HistorySecond Baptist Church is the first black Baptist church organized in Evanston, Illinois. Prior to the earliest documented gatherings, prayer meetings may have been held in the late 1870s or early 1880s in the homes of Second Baptist’s founding families such as Daniel F. and Mary E. Garnett, who lived on the west side of Sherman Avenue north of Grove Street. On November 15, 1882, ten of the black members of First Baptist Church (now Lake Street Church) requested and were granted letters of dismissal. As reported in the Evanston Index, on November 25, 1882, “the Second Baptist church was organized and recognized by an ecclesiastical council invited for that purpose” with twenty members -- ten from First Baptist’s rolls and others. The organizing pastor was the Reverend S. T. Clanton, a seminarian at the Baptist Union Theological Seminary in Morgan Park, Illinois.
Members of this young church worshiped in a room over the Post Office and held many fundraising events to purchase a church building. The dream became reality and in September 1883, the church purchased its first building. Northwestern University issued a 20-year lease to Second Baptist for a lot located on Benson Avenue north of Church Street, and the church moved the building to that site. Tragedy struck early on September 13, 1889, when a fire in an apartment over a grocery store between the alley and Church Street totally destroyed the church and other nearby frame structures. In May, 1890, the building used by the Second Methodist Church of North Evanston was for sale and Second Baptist purchased it and later petitioned the Village of Evanston to move the church to a lot owned by Nathan Branch on Wesley Avenue between Grove and Lake Streets. However, the neighbors protested the move in a counter-petition signed by over 100 residents. After a failed bid to finalize the purchase, Nathan Branch negotiated a deal with Northwestern. The University later purchased Branch’s lot, and, in exchange, he and his wife purchased the total lot (1717 Benson Avenue) for $750.00. In early December, 1890, the church building was moved to the current Benson Avenue location.
Second Baptist has had many pastors who provided stellar leadership throughout the years. Under the leadership of Reverend B.P.E. Gayles, the church began planning for the erection of a new (brick) facility. In February, 1912, a Reverend I. A. Thomas (a recent Morehouse graduate) was installed as pastor and work on the current building ensued. The cornerstone was laid in March, 1913 and the dedication occurred on December 12, 1915. During his tenure, Rev. Thomas initiated a capital campaign in 1920 which later allowed the church to: burn its mortgage; build a parsonage; and purchase the pipe organ. Unfortunately, he was voted out (July, 1929) in a dispute over the disposition of the church’s land. Property values in downtown Evanston had escalated, and some members felt that the church should sell the land and relocate to a different section of town. This move was, however, at odds with Rev. Thomas’ vision for the church.
Reverend W. H. Borders was ordained and installed as pastor in June, 1931. He served the church until September, 1937 when he resigned to return to Atlanta, his home town, to teach at his alma mater, Morehouse College. Reverend J. Gentry Horace of Texas was called to the pastorate in February, 1938. During his tenure, the citywide prayer band was started, and another mortgage burning ceremony took place on August 2, 1942. He served until August, 1946. Reverend C. Nathaniel Hawk, Sr. was elected in March, 1947 after serving four and one-half years in the Armed Services as Chaplain. He served faithfully until his retirement in fall, 1971. Reverend Dr. Hycel B. Taylor became pastor on February 11, 1972. Under his leadership, Second Baptist launched many new ministries, including the homeless soup kitchen, the Ione S. Brown Memorial Scholarship Fund, and the Youth Action Ministry (YAM). The 8am worship service also began during his tenure. Reverend Mark A. Dennis, Jr. was called to serve as the church’s Interim Pastor from January 2002 to August 2003. In November 2003, he was installed by the congregation as the current senior pastor of the church. Under his leadership, the church has re-affirmed its commitment to be “a beacon of light – a Christ-centered church celebrating faith, freedom, fellowship, stewardship and the social responsibility of caring for souls.” To this end, church leaders have restructured its mission, infrastructure, budgets, ministries and personnel to meet the myriad challenges facing our community. Given our great history and the promise of our future, the congregation has also affirmed and embraced its new mission: “The Spirit of the Lord has anointed us to care for souls; experience the joy of celebrating God’s goodness; and work collaboratively to accomplish much to the glory of God.” This is our current calling for ‘such a time as this’!