The church’s civil rights legacy owes a lot to the efforts of its 5th pastor, Dr. Harvey Johnson who led his parishioners from 1872 until the time of his death in 1923. Dr. Johnson helped lay the foundations for the Niagara Movement and the NAACP by litigating to gain equal pay for black teachers. He also litigated for black lawyers to be allowed to practice in the State of Maryland. In addition to this, he won the first case in the United States that ended the identification of blacks as cargo in interstate commerce. Dr. Johnson was also responsible for withdrawing the church from the Maryland Baptist Union Association because of its discriminatory conduct; this led to him establishing the Colored Baptist Convention in 1897. In his 50 years at the helm, 13 churches were established from Union Baptist Church’s congregation and 5 of those are still in existence today.
Union Baptist Church also left its mark on the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s as it was one of the co-sponsors of the March on Washington in 1963. It’s work in the community can be seen in its foundation of B.U.I.L.D, a grassroots leadership development organization rooted in Baltimore’s neighborhoods and congregations. The church also helped establish the Baxter L Matthews Senior Residence Center, an independent living community located just a couple of blocks from the church. Union Baptist Church celebrated its 160th anniversary in 2012 and continues to be an advocate for advancement and unity among African-Americans in the city of Baltimore.