When the boat traveling up the Mississippi carrying the cargo of horses and ex-slaves arrived in St. Paul, Minnesota, a local newspaper reported that local residents who were standing on the banks of the Mississippi River yelled out “Keep the horses but send the Niggers back.” The ex-slaves were dispersed to St. Paul, Minneapolis, Hastings and Duluth so as not to allow too many to live in one area.
Laying the Foundation
Reverend Robert Hickman, along with the group that traveled with him from Missouri was among the group that stayed in St. Paul. In Missouri, Reverend Hickman lived on a plantation and began to preach to groups of slaves. After gaining their freedom, many of these ex-slaves followed Reverend Hickman up the Mississippi in search of a better life. These courageous men and women worshipped wherever they could until they joined St. Paul’s First Baptist under ‘watch care’. After Reverend Hickman completed his coursework and training to become a minister, he received his commission and was licensed. After establishing his ministry at Pilgrim, he went on to establish ministries in Minneapolis, Hastings and Duluth. In addition, other churches grew out of Pilgrim, including Mt. Olivet and Progressive Baptist in Saint Paul. The creation of these churches and others throughout Minnesota served as anchors in the Black community. These churches became the cultural cornerstone for Black people, and, they served as the source of cultural diversity for their respective communities.
Tackling Community Issues
When Reverend Hickman and other ex-slaves arrived, the schools in St. Paul were segregated. Black children went to school in a dilapidated building with broken windows. It was a poor learning environment as it was cold and lacking in resources. As a result, Reverend Hickman and members of Pilgrim, advocated for the rights of Blacks to attend public school in St. Paul. Subsequently, this right was granted. Likewise, Pilgrim advocated for the passage of ordinances directed at making St. Paul an equal community. For example, members lobbied for the right to serve on juries and to have a say in taxation.
Pilgrim gave free access to a number of Black national leaders, including but not limited to, W. E. B. Dubois, Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., Sr., and III, Frederick McGhee, Roy Wilkins, Jesse Jackson and Hank Aaron.
Pilgrim Baptist Church Homecoming
Reunion Concert - Oct 8 — Members of current and past choirs at Pilgrim will come together for an evening of music and fellowship on Friday, October 8th at 7:30PM. Past directors including, Gary Hines, The Sounds of Blackness; Jeanine Nesbit, Disney@ Orlando, Florida; Melvin Carter III, Saint Paul City Council; and Margaret LaFleur, Twin City Music Teachers Association, Rev.-Devon Miller and Pilgrim Baptist Church Minister of Music, Delores Zeno, will conduct the choir. A light buffet will be served following the concert.
Mississippi Boat Ride - Oct 9 — A boat ride up the Mississippi on the Anson to Fort Snelling on Saturday, October 9th. Passengers will arrive at 12:30PM and the boat will depart at 1:00PM. The boat will return at 2:30PM. This ride will follow the route of the barge that brought ex-slaves to Minnesota in 1863. Transportation is available from the church to the boat and back. Lunch will be served on board the Anson. Passengers will be protected from all weather. Seating will be on the inside of the boat. After the boat ride, please join us at Block E (Game Works) downtown Minneapolis from 5:00PM to 9:00PM.
Worship Service - Oct 10 — Rev. Dr. Earl F. Miller, former Pastor of Pilgrim from 1977 to 1992 will be the guest preacher for the 9:45AM Homecoming Service on Sunday, October 10th.