St. Philip’s Episcopal Church
204 West 134th Street
Established in 1809
Moved to Harlem in 1910
St. Philip’s is credited with being the first black religious organization to establish a major presence in Harlem and with leading the great African-American migration uptown.
Founded in 1809 and officially organized in 1818, St. Philip’s Episcopal Church is the oldest black Episcopal congregation in New York City. It was formed by slaves and freemen who broke away from the racially segregated Trinity Episcopal Church in lower Manhattan. Early members of St. Philip’s were actively involved in the abolition of slavery.
The church’s history dates back to 1702 when a missionary and former slave named Elias Neau began bringing the Gospel to African Americans living in the area. Neau’s converts later organized the Free African Church of St. Philip, today known as St. Philip’s Episcopal Church.
St. Philip’s was originally located on Centre Street near Leonard Street, in the vicinity of what is now City Hall. It moved to Mulberry Street and West 25th Street before arriving in 1910 to its current building on West 134th Street, designed by renowned black architects Vertner Tandy and George W. Foster. Jr.
The church was damaged and destroyed time after time prior to settling in Harlem. It was burnt down by an accidental fire in 1821, demolished by mobs of anti-abolitionists in 1834, wrecked during the draft riots of 1863, and leveled in 1900 by police and European immigrants in a racial attack against African Americans. Nonetheless, St. Philip’s prospered and was quickly rebuilt each time by its members and clergy.
St. Philip’s former rector Reverend Hutchens C. Bishop initiated the church’s relocation to Harlem. He bought land and property in Harlem under his own name, including a site for the church. The white landlords, who thought he was white because of his light skin, were glad to sell him their houses, telling him they would never sell to Negroes. In 1910 Reverend Bishop turned over his properties to the church. In this way, St. Philip’s is credited with being the first black religious organization to establish a major presence in Harlem and leading the great African-American migration uptown. Under the ministry of Reverend Bishop from 1886 to 1933, St. Philip’s was regarded as the richest and most prominent of all black congregations. More African Americans of means and education gathered here for worship than at any other church in New York City. Its members included Langston Hughes, W.E.B. DuBois and Thurgood Marshall.
“From its Harlem site, St. Philip's continued its excellent worship, real estate investments, and enhanced community services. Since its founding, It has provided African Americans services they could not receive from religious, medical, or educational institutions controlled by Caucasian Americans. Paid staff and members with professional expertise founded programs to support and uplift St. Philip's members and African Americans throughout the City. Over the years St. Philip's has offered psychiatric care, social work services, child care, sleep away and day camps, a theater, senior residences, and constructed affordable housing. St. Philip’s history bears testimony to both the worst and best of what New York City presents to its citizens.“, said The Rev. Cecily P. Broderick y Guerra, current Priest-in-Charge.