an attached parsonage was completed and a pipe organ was purchased. A church-wide fundraising effort in 1942 concluded with another mortgage burning celebration. Property was purchased at Church and Pitner for future expansion in 1951.
Numerous members have been trailblazers in business, medicine, education and entrepreneurship. As a church known for its powerful preaching, music ministry and missions work, a revitalized congregation became even more progressive and community-minded in the 1970s. A scholarship fund was established. Women were ordained for ministry and the diaconate for the first time. Many ministers have been trained, ordained and sent to serve in venues across the United States.