Codename Midnight William Lambert and the Underground Railroad
William Lambert served as the vice president and one of the principal conductors on the Detroit Underground Railroad. He organized and led a secret order, The African American Men of Mysteries known as the Detroit Vigilant Committee. He was one of the founders and first warden of the St. Mattews Episcopal Church, which was the first Black Episcopal Church in Michigan. William Lambert was a proponent of education. He and his family were relentless in bringing publiclicly supported education to the African American children of Detroit. William Lambert was a true founding Civil Rights leader generations ahead of his time.
William Lambert's Speech Exerpt
"Therefore we feel ourselves aggrieved that the blessing obtained by the blood and toil of our fathers are not administered as equally to us as to your selves. We feel that our suffering caused by being deprived of our political rights, should call forth the sympathies of the whole human race, but, more especially those of yourselves among who we dwell and who are the authors of our calamities. For you have trampled our liberties in the dust and thus standing with the iron heel of oppression on our heads, you bid us rise to a level with yourselves; and because we do not rise, you point the finger of scorn and contempt at us and say, that we are an inferior race by nature."
William Lambert as a child
William Lambert as a child knew one day he would make a difference.
William Lambert a Civil Rights Leader
Many people in Detroit described William Lambert as the Martin Luther King of his day.
Underground Railroad Map
The Underground Railroad was the network used by enslaved black Americans to obtain their freedom in the 30 years before the Civil War (1860-1865). The “railroad” used many routes from states in the South, which supported slavery, to “free” states in the North and Canada. Sometimes, routes of the Underground Railroad were organized by abolitionists, people who opposed slavery. More often, the network was a series of small, individual actions to help fugitive enslaved persons. Using the terminology of the railroad, those who went south to find enslaved people seeking freedom were called “pilots.” Those who guided enslaved people to safety and freedom were “conductors.” The enslaved people were “passengers.” People’s homes or businesses, where fugitive passengers and conductors could safely hide, were “stations.” Stations were added or removed from the Underground Railroad as ownership of the house changed. If a new owner supported slavery, or if the site was discovered to be a station, passengers and conductors were forced to find a new station. Establishing stations was done quietly, by word-of-mouth. Very few people kept records about this secret activity, to protect homeowners and the fugitives who needed help. If caught, fugitive enslaved persons would be forced to return to slavery. People caught aiding escaped enslaved people faced arrest and jail. This applied to people living in states that supported slavery as well as those living in free states. https://www.nationalgeographic.org/maps/undergroundrailroad/
St. Matthew's and St. Joseph's Episcopal Church
Due to the proximity to Canada, the enactment of the Fugitive Slave Act made Detroit a key part of the Underground Railroad. St. Matthews Episcopal Church, founded in 1846 by William and Julia Lambert, would become a stop on the Underground Railroad. The son of the founders, Benjamin Lambert, founded the Detroit NAACP in 1912. The Church was initially located in the Paradise Valley, an all-black enclave in Detroit, which was razed for the construction of I-75. St. Matthews Episcopal Church is now located in the North End on Woodward Avenue. The interior of the church is adorned with twenty scenes depicting the life of Christ and the floor of the church is Pewable tile. The stained glass windows, including three Tiffany windows, make the interior of the church as magnificent as the exterior.