Influential Detroit pastor the Rev. Charles Gilchrist Adams dies at age 86

Nov 30, 2023, 1:45 PM

DETROIT (AP) — Influential longtime Detroit pastor the Rev. Charles Gilchrist Adams has died following an illness. He was 86.

Adams died Wednesday following a bout with pneumonia, his sister, Edith Clifton, told The Detroit News on Thursday.

Adams spent a half-century as pastor of Hartford Memorial Baptist Church before retiring in 2019. He had since served as pastor emeritus.

“He was my only sibling and my best friend,” Clifton, 88, told the newspaper. “We talked almost every day.”

Adams used the church’s standing and resources to spur economic development on the city’s northwest side.

“Detroiters have lost a great champion and a great man,” Mayor Mike Duggan said in a statement. “As a pastor of Hartford Memorial Baptist Church, Rev. Adams did more than offer words of hope and inspiration from his pulpit, he created opportunity by purchasing and developing land around Hartford, including the Hartford Village senior citizen community.”

Adams was born in Detroit, attended Fisk University in Tennessee and graduated from the University of Michigan and Harvard University. From 1962-1969, he was pastor of Concord Baptist Church in Boston, before being appointed pastor at Hartford Memorial.

“While he was still a student at Harvard, he was called to be pastor of Historical Concord Baptist church, one of the oldest Black churches in Boston,” Clifton told the Detroit Free Press. “During the seven years he was there, the church built an affordable housing project.”

The family of civil rights icon the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. inspired Adams to realize the importance of real estate development, he once said.

Adams had been to Atlanta and saw what the King family had done around Ebenezer Baptist Church, which gave him “the idea that we should own all the land we could around Hartford Memorial,” the Free Press reported he said in 2017.

“As a result, most of the land around the church belongs to the church, so that it makes economic development all the more possible,” Adams said.

From 2007-2012, Adams held the position of Nickerson professor of the Practice of Ethics and Ministry at Harvard Divinity School.

“Charles Adams is one of the country’s most accomplished religious leaders,” William A. Graham, then-dean of Harvard Divinity School, said in 2007. “He is not only a widely acclaimed preacher, but has been just as influential as a pioneer in linking the church’s mission to urban revitalization through economic, educational, and social initiatives.”

A member of the Seventh General Assembly of the World Council of Churches, Adams recommended that the council use its offices and resources to combat racism in the United States and around the world, according to Hartford Memorial’s webpage.

Adams also was twice cited by Ebony Magazine as one of the nation’s 15 greatest Black preachers and one of the top 100 most influential Black Americans.

He was a former member of the Detroit Branch of the NAACP’s executive board and served as the civil rights organization’s president in 1984.

Adams is survived by his wife, Agnes Adams; daughter, Tara Adams Washington; and son, the Rev. Charles Christian Adams.

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Influential Detroit pastor the Rev. Charles Gilchrist Adams dies at age 86