One of the great things about being a Partners in the Field representative is that I get to be part of preserving places that inspire and uplift. Philadelphia's Mother Bethel AME Church, founded in 1787, is just such a place. Over the years it has provided a pulpit for African-American voices raised in protest against slavery and segregation and speaking out for freedom and truth. Founded by slaves and former slaves, Mother Bethel stands on the oldest parcel of land in the United States continuously owned by African-Americans. Its founders were determined to build a new life and to build a church that could bear witness to the transformative speeches of Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth and more.
Today, the Church, a National Historic Landmark, continues to serve as a mecca for those voices. Called Bethel “for the gathering in of thousands of souls,” it is the mother church of the nation's first black denomination. Built in 1889 in the Romanesque Revival style, it is the fourth church structure on the site. In one of its first partnerships formed under the Partners in the Field initiative, the Preservation Alliance of Greater Philadelphia is working in collaboration with Mother Bethel to host a reading and book signing for There Must Come a Change: Murder, Baseball and the Battle for Equality in Civil War America, by veteran journalists Dan Biddle and Murray Dubin.
The book tells the stories of men and women whose names may be relatively unfamiliar – Martin R. Delany, Charles and Sarah Remond, Charles and John Mercer Langston, Caroline Le Count, Henry Highland Garnet, Octavius and William Catto, Fanny Jackson Coppin – yet who were heroic, canny and courageous leaders of 19th century Philadelphia. These faithful and fearless activists fought for equality in Philadelphia nearly 100 years before Dr. Martin Luther King. Mother Bethel, built and sustained by Philadelphia’s earliest African Americans, will continue to be a gathering place for generations to come. The Alliance is thrilled to be working with partnership to preserve this landmark and the stories it has to tell.
-- Melissa Jest
Melissa Jest is the National Trust for Historic Preservation Partners in the Field Rep/ Neighborhood Preservation Program Coordinator for Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia.
Updated: to indicate that only a reading is currently planned at Mother Bethel.