Born from slavery and surviving today, Minnesota's first black church turns 150


St. Paul's Pilgrim Baptist Church celebrates its 150th anniversary next weekend, a story that reaches back to 1863 when slaves first escaped the south, ventured up the Mississippi from Missouri and settled in Minnesota, creating the state's first black church.

The Star Tribune reports that some of the descendants of those escapees, paddling their way on a wooden raft, will be included in events next weekend. It will mark Pilgrim Baptist's growth from those humble, desperate beginnings into one of the most prominent churches in Minnesota.

“This church has had an awesome history,” Pilgrim’s senior pastor Charles L. Gill tells the Strib. “It’s gone through a lot of ups and downs, twists, turns. We’re still here. We’re still thriving.”

Minnesota Public Radio also examines the church's beginnings and history, noting Robert Hickman, an escaped slave from Missouri who 150 years ago led slaves traveling north on the Underground Railroad. According to MPR, the group of about 50, who called themselves "Pilgrims," journeyed by a self-made river boat to St. Paul in 1863, seeking freedom and a place to worship.

"I think he was a Minnesota pioneer," Hickman's great-great granddaughter, Sharon Harper, tells MPR. "I do think the fact that he was educated made the critical difference."

And so the history of the church includes its place in salving the destruction of St. Paul's old Rondo neighborhood for Interstate 94. It also has a role in shaping the integration of Minnesota, existing at a time when there were fewer than 400 blacks in the entire state.

"As we emerge out of this 150th year celebration," Gill tells MPR, "we will emerge not just having had a good time, but also to be a church that is relevant, powerful and fruitful in meeting the needs of the people."

Next Up

Kirill Kaprizov / Minnesota Wild

Wild, Kaprizov agree to 5-year deal

The contract will keep the star forward in Minnesota through the 2025-26 season.

Dunn County WI homicide suspect

Charges: Man who killed 4 friends, drove bodies to WI said he 'snapped'

Charges filed Tuesday reveal more details about the grisly case.

Edison high school wikimedia commons

Mpls. school goes to distance learning after students exposed to COVID

In-person classes will resume next month, the district said.

Mike Zimmer

Does Mike Zimmer's coaching style mesh with the Vikings' strengths?

Time for Zimmer to put all of his faith in the offense and try to win shootouts?

gray wolf

6 Wisconsin tribes sue to end upcoming wolf hunt

They cite treaty rights and a "disastrous February hunt."

St Paul Grill steak facebook

St. Paul Grill, closed since March 2020, announces reopening date

The dining room will open to all visitors again next month.

police lights

Charges: Man fled police at 127 mph, caused crash that injured officer

The Sept. 16 incident led to a police chase going the wrong way on Hwy. 169 near St. Peter.

Bar beer

3 Minnesota teens 'pistol whipped' at bar in Sioux Falls

Police are investigating the incident, including why the teens were at the bar.

Ben Simmons

The latest Ben Simmons drama 1 week from the start of training camp

Training camp opens Sept. 28, at which point things could get really crazy.

court gavel

Judge finds man guilty in Hibbing Christmas Day murder

Jerome Spann fatally shot Jeryel McBeth on Christmas Day 2018.


Two firsts for Council of Churches with one appointment

The Greater Minneapolis Council of Churches promoted Noya Woodrich to executive director. The appointment makes her the first woman and the first American Indian to lead the organization in its 107 year history.