Historic Elmwood Cemetery & Foundation

Historic Elmwood Cemetery & Foundation

Where Detroit's History Endures
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Robert L. Bradby, Sr.

Robert L. Bradby, Sr.
(1877 – 1946)

Reverend Robert L. Bradby, Sr. was born in 1877.  He spent his early years working as a farmer herding cattle, laboring in a brick mill, and cooking in a lumber camp.  When he was 20, he worked in Chatham, Ontario as a butcher. It was here in Ontario that he chose the ministry.

He was the pastor of Second Baptist Church from 1910-46 and led fundraising of $80,000 to cover damages from two church fires.  This was an unprecedented amount raised by an African American congregation in that era.  Bradby modeled his church and its outreach program on the Social Gospel initiative of establishing the Kingdom of God in his community.  He believed it needed to be directly linked to political involvement.  Bradby expanded Second Baptist to include a large auditorium, kitchen and a gymnasium.  He organized men’s and women’s clubs, a nursery, kindergarten, boys and girls clubs, concerts, lectures, and classes in sewing and cooking.  This expansion enabled him to extend help to newcomers as well as those who were down on their luck.  

Bradby was also a civil rights leader. He served as President of the Detroit NAACP at a time that membership rolls were almost nonexistent, as was its effectiveness. The national organization was full of hope and praise for Detroit’s new leader.  The NAACP press release read, “Dr. Bradby has been an earnest worker in the interests of the NAACP for many years, and under his leadership it is expected that the Detroit Branch will make great strides.”  Bradby was true to his reputation and grew the membership from 200 members to 3000 members in 1925. He served as its president until 1932. He pushed tirelessly for the struggle of the African American working class, racial equality, and social political awareness.  

Bradby ran very successful grassroots mobilization activities around court cases where African Americans were disadvantaged.  He placed hundreds of African American men in good jobs with Ford Motor Company while supporting Detroit Mayor Frank Murphy’s “new deal” politics.  Bradby worked for Ford in the form of in-kind reimbursement, for example, Ford provided free coal to the church for his services rendered.  Ford looked to Bradby as a counselor aiding in the hiring of good African American men and as a peacemaker when racial issues erupted on the shop floor.  Membership at Second Baptist soared after Bradby began making job placement recommendations for Ford Motor Company.  Bradby always asserted that church membership was not a prerequisite for a placement.

Bradby’s congregation looked to him for firmness in protesting racial injustice and discrimination. He always advocated the full exercise of the rights of citizens.  He was especially vigilant about the vote as the only reasonable means for overcoming “ the Jim Crowism and segregation heaped upon” African Americans.  

He was a prominent member of the boards of the Urban League, Dunbar Hospital, Phyllis Wheatley Home for the Aged, and St. Antoine Street branch of the Young Men’s Christian Association.  He was also the vice president of Liberty Life Insurance Company.

Reverend Bradby died in 1946 and is buried in Section A2, Lot 200.