"The hymn of Temperance, of Human Rights and Freedom, of Peace, and of Benevolence will be found both numerous, energetic, and eminently Christian..."
- Henry Ward Beecher, The Plymouth Collection Of Hymns And Tunes For The Use Of Christian Congregations, Brooklyn, N.Y., August 10, 1855
Plymouth Church – "the Grand Central Depot" on the Underground Railroad – makes for an incredible setting for Let Freedom Ring! A Concert To Benefit Free the Slaves, January 11 featuring the Impressions, Naomi Shelton & The Gospel Queens, and members of The Dap-Kings. In this space in February 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. preached a sermon on "The American Dream," echoed just months later in his famous "I Have a Dream" speech in Washington, D.C.
Oral tradition and several published memoirs tell us that slaves seeking passage to Canada may have hidden in the tunnel-like basement beneath the church sanctuary – still a part of the structure today.
From the earliest days of its founding in 1847 by anti-slavery Congregationalists, with Henry Ward Beecher as its first called minister, Plymouth served as a center of abolitionist activist and the most prominent ministry in the second half of 19th century America. Beecher was a master at creating public events to strengthen the fight against slavery. He staged mock "auctions" at Plymouth, urging the congregation to purchase the freedom of actual slaves. During one service, he trampled the chains that had bound John Brown. He invited famous anti-slavery advocates to speak at the Church, including William Lloyd Garrison, Sojourner Truth, Wendell Phillips, Charles Sumner, and Frederick Douglass.
Beecher understood the connection between music, faith, and Civil Rights – a connection that continues with Let Freedom Ring! With his brother, Charles Beecher, and Plymouth's organist, John Zundel, he compiled The Plymouth Collection Of Hymns And Tunes For The Use Of Christian Congregations, the world's first modern hymnal in which words and music were printed on the same page.
On the campaign trail in 1860, Abraham Lincoln attended services on two occasions, the first of which was the day before his famous Cooper-Union Address, a speech which is not only credited with launching his presidential campaign, but also for laying the groundwork for his public stance against slavery. His pew is presently marked with a plaque.
The National Register of Historic Places designated the church a National Historic Landmark in 1961.
As part of a weekend that will focus on the problem of historical and modern-day slavery, Plymouth, in partnership with Brooklyn Historical Society, will also be offering a panel discussion featuring anti-trafficking experts on January 10 at Brooklyn Historical Society, where the exhibit "Brooklyn Abolitionists: In Pursuit of Freedom" will open in early January.
For more information on Plymouth Church, please go here.