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Bethel AMEChurch, Atlanta
*Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church of Atlanta was founded on this date in 1847.
Known as Big Bethel A.M.E., its beginnings started in 1840 when Col. Lemuel P. Grants gave Ransom Montgomery and other Blacks property to build their place of worship. A site was selected on Jenkins Street, where the church stood until Federals destroyed it during the American Civil War. Colonel Grant returned the site to them, but it was sold, and property on Wheat Street (later called Auburn Ave.) was then purchased.
In 1847, Bethel Tabernacle was officially founded, later called Big Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church. In 1879, the Gate City Colored School, the first public school for African Americans in the city, was founded in the basement of Big Bethel. In 1881 Morris Brown College was founded in the Basement of Big Bethel A.M.E. Church. Mary McCree was the first principle.
In 1917, a fire struck the area known as the Fourth Ward, destroying most of the area east of Boulevard. Big Bethel was the only church in the ward owned by Blacks and still standing. The church served as a hub for the gathering of large numbers of Blacks for public meetings between 1917 and 1920. In 1920 fire struck the sanctuary, their insurance policy had expired the day before, and a tremendous debt was incurred to pay for the rebuilding. Between 1920 and 1930, John Lankford, a Black architect, restored the church from Victorian to Romanesque Revivals style. Crowning the newly rebuilt Big Bethel was a lighted cross bearing the message "Jesus Saves" on the steeple. The American Civil Rights movement of the 1960s left a distinct impression on Big Bethel. A new Black theology was flowering, and a more activist, liberation-focused church evolved.
Big Bethel is the oldest predominately African American congregation in the metropolitan Atlanta, Georgia area. Recently under the leadership of Pastor James Davis, Big Bethel has just completed a $1.8 million dollar renovation. The church is now accessible to the physically disabled and is home to a deaf signing ministry.