Union Baptist Church traces its origins to 1852 and a group of fifty-seven worshipers meeting in a small building on Lewis Street. It was the fifth oldest African American congregation in Baltimore and financed entirely by African Americans. The first pastor of the church was the Reverend John Carey. In 1866, the Lewis Street congregation merged with members of Saratoga Street African Baptist Church, forming Union Baptist Church. When Rev. Harvey Johnson arrived in 1872, he found a modest congregation of perhaps 270 members.
Harvey Johnson’s dealings with the Maryland Baptist Maryland Baptist Union Association (MBUA) in particular, and with prejudiced white Baptists in general, served as a proving ground for his leadership and vision. He took the skills honed in the battle for equality among all Baptists and transfered those skills as he entered the fight for equaliy among all people. Johnson’s original cause of friction with the MBUA stemmed from its paternalistic approach to black people and black Baptist churches. Not only did black ministers categorically receive less pay than white counterparts, but black churches were slow to realize full and equal political priviledges within the state denomination governing apparati. This problem was more troubling once, thanks in no small part to Johnson himself, black numbers in the state’s Baptist churches began grow. By 1885, Union Baptist's membership surpassed two thousand members for the first time.
Rev. Johnson's response to this discrimination was two-fold: economic independence and institutional autonomy. This situation exploded throughout the 1890s as Johnson urged black congregations to free themselves of white purse strings, and to get out of the Union Association altogether. One of Rev. Johnson's most controversal speeches brought this issue to fore. In September 1897, speeking in Boston, Johnson made, "A Plea For Our Work As Colored Baptists, Apart From the Whites." Johnson called for black Baptists to move as a group toward self-determination.
The Union Baptist Church’s Gothic design features stained glass windows created by John LeFarge, the renowned artist known as the inventor of the art of using opalescent stained glass.
Watch our Five-Minute Histories video on this building!