Trinity Baptist Church at the corner of Druid Hill Avenue and McMechen Street tells the story of Baltimore's connections to the national civil rights movement and radical Black activism in the early twentieth century.
One of the church's influential early activist leaders was Reverend Garnett Russell Waller. In July 1905, Waller joined fellow activists W.E.B. Du Bois, William Monroe Trotter at the Erie Beach Hotel in Ontario, Canada in founding the Niagara Movement—a new civil rights organization that ultimately developed into the NAACP.
Trinity Baptist Church was then located at Charles and 20th Streets and Waller, who served as the Niagara Movement’s Maryland secretary, lived nearby at 325 E. 23rd Street. James Robert Lincoln Diggs, educator and succeeded Waller as pastor of Trinity Baptist Church beginning around early 1915. Diggs shared Waller's commitment to activism and was also a participant in the 1905 founding of the Niagara Movement.
In 1918, Diggs helped to establish the Baltimore chapter of the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League (UNIA-ACL) in 1918. The UNIA-ACL was first established in Ohio in 1914 by Marcus Garvey, a Jamaican-born activist. Diggs was close with Garvey and presided over his marriage to Amy Jacques Garvey in 1922.
In May 1920, Diggs led the congregation's move to Druid Hill Avenue after the congregation purchased the 1872 St. Paul's English Evangelical Lutheran Church for $40,000. The church quickly put their new building to work—hosting the 1920 annual convention for the National Equal Rights League in October. The conference was presided over by Rev. J. H. Taylor, secretary of the Maryland Association for Social Service, with speakers including founding member Monroe Trotter, lawyer Nathan S. Taylor from Chicago, and Trinity’s own Rev. Diggs.
The church also served as a center for local activism. For example, on February 1, 1921, 500 people gathered at Trinity Baptist Church at Druid Hill Avenue and Mosher Street to protest the release of a white man, Harry Feldenheimer, on a $500 bail soon after police arrested him for an attempted assault on a 10-year-old black girl named Esther Short. The Afro-American reported that participants in the meeting criticized the “brutality of the local police, exclusion of qualified men from the police force and from juries in the city, and the Jim Crow arrangements for colored people in the Criminal and Juvenile Courts.”
Regrettably, Diggs health began to decline around the fall of 1922 and he soon entered a hospital. On April 14, 1923, he died at home and was buried in Mount Auburn Cemetery. Rev. Garnett R. Waller died in Baltimore in 1941 but the church both individuals supported continues to this day.