Soon, the Connecticut Post will take a look at the so-called storefront churches in the city.
We’re not going to give away our findings here; you’ll have to pick up the paper for that. But, suffice to say, the opinions that many have about these “churches in non-traditional locations” are mostly false, we have found.
Have you ever wondered why storefront churches seem to be clustered together, sometimes almost next door to one another?
There’s a reason for this, and to understand this phenomenon, you’ll have to turn the clock back to the early to mid-20th century, when waves of blacks were migrating to the Northeast to work in factories.
According to University of Chicago sociologist Omar M. McRoberts, housing discrimination forced blacks to live in so-called “black belts,” because there was nowhere else for them to go. In Bridgeport, the black belt stretches along a southern swath of the city, from the P.T. Barnum public housing complex on the West End out to the East End along Stratford, Connecticut and Barnum avenues.
“African Americans were confined to these areas with high densities,” he said. “But after Civil Right legislation opens up housing options, the middle-class blacks move out, so you get these concentrated areas of intense, multigenerational black poverty. The commercial establishment leaves, and suddenly you have many, many vacant commercial spaces.”
Scores of these spaces, he said, became churches, as pastors were lured by the lower-cost rents.
“I decided to take a look at the presence of all of these churches and find out why there were so many of them,” he said. “What I called the ‘religious district.’ ”
McRoberts details his research in his book, “Streets of Glory: Church and Community in a Black Urban Neighborhood.”
“It’s an urban sociological story in many ways,” he said. “People who wanted to open businesses there couldn’t get loans, so you get all of the forces colliding to create these religious districts.
For “Streets of Glory,” McRoberts studied the religious landscape for years in Boston’s Four Corners neighborhood. If you’re familiar with Boston, Four Corners is a .6-square mile area on the Roxbury-Dorchester line.
“A lot of people think that if there weren’t storefront churches, business would occupy these locations,” said. “That’s simply not the case.”