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The Historic Legacy of Black Charleston Church Where Shooting Occurred

2 minute read

The Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, where a hate crime shooting on Wednesday night claimed nine lives, has a long history of resilience within the Southern black community.

One of the two oldest all-black churches south of Baltimore, Emanuel was created in 1816 and soon after was investigated for its facilitation of a planned slave revolt after one of the church’s founders organized a “major slave uprising” in Charleston, according to the church’s website. News of the uprising created a moral panic throughout the South, and the original church building housing Emanuel was burned to the ground.

Emanuel is a member of the African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Church, a larger network of all-black churches throughout the country born from discrimination against blacks in mainstream American Christianity. TIME wrote about the black church in a 1990 cover story:

The Black Church focuses on the seven largest black Protestant denominations in the country. The biggest U.S. black organization of any type is the 7.5 million-member National Baptist Convention, U.S.A., Inc. Like all Baptist groups, it gives individual congregations complete autonomy. The National Baptist Convention of America and the Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc. are kindred groups. The oldest black denominations are the African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Church and the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, founded after the Revolutionary War by free blacks influenced by John Wesley’s revival movement. The closely related Christian Methodist Episcopal Church was formed by freed slaves after the Civil War. The seventh institution is the Church of God in Christ, which, like all Pentecostal groups, emphasizes the experience known as “baptism in the Holy Spirit,” manifested by speaking in tongues.

The church began in 1787, when black members withdrew from St. George’s Methodist Church in Philadelphia “because of unkind treatment and restrictions placed upon the worshipers of African descent,” the website reads. They bought a blacksmith shop, converted it into a church, and by 1816, brought together black church leaders from up and down the east coast. Soon after, the African Methodist Episcopal Church was founded.

In 1834, all-black churches were outlawed in Charleston and the congregation continued to worship underground until 1865, when the church gained official recognition and was named Emanuel, meaning “God with us.”

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