Tim Retzloff oral history interviews: 1993-2012
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Biography

Rev. Charles Andrew Hill, Sr., was born in Detroit on April 28, 1893, to Mary Lantz Hill, a German-American woman, and Edward Hill, an African-American dentist. His father settled in Chicago to establish himself while Charles was still young, and his mother was left to try to raise him alone. As a result of the lack of opportunities for women at the time, Charles spent some years in a city orphanage while his mother tried to attain financial security. He graduated from Cleary Business College in Ypsilanti in 1912, from Lincoln University of Pennsylvania (where he received formal religious training) in May 1919, and Moody Bible College in Chicago.

Ordained in 1918, Hill served for a short period as assistant pastor under Rev. Robert L. Bradby at Second Baptist Church in Detroit. Unhappy with automotive companies' use of Detroit's Black churches (including Second Baptist) as labor clearing houses for "anti-union" employees. Hill found this practice unacceptable and resigned his post to take leadership in 1920 of Hartford Avenue Baptist Church. He remained at Hartford until his retirement in 1969. Under his ministry, Hartford grew in size from 35 members in 1920 to well over 1,000 members in 1945 and became one of the largest African-American churches in Detroit.

During that period, Hill maintained his commitment to the labor movement, which in part also led to his strong ties to the civil rights movement. He was active in marches and demonstrations to increase public housing and job opportunities for African-Americans in Detroit. He also served on the Executive Board of the Michigan Council of Churches, the Civic Committee of the Baptist Ministerial Conference, the Sojourner Truth Citizens Committee, the Citizens Committee for Jobs for Negro Women, and the Mayor's Race Relations Committee after the 1943 race riot. He worked to build coalitions among labor leaders and groups, the Civil Rights Federation, the NAACP and diverse religious and ethnic communities within the city. He was nominated an honorary member of the Ford Local 600, and in 1942 was elected president of the Detroit Chapter of the NAACP. Because of his active involvement in civil rights and labor issues, he was unjustly labeled a "Red" and "communist dupe," and he was repeatedly called before the House Committee on Un-American Activities. Additionally, the Detroit "Red Squad" or Criminal Intelligence Bureau maintained kept a series of files on him, which are included in this collection.

Despite public and personal attacks on his character, Hill and his wife, Georgia, were very highly regarded among family, friends, and church and community. The Hills, married in 1919, raised eight children together: Charles A. Hill, Jr.; Roberta Walden; Lovica Broom; James Wesley Hill; Bermecia Morrow McCoy; Lantz Hill; Sylvia Overstreet; and Brendt Hill. Charles Hill passed away February 8, 1970, and Georgia Hill passed away September 19, 1983.