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Black Histories Matter: Community Archaeological Digs at the Historic Michigan Street Baptist Church

Sometimes, the best way to uncover the history of a city, is to quite literally dig. At least, that’s what members of the Buffalo Niagara Freedom Station Coalition (BNFSC) are planning to do. The organization, which owns the Michigan Street Baptist Church, will be hosting community archeological digs in partnership with the University at Buffalo’s Archaeological Survey Department of Anthropology and the Michigan Street African American Heritage Corridor in order to find clues that will help to tell the story of what life was like in the 19th century for an African-American Baptist congregation.

The Michigan Street Baptist Church has been a hub of abolitionist and progressive action for the past 175 years.

“The Buffalo Niagara Freedom Station Coalition is excited and cannot wait to begin the dig! The history of Michigan Ave is so important to our city and we are looking forward to discovering more about the people who made this Church so special. We invite the community to come down and get in on the dig,” said Lillie Wiley-Upshaw, Chair of the Buffalo Niagara Freedom Station Coalition. 

The archeological digs are made possible thanks to funding from the Network to Freedom, which is providing the resources to uncover, thus discover, telltale signs of life from the original African-American Baptist congregation that built the Church, which was constructed between 1845 and 1849. 

The Church – a Black owned and Black operated house of worship – was built exclusively by members of the congregation.

The Church has become a beacon of inspiration for members of the Black community, as it once served as a stopping point (and safe haven) for freedom seekers who were traveling along the Underground Railroad with intentions of crossing into Canada.

Community archeological digs will be held on September 17, 18, 24, and 25 – between the hours of 10 AM and 2 PM.  All members of the public are encouraged to attend to observe the excavation of the site. 

The two-week long project will begin with a kick-off party on September 17th from 10 AM to 2 PM. Visitors will be able to view archaeologists working on an excavation and assist with screening for artifacts. There will also be an opportunity to participate in artifact washing and artifact identification activities, plus information will be provided to students interested in getting into the field of archaeology. During the Kick-off party, there will be presentations from Project Leads.

  • September 17, 2021 10:00 – 2:00 PM – Kick-off party & Mary Talbert’s Birthday Celebration! Mary Talbert was a lifelong activists both in the Corridor and in the United States. Her home stood next to the Church for generations. Activities include demonstrations from Archeological Experts, talks about the history of the Church, food trucks, & opportunities to assist with screening for artifacts.
  • September 18, 2021 10:00 – 2:00 PM – Archeological dig continues with more opportunities to help sift through the material.
  • September 24, 2021 10:00 – 2:00 PM – Archeological dig continues with more opportunities to help sift through the material.
  • September 25, 2021 10:00 – 4:00 PM – Doors Open Buffalo with FREE admission to the Corridor Tours.  Archeological dig continues with more opportunities to help sift through the material.

The activities during the kick-off party are generously sponsored by Uniland Development. 

The public will have more opportunities to observe on September 18, 24, and 25 for drop in screening and washing activities between 10 AM and 2 PM. The Church will be open for free tours on September 25th as part of Explore Buffalo’s Doors Open Buffalo. Information about Doors Open Buffalo and registration information can be found here. Tours of the Church will also be available on all other dig days for a cost of $15 per person, which can be reserved here or by calling 716-322-1002. 

Written by queenseyes


Newell Nussbaumer is 'queenseyes' - Eyes of the Queen City and Founder of Buffalo Rising. Co-founder Elmwood Avenue Festival of the Arts. Co-founder Powder Keg Festival that built the world's largest ice maze (Guinness Book of World Records). Instigator behind Emerald Beach at the Erie Basin Marina. Co-created Flurrious! winter festival. Co-creator of Rusty Chain Beer. Instigator behind Saturday Artisan Market (SAM) at Canalside, Buffalo Porchfest, and Paint vs. Paint. Founder of The Peddler retro and vintage market on Elmwood. Instigator behind Liberty Hound @ Canalside. Throws The Witches Ball at Statler City, the Hertel Alley Street Art Festival, and The Flutterby Festival.

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