St. James A.M.E. Church
Built in 1851, the church dates back to 1844 and it's association with the Free African Society dates even further, to 1787. Historic St. James is the first African Methodist church established in the Deep South and today the St. James African Methodist Episcopal Church is believed to be the oldest predominately African American denomination in the United States.
Backstory and Context
But, it's history goes beyond the Civil War. In fact, a report by Tulane University noted:
"During the late 1800s and early 1900s, the church served as the organizational site for the Black Masons of Louisiana. In the early 1900s, the church secured the establishment of a black elementary school, the Bienville School, later renamed the Albert Wicker School. In the second half of the 20th century, the church was involved in the organization of the Black YMCA (later named the Dryades Street YMCA) and it served as a staging site for Civil Rights protests on Canal Street. St. James owns a number of properties adjacent to the church, and part of their post-Katrina mission is to provide affordable housing to neighborhood residents in need. The church also continues to support the Albert Wicker School located a few blocks away on Bienville Street."5
The building stands as a legacy of black culture in New Orleans, as well as numerous mixed races. And the church's history provides insight into the broader historical narrative that is New Orleans for more than two centuries.
2 James Henretta, “Richard Allen and African-American Identity,” Early America Review 1 (Spring 1997); Julie Winch, A Gentleman of Color: The Life of James Forten (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002); and Julie Winch, Philadelphia’s Black Elite: Activism, Accommodation, and the Struggle for Autonomy, 1787-1848 (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1988).
4 Sybil Kein, Creole: The History and Legacy of Louisiana's Free People of Color (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2000), 50-77
5. Michelle Van Meter, "St. James Church," Media NOLA: A Project of Tulane University, medianola.org, last updated October, 2012, http://medianola.org/discover/place/800/St.-James-Church.