Encyclopedia Of Detroit

Bradby, Reverend Robert

As pastor of the Second Baptist Church from 1910 to 1946, Robert Bradby became a social and civil rights leader in Detroit’s African American community. He was a founding member of the Detroit branch of the NAACP.

Bradby was born in Ontario, Canada on September 17, 1877. He worked on his family’s farm until the age of 22, when he said he felt a calling to the ministry. He attended McMaster University in Toronto until 1906, majoring in theology, but did not graduate, perhaps due to the death of his father. In later years he was awarded an honorary divinity degree from Virginia Theological Seminary and an honorary law degree from Wilberforce University. Concurrent with his studies at McMaster, he was pastor of Baptist churches in Amherstburg, Chatham, and Windsor, Ontario.

In 1910, Bradby moved to Detroit to become pastor of the Second Baptist Church. During the summer, Reverend Bradby preached on street corners and walked door-to-door in neighborhoods to recruit church members. He visited local bars, music halls and restaurants, trying to convince the owners to clean up their establishments. During the Great Migration of southern blacks to northern cities, the Rev. Bradby and church members welcomed African Americans at Michigan Central Station and introduced them to Second Baptist, the “Home of Strangers.” There Bradby saw that essential needs, such as housing and jobs were met. Thirty-five church auxiliaries, developed by Bradby, offered other services such as education, hygiene, and proper dress that helped assimilate the migrants into Detroit’s African American community. Influential in the white community as well, in 1919, he entered into an agreement with Henry Ford in which the Ford Motor Company would hire men that Bradby recommended.

A failed candidate for Detroit City Council in 1925, Bradby encouraged his church members to voice their political power by voting in local, state and national elections. The Reverend Robert Bradby died on June 3, 1946. He is buried in Detroit’s Elmwood Cemetery. A street in Detroit and a city recreational center bear his name.