91.7 Ann Arbor/Detroit 104.1 Grand Rapids 91.3 Port Huron 89.7 Lansing 91.1 Flint
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Rev. Charles Adams, one of Detroit's most esteemed church leaders, dies at 86

The Reverend Charles G. Adams, former pastor and pastor emeritus at Hartford Memorial Baptist Church.
Hartford Memorial Baptist Church
The Reverend Charles G. Adams, former pastor and pastor emeritus at Hartford Memorial Baptist Church.

The Reverend Charles Adams, one of Detroit’s most esteemed and influential religious leaders, died this week at age 86.

Adams led Hartford Memorial Baptist Church for over 50 years. The Harvard-educated pastor was known as an eloquent preacher whose sermons were both powerful and intelligent. He was also a political and social activist with a national and even international profile.

Kim Trent, now a deputy director for the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity, grew up in Adams’ church at a time when Hartford Memorial was expanding and, at one point, had a congregation of 10,000 or more. She recalls him as “outrageously articulate and intelligent,” a humble man who could be generous to a fault.

Trent pointed to one of Adams’ most famous sermons, “Drunk on the Eve of Reconstruction,” which he famously delivered once at a Morehouse College commencement ceremony, entertaining and moving the audience and receiving a standing ovation.

“The man was an amazing preacher,” Trent said. “He knew how to lift up the Word in a way that was so compelling and accessible, while also making you feel smarter.”

Trent said that at a time when many American churches were swept up in the “Prosperity Gospel,” Adams remained faithful to his spiritual roots. “And he never, ever wavered, and kind of bought into this idea that, you know, the main purpose of God is to make you materially rich,” she said.

Trent said Adams also never shied away from controversial social issues in pursuit of justice. He was one of the first prominent U.S. religious leaders to speak out against South African Apartheid, led the Detroit chapter of the NAACP, and also the Progressive National Baptist Convention, a body that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was instrumental in founding.

Trent said that Adams once invited Paul Robeson to take the pulpit at Hartford Memorial, at a time when the Black actor was virtually blacklisted for his political beliefs. “They embraced people the way that one should as a Christian,” she said. “And he grew up with that, and that’s the way that he led too.”

Adams had been in declining health since suffering a stroke four years ago. His son, the Reverend Charles Christian Adams, took over the pulpit at Hartford Memorial in 2019. Adams died Wednesday at Trinity Health Oakland Hospital in Pontiac.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.