North Central College - Naperville, IL

A Worship Leader Becomes a Political Leader

Leading up to the College’s 150th celebration in 2011-2012, the Archives is collecting oral histories of trustees, faculty and alumni, like the Reverend Nicholas Hood ’46. This story reflects the memories he recently shared.

As far as the eye can see from Plymouth Congregational Church in Detroit stand residential buildings and other facilities that came about from the vision of the Reverend Nicholas Hood ’46. A dedicated church leader and community activist, he has left his imprint on the City of Detroit, his congregation and countless church followers, and civil rights leader and friend Andrew Young. Hood was also the first African-American student to receive a North Central College degree, which he obtained before attending Yale Divinity School.

Hood’s time on campus prepared him for a life of ministry and leadership. “Attending North Central was a great experience,” says Hood, now pastor emeritus of Plymouth Congregational. “I focused on liberal arts classes before going to seminary.”

Hood came from a family of eight children—he’s the youngest—and all were educated at Indiana State University in Terre Haute, IN, where the family lived. He decided on a career in medicine after he needed medical treatment for a birth defect. Hood altered the family tradition and enrolled at Purdue University. “I was conducting worship as a song leader in small rural churches,” he says. “I saw the possibilities of bringing young people together across racial lines.”

On a train ride to Minnesota to speak in an Evangelical Church, he pondered his career: medicine or ministry? He told the minister there that he was contemplating the ministry and needed liberal arts preparation. “How about North Central College?” the minister replied. On the way back to Indiana, Hood went to Naperville and enrolled at the College to complete a bachelor’s degree.

During his year at North Central which he says was “great experience,” Hood studied subjects like religious studies, philosophy and psychology. He participated in chapel choir and glee club, and continued to be involved with church youth groups.

After Yale Divinity School, Hood moved to New Orleans to become minister of Central Congregational Church. He worked to improve slum areas around the church with sewers and paved streets. He served as secretary of the founding meeting of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in New Orleans in 1956. “We were involved in relatively simple things at first, like trying to desegregate buses,” Hood says. “Martin Luther King Jr. was a wonderful person, very human and thoughtful.”

Hood became close friends with Andrew Young, one of King’s top assistants. Young attended a church retreat in Texas with Hood and became inspired to enter the ministry instead of dentistry. Later, Hood officiated at the marriage of Young and his wife Jean in 1954.

Hood then decided to move north and answered a call to Plymouth Congregational in 1958. Urban renewal efforts were underway but city leaders were preventing any African-American churches from staying in those areas. Hood organized the churches into the Fellowship for Urban Renewal and then led an effort to vote out the mayor and others who denied their participation in urban renewal. In 1965, he became the second African-American elected to the Detroit City Council and he served in this capacity for 28 years. “I showed what you could get done through politics,” he says.

Hood also helped develop 20 acres of housing for people displaced by urban renewal, along with another 22 acres of townhomes, apartments, senior housing and the Cyprian Center, Inc., founded in honor of his late daughter Sarah Cyprian, who was developmentally disabled.

Near the center stands Plymouth Congregational, home to 2,000 parishioners in a modern building constructed in 1974. His son, Nicholas Hood III, is now senior pastor and continues to be active in the community through projects like building a charter school for 1,200 students.

Today Hood enjoys traveling and spending time with family members. He rarely preaches but still is proud of the church he guided and the people he touched. And he continues to impact students at North Central through a scholarship fund.

“It all happened when the Lord got a hold of me and helped me decide to go into ministry.”  


North Central NOW Fall 2009