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Fri, 04.19.1816

Emanuel AME Church (Charleston, S.C.) Opens

Emanuel AME Methodist Church

*The opening of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1816 is celebrated on this date.

The history of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church reflects the development of religious institutions for African Americans in Charleston. Dating back to the fall of 1787 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Richard Allen founded the Free African Society, adhering to the Doctrines of Methodism established by John Wesley.

Black members of Charleston's Methodist Episcopal church withdrew over the disputed burial ground under the leadership of Rev. Morris Brown.  The Rev. Brown organized a church of persons of color and sought to have it affiliated with Allen's church. Three churches arose under the Free African Society and were named the "Bethel Circuit." One of the Circuit churches was located in the suburbs of Ansonborough, Hampstead, and Cow Alley, now known as Philadelphia Alley in the French Quarters of Charleston. Emanuel's congregation grew out of the Hampstead Church at Reid and Hanover Streets.

In 1822 the church was investigated for its involvement with a planned slave revolt. Denmark Vesey, one of the church's founders, organized a major slave uprising in Charleston. Vesey was raised in slavery in the Virgin Islands among newly imported Africans. He was the personal servant of slave trader Captain Joseph Vesey, who settled in Charleston in 1783. Beginning in December 1821, Vesey began to organize a slave rebellion, but authorities were informed of the plot before it could take place. The plot created mass hysteria throughout the Carolinas and the South.  Brown, suspected but never convicted of knowledge of the plot, went north to Philadelphia, where he eventually became the second bishop of the AME denomination.  During the Vesey controversy, the AME church was burned.

Worship services continued after the church was rebuilt until 1834, when all Black churches were outlawed. The congregation continued the tradition of the African church by worshipping underground until 1865 when it was formally reorganized, and the name Emanuel was adopted, meaning "God with us." The wooden two-story church built on the present site in 1872 was destroyed by the devastating earthquake of August 31, 1886.

In 1909, Booker T. Washington spoke at Emanuel AME Church. Among the attendees were many whites, including a member of the supreme court of Pennsylvania and Robert Goodwyn Rhett, the mayor of Charleston, lawyer, and controlling owner of the News and Courier newspaper. The present tower was completed in 1891 under the pastorate of the Rev. L. Ruffin Nichols. The brick structure with encircling marble panels was restored and redecorated during 1949-51 under the leadership of the Rev. Frank R. Veal. The bodies of the Rev. Nichols and his wife were exhumed and entombed in the base of the steeple so that they may forever be with the Emanuel they helped to nurture.  On June 17, 2015, a young white man attending an evening service opened fire on the Black parishioners, killing nine of Emanuel AME Methodist Church's congregants.

The nine victims were:
Clementa Pinckney, South Carolina state Sen., the church’s pastor, and a married father of two. The 41-year-old pastor was leading a prayer service at the church when alleged gunman Dylann Storm Roof, 21, opened fire. Pinckney was remembered as an accomplished leader in the community.

Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, a reverend at the church, was a 45-year-old mother of three who coached the girls’ track team at Goose Creek High School in Goose Creek, S.C.

Cynthia Hurd, 54, the manager of St. Andrews Regional Library, was remembered as a woman who spent her life making sure residents of the local community had opportunities for personal growth and education.

DePayne Middleton-Doctor, former Charleston County employee 49, was among the victims. She was reportedly the mother of four girls and sang in the church’s choir.

Tywanza Sanders, 26, graduated from Allen University’s Division of Business Administration in 2014. In a statement from the university, Sanders was remembered as “a quiet, well-known student who was committed to his education. He presented a warm and helpful spirit as he interacted with his colleagues.”

Myra Thompson, 59, had died. Her husband, the Rev. Anthony Thompson, is a vicar for Holy Trinity REC.

Ethel Lee Lance, 70, was a sexton who had reportedly worked at the church for more than 30 years.

Daniel L. Simmons was a retired pastor from another church in Charleston and attended the Emanuel AME Church’s services every Sunday and Bible study every Wednesday.

Susie Jackson, 87, Jackson was active in the church, serving on the usher board and singing in the choir, according to the ABC affiliate.

Mother Emanuel AME Church remains a pillar of spiritual worship in Charleston.


Discocver South

110 Calhoun Street - Mother Emanuel Way Memorial District
Charleston, South Carolina 29401
Church 843.722.2561 | Fax 843.722.1869

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