A Stop on the Underground Railroad: Take a Look Inside Brooklyn’s Plymouth Church

Tags: Currents American history, Black History, Black History Month, Brooklyn, NY, Church History, Faith, History, Queens, NY, Slave, Slavery

By Emily Drooby

On a quaint Brooklyn Heights street sits Plymouth Church. Hidden among the pews, are crucial pieces of Black History.

Senior Minister Brett Younger, took Currents News on a tour.

A marker where Abraham Lincoln sat praying for the abolition of slavery, the space where Martin Luther King Jr. preached an early version of his “I Have a Dream” speech.

Major pieces of history, but the most powerful piece is hidden just past the basement door.

“We were the Grand Central Depot of the Underground Railroad,” Brett explained.

Enslaved African Americans stopped at this church for rest and food during their long and terrifying journey. No larger overarching documentation exists of how many or who exactly passed through, only small fragments of information.

Hidden in the sub-basement of the popular church is a windowless room with no lights.

Brett explained while he turned off the lights, which were added later.

“Imagine that you’re spending the night here and you hear someone walking down the stairs and you don’t know if they’re coming to bring you food or coming to take you back to slavery,” he said. “The courage of those seeking freedom is stunning.”

The space feels haunting and hopeful at the same time.

The church’s minister at the time, Henry Ward Beecher, was a well-known abolitionist. Thousands came to hear him speak. He used all kinds of methods to help free slaves, including mock slave auctions. He also bought people’s freedom with money collected from worshipers.

A long history of fighting for what is right is what current church leaders strive to emulate. That includes highlighting complicated parts of their heritage, like a statue that sits on their grounds done by the infamous Mt. Rushmore sculptor, who had racist ties. The sculpture depicts Beecher helping to free slaves.

“You know there had to be people in the church saying ‘Hey, let’s get out of politics, ‘Hey let’s stop breaking the law. We should be working to change the laws,’” said Brett. “And yet, this was a church that understood if you’re not helping the people that need the help the most, then you’re not being a church. So that’s put a lot of pressure on us to try and live up to our heritage.”

The church is now heavily involved in fighting trafficking and fighting for racial justice.