The 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, NC, 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 A.M.E. Church.

2013 Capital Campaign and Renovation: Rev. Claude R. James, current Presiding Elder of Augusta-North District, 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.