History of First A.M.E. Church
1866 - First A.M.E. Church (c.1916), formerly Pierce Chapel, was established through the mission work of Rev. Henry McNeal Turner in 1866. Under a resolution of the May 1866 General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church - South, Athens Methodist Dr. Henry Hull transferred ownership of a Foundry Street church property to its former slave congregation. Since the 1820's, these congregants had worshipped from the galleries of the white Methodist Church (presently First United Methodist Church). In 1852, the separate slave congregation was created - and served by white ministers - when the Methodists built a new brick church and moved the old wooden structure to the Foundry Street lot. The name Pierce Chapel is generally attributed to the prominence of Rev. Lovick Pierce and son Bishop George Pierce in Georgia Methodism.
1867 - During the Winter of 1866, Rev. Henry McNeal Turner met with and gained approval of the newly freed Pierce Chapel Methodist Episcopal congregation to join the A.M.E. Church. S.B. Jones, an aspiring minister, then accompanied Rev. Turner to both the 1866 and 1867 A.M.E. South Carolina Annual Conferences for required training. After the close of the 1867 Conference at Wilmington, N.C. in May of that year, Turner and Jones returned to Athens. Rev. Turner, now Superintendent of Georgia, completed Pierce Chapel's conversion to African Methodism by installing Rev. S.B. Jones as its first pastor.
1874 - First New Sanctuary: During the Reconstruction Era, Rev. John M. Cargile followed Rev. S.B. Jones in 1873 and immediately launched a building campaign. The Sanctuary was remodeled and dedicated on July 16, 1874 enabling Pierce Chapel to host the second session of the new Georgia Annual Conference in January 1875. By 1876, the basement of this early church housed one of Athens' first schools for freemen led by Ms. Ann Derricott and Rev. Wm. H. Heard, an Elberton native and A.M.E. Bishop.
1881 - First Land Purchase: In December of 1881, the congregation purchased the present church lot at the corner of Hull and Strong Streets, which also included a house to be utilized as a parsonage.
1916 - Second New Sanctuary: Macon natives architect Louis H. Persley and builder R. F. Walker formulated the plans and completed construction of the church in 1916. The new church was dedicated as First A.M.E. Church in December 1916.
1972 - C.D. Wilkerson Center: Led by the visionary Dr. Clayton D. Wilkerson, the Church erected an educational center, deservedly named in his honor. Earlier In 1969, urban renewal required demolition of the last church parsonage built in 1921 by Rev. William A. Fountain, Jr.
1978 - Dr. Ellen F. Greene, retired Fisk University professor and former member, bequeathed $69, 000 to the church, portions of which were used to retire the Wilkerson Center mortgage and make internal renovations.
1980 - Historic Designation: The Church was placed on the National Register of Historic Places effective March 10, 1980.
1998 - Local Historic Designation: First AME Church is officially recognized as a historic landmark by the Commissioners of Athens-Clarke County, GA.
2006 - Historic Hiram House Renovation: In 1995, the Church established Project Renew, Inc. to acquire the property of Dr. Ida Johnson Hiram, former member and the first black woman dentist licensed in Georgia . Extensive renovation in 2000 provided affordable housing for the aged and disabled. This earned the church the 2006 Preservation Award from the Athens Historic Preservation Commission.
2007 - Georgia Historical Marker Installed. On Sunday, July 16, 2007, a Georgia Historical Marker was installed on behalf of Louis H. Persley of Macon, GA, the first African American architect licensed in Georgia and designer of First AME Church.
2013 - Capital Campaign and Renovation: Rev. Claude R. James led a two-year successful $125,000 capital campaign enabling a major external renovation of the Sanctuary, Bell Tower and church bell installed in 1881.
2014 - Historic 100th Augusta Georgia Annual Conference: For over a century, the conference was comprised of the Augusta-Athens and Swainsboro-Vidalia Districts. At the close of this conference, Bishop Preston Williams, II announced a realignment to form new Augusta-Swainsboro and Athens-Vidalia Districts , each to be led by its own Presiding Elder.
African Methodist Episcopal Church Origin
The African Methodist Episcopal is an offspring of the Methodist Church which was founded by John Wesley in England and America in the eighteenth century. The
Methodist movement itself began in 1739 when John Wesley, an Anglican started within the Church of England a movement to improve the spiritual life of his
Church. The movement became widespread. Many of the followers of the movement emigrated to America. Wesley, realizing the future for the spread of Methodism
in the Colonies, ordained Dr. Thomas Coke, an Anglican priest, and sent him to organize the Church in America. Dr. Coke arrived and called a General Conference in Baltimore, Maryland in December 1784. At this "Christmas Conference, Richard Allen (founder of the American Methodist Episcopal Church),was present as an observer only, and was not a delegate or a voter.
Methodism grew as the Methodist riders went from point to point, from settlement to settlement,and from plantation to plantation. The African Methodist Episcopal Church sprang from the American counterpart of the Methodist Church.
Organization of the A.M.E. Church
The African Methodist Episcopal Church has a unique and glorious history. It is unique in that it is the first major religious denomination in the Westernworld that had its origin over sociological rather than theological beliefs and differences. The immediate cause of the organization of the A.M.E.Church was the fact that members of the St. George's Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia Pa., in 1787 segrated its colored members from its white communicants. The Blacks were sent to the gallery of the Church, to use the venerable Richard Allen's own words. One Sunday as the Africans, as they were called, knelt to pray outside of their segrated area they were actually pulled from their knees and told to go to a place which had been designated for them. This added insult to injury and upon completing their prayer, they went out and formed the Free African Society, and from this Society came two groups: The Episcopalians and the Methodists. The leader of the Methodist group was Richard Allen. Richard Allen desired to implement his conception of freedom of worship and desired to be rid of the humiliation of segregation,especially in Church.
Richard Allen learned that other groups were suffering under the same conditions. After study and consultation, five churches came together in a General Convention which met in Philadelphia, Pa., April 9-11, 1816, and formed the African Methodist Episcopal Church. The name African Methodist came naturally, as Negroes at that time were called Africans and they followed the teaching of the Methodist Church as founded by John Wesley. The young Church accepted the Methodist doctrine and Discipline almost in its entirety.