New York state’s investments in African American Heritage Corridor will continue to reinvigorate Buffalo’s east side
Empire State Development on Friday announced the beginning of stabilization work on the roof and foundation of the Michigan Street Baptist Church. The Buffalo Niagara Freedom Station Coalition project, a not-for-profit organization that owns the church, is one of the recipients of a portion of ESD’s $65 million East Side Corridor Economic Development Fund, and will allow for increased tourism and visitation to Buffalo’s historic Michigan Street African American Corridor.
“New York state is supporting the essential structural stabilization of Buffalo’s Michigan Street Baptist Church, a one-time stop on the Underground Railroad that is an ongoing draw for visitors,” said ESD Acting Commissioner and President and CEO-Designate Hope Knight. “Gov. Hochul is proud to have this iconic tourism landmark in her hometown – one that connects people excited to explore and honor its important history, while celebrating African American culture and community.”
The Buffalo Niagara Freedom Station Coalition is a nonprofit organization that works to preserve and promote the heritage of the Michigan Street Baptist Church, located at 511 Michigan Ave. The church was built by African Americans in 1845 and was the last stop on the Underground Railroad for freedom seekers escaping to Canada before the Civil War. It's been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1974.
New York state is supporting this project through a grant of $900,000 from ESD and a $375,000 grant from the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. The $1.3 million project will help ensure the building’s structural integrity and address safety issues at the church, while also providing better access for disabled visitors. The project includes foundation repairs and roof reinforcement, plus accessibility renovations.
New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation Commissioner Erik Kulleseid said, “Preserving the history of all people is key to revitalizing neighborhoods across New York state. The work being done in the Michigan Street African American Heritage Corridor is a shining example of how the promotion of history leads to community pride, tourism and economic development while telling the most compelling stories we have to tell. Thank you to Gov. Hochul for her commitment to this project and countless many throughout the state.”
Lillie Wiley-Upshaw, Buffalo Niagara Freedom Station Coalition chair, said, “The Buffalo Niagara Freedom Station Coalition is extremely grateful for the support of Empire State Development, New York State Parks Recreation & Historic Preservation and the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo. Because of the community activism, in particular Bishop Henderson, the BNFSC is on the cusp of saving the church for the next 200 years. I am personally so proud to be a part of the Buffalo community and this important work.”
Rachel Henderson, Bishop Henderson’s daughter, said, “By preserving the knowledge of our past, we garner the true possibilities of our future. As we continue to learn more about the history of our ancestors, we build a much brighter and exponentially more progressive world. As the daughter of Bishop William Henderson and vice chair of the Buffalo Niagara Freedom Station Coalition, I am so grateful to see his work regarding this beautiful monument, continuing to be done!”
With support from Gov. Kathy Hochul, ESD is implementing the East Side Corridor Economic Development Fund, a $65 million initiative to spark revitalization of Buffalo's East Side through investments in the four main commercial corridors: Michigan, Jefferson, Fillmore and Bailey avenues. Funding is helping to revive traditional main streets and commercial corridors through the preservation of historic buildings, investing in capital improvements in neighborhood assets, expansion of commercial opportunities, improvements to infrastructure, as well as the promotion of mixed-use private investment in these neighborhoods.
Terry Alford, executive director of the Michigan Street African American Heritage Corridor Commission, said, “On behalf of the board members that comprise our Heritage Corridor Commission, as well as those community stakeholders and residents that have always supported the corridor, I would like to thank Gov. Kathy Hochul and Empire State Development for its continued investment in the progressive improvement of the corridor. Due to their commitment in supporting the stabilization of one of more recognized cultural anchors, they have helped secure the sustainability of this iconic edifice for many generations to come, which will enhance not only the corridor but also our city as an exciting and vibrant heritage destination.”
Rev. Kinzer M. Pointer, pastor, Agape Fellowship Baptist Church, said, “The Michigan Street Baptist Church is the mother church for Buffalo’s black community. It is a critically important national historic gem that should be a point of pride because of its religious significance and the extraordinary role it played with the Underground Railroad. I am excited to see it being restored to its former glory.”
Rev. Mark Blue, president of Buffalo Branch NAACP said, “Thank you, Gov. Kathy Hochul and Empire State Development, for your continued support in preserving the history of the iconic Michigan Street Baptist Church.”
New York State Sen. Tim Kennedy said, “The Michigan Street Baptist Church is rooted in history, culture and community, and this stabilization work marks a significant investment in preserving and celebrating the Michigan Street African American Corridor. With this construction, New York is advancing the greater vision of what this historic Buffalo corridor can become. I thank Gov. Hochul for continuing to prioritize this important work.”
Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes said, “This is a long time coming. I’m ecstatic for the start of construction of the $1.3 million project for the Buffalo Niagara Freedom Station (affectionately known as the Michigan St. Baptist Church) in the Michigan Street African American Heritage Corridor. This project serves as a perfect example of state resources being used to help revitalize Buffalo’s Eastside while strengthening local cultural tourism to make this site truly visitor-ready. The church has a robust history, serving as the home of the Niagara Movement, the precursor to today’s NAACP. I applaud Gov. Hochul’s leadership and Empire State Development, who’s efforts contributed to making this project a reality.”
Mayor Byron Brown said, “The start of stabilization work on the Michigan Street Baptist Church, which will preserve this critical historic structure, is another major step forward for the Michigan Street African American Heritage Corridor. I thank Gov. Kathy Hochul and the Empire State Development Corp. for the funding for this and the many other developments that are bringing the history of the Underground Railroad back to life for Buffalo residents and visitors.”
Buffalo Common Council President Darius Pridgen said, “I am excited to learn of the start of stabilization work on the roof and foundation of the Michigan Street Baptist Church. As Ellicott District councilmember, I have been an advocate for any investment into the African American Heritage Corridor, as it preserves our history in Buffalo and Western New York. This is another step in making the corridor a travel destination for the region. I thank Gov. Hochul for her leadership and my colleagues in government for their continuing support.”
County Executive Mark Poloncarz said, “The Michigan Street Baptist Church is an essential part of the Michigan Street African American Heritage Corridor and has been a beacon of hope, freedom and fraternity to generations of men and women since it was built in 1845. Now, 175 years later, that beacon will burn brighter than ever with this project, stabilizing this historic structure and preserving its rich history and legacy for future generations. I thank Gov. Hochul and the Buffalo Niagara Freedom Station Coalition project for their investment in this revitalizing project and for helping to build a better Erie County.”
In 2001 the Buffalo Niagara Freedom Station Coalition, a not-for-profit organization, was created to protect and promote the Michigan Street Baptist Church building as a beacon of freedom and to tell its story from its founding in 1845 to today and to inspire and educate future generations. With the help of community stakeholders, they tell the unique stories of the African American experience in Buffalo, to enrich and illuminate the larger African American narrative. In particular, the board focuses on the church’s roles in the underground railroad, the formation of the civil rights movement and other chapters of American history related to the struggle for individual liberties. The church remains operating as a church as part of the "Light of the World Missions" and as a historic landmark, a beacon for the community in the revitalization process envisioned as part of the African American cultural heritage tourism for the Corridor. More information can be found at michiganstreetbaptistchurch.org.