A Racial History of Emmanuel Church

In honor of tomorrow's Trail of Souls pilgrimage, here's the recounting of our parish's story that will appear in the booklet each participant will receive. Many thanks to Richard Fawcett, Audry Gagnon, diocesan archivist Mary Klein, and all who helped with the research for this vital project.

Emmanuel Episcopal Church was founded by Christ Church in 1854 to better serve Baltimore’s burgeoning Mt. Vernon neighborhood. The first parochial reports from Emmanuel printed in convention journals do not mention the presence of any persons of African descent.  However, the report of 1858 refers to “25 scholars in the colored school.” Within a year, that school had grown to 80 scholars with nine teachers. Meanwhile, the parish registers make only four references to “colored” members throughout the church’s early decades —twice in baptisms and twice in marriages. The 1860 parochial report differentiated between white and “colored” communicants, and it echoed those numbers by reporting 475 white communicants and two “colored.” The number of white communicants in 1862 had increased to 566 white, while the number of “colored” communicants remained the same.  In 1863, the report noted 595 white communicants, and three “colored.”

Perhaps the low number of communicants of African descent at Emmanuel, both during the 1860s and later, is explained by the church’s reputation as a confederate-sympathizing community. After a northern army victory in 1862, the Right Rev. Dr. William R. Whittingham, Bishop of Maryland, imposed upon all congregations the reading of “A Prayer of Thanksgiving.” These prayers were quite disturbing to a significant portion of the Emmanuel congregation, as they considered the President of the United States an enemy and a northern victory might mean the maiming or death of relatives and friends. Tradition relates that the more fervent southern supporters would rise and stand during these collects, then return to their knees for the remaining prayers. In 1865, a bazaar was held to raise funds “for the Relief of Sufferers at the South.”

However, not all members of Emmanuel were sympathetic to, or supportive of, the South and slavery. The vestry minutes of January 3, 1861 record a request to the police board for the attendance of a police officer in the vestibule of the church to preserve order.  (The request was denied, as the board stated it did not have power unless there was an infraction of the law.) Similarly, oral traditions have been passed down suggesting possible connections to The Underground Railroad in a space under what is now Eccleston Chapel.

After the Civil War, Emmanuel continued its mission to persons of African descent under the leadership of the Rev. Alfred M. Randolph, who possessed a life-long concern for their religious advancement. With the help of the Women’s Missionary Society of Emmanuel, his first endeavor was to establish a mission for black people, named Howard Chapel and located on Park Avenue between Lanvale and Dolphin Streets. Named after the former assistant at Emmanuel and founding rector of Memorial Episcopal Church, Howard Chapel was a black mission congregation that continued from 1874 until 1894. Emmanuel offered pastoral and financial assistance to the chapel throughout its existence, including providing for the religious education and training of 60 children from the black orphanage on Biddle Street.

Much of Emmanuel’s racial history from this time period can be seen as outreach-oriented, such as the Chinese Sunday School formed by the parish—the first of its kind in the city. Nonetheless, the parish would remain overwhelmingly white until the late 20th century and beginning of the 21st century. The church’s shift towards integration appears to have started as somewhat of a top-down phenomenon, especially under the leadership of the Rev. Dr. Alfred Starratt and the Rev. Frederik J. Hanna.  Starratt and Hanna were instrumental in diocesan and local governmental civil rights discussions in the early 1960s, writing, preaching, and teaching extensively about the racial divide within Baltimore and the nation.  Even so, a parish profile written in 1965 expressed concern at Emmanuel’s “superior detached image” while making no mention of race.  In order to fully embrace its current, growing diversity, the parish will need to continue to address the silent assumptions of such dichotomies.  A promising sign in that direction is that in July 2016, members of Emmanuel made up the bulk of one of the diocese’s largest “Seeing the Face of God” anti-racism trainings, which prompted a number of congregants to establish an Anti-Racism Discussion Group in order to continue their work of truth-telling and reconciliation.

Trail of Souls.jpg