James’ Brand New Blog

Time to save the African Methodist Episcopal Church

- March 19th, 2013

African Methodist Episcopal Church c

The image of the African Methodist Episcopal church used with Edmund J. Carty’s Landmarks of London article on the Fugitive Slave Chapel is Steeped Deep in History in the old Advertiser, May 8, 1926. Image snapped via LPL Ivey Family London Room collection by LFP colleague Chip Martin

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Heritage activist Joe O’Neil stands in front of a the old African Methodist Episcopal Church built in1848 by former slaves. O’Neil is opposed to plans to tear down the London, Ontario landmark. He was photographed on Tuesday, March 14, 2013. DEREK RUTTAN/ The London Free Press /QMI AGENCY

275 thames st

The site of the former African Methodist Episcopal Church in an undated photograph, courtesy of londonpubliclibrary.ca

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Oro-Medonte Township, Ontario, Mayor Harry Hughes is pictured in front of the Oro African Methodist Episcopal Church on Line 3 at Old Barrie Road in late January 2013. The municipality has acquired close to 15 acres of land near the church and is hoping to set up an ownership agreement with cultural organizations that have shown interest in learning more about black history in the area. ROBERTA BELL/ORILLIA PACKET & TIMES/QMI AGENCY

Here’s a reason to cheer:

For Rev. Delta McNeish it’s almost a case of divine intervention.

Beth Emmanuel Church, on Grey St. where she preaches, may become the new home for London’s first black church, a former chapel for runaway slaves on Thames St. facing demolition.

McNeish’s church can use the extra space, and saving the historic place of worship at the same time creates a win-win situation.

“It’s like music to my ears,” an elated McNeish said Monday after learning Jim Donnelly was willing to have the building he purchased in 2002 removed.

Donnelly, owner of the long-vacant chapel built in 1848, is willing to have it moved to a new site, or have it disassembled and rebuilt elsewhere.

Beth Emmanuel replaced the African Methodist Episcopal Church as the meeting house for London’s black community in 1869.

These opening paragraphs from LFP colleague Chip Martin’s story point the way to correcting what might an outrageous abuse to London’s African-Canadian community . . .  JBNBlog should have said last week when some of these images were first gathered.

But. Sloth sometime pays off & here would appear to be a chance for the long-neglected (to our collective shame) shrine to London’s  history & its black community to find the right home.

For now, some quick comments . . . good for Joe O’Neill for standing guard from the start . . . good for Oro-Medonte Township, Ontario, Mayor Harry Hughes for taking a stand, along with other good Orillia-region souls, in their version of a similar story .– London politicians, take note . . . a salute to London & Middlesex Historical Society colleague Jennifer Grainger for her 2005 re-creation of the Edmund J. Carty story from 1926 as part of the society’s magisterial (& somewhat underappreciated) The Carty Chronicles of Landmarks and Londoners . . .  thanks to Dan  Brock for reminding me & others Edmund Carty was the uncle of his colleague Arthur Carty even if they are sometimes identified as brothers.

Memo to Tourism London  head honcho John Winston … many years ago, you mentioned how it would be a tourism boost if the busloads of Americans who come to honour black history shrines in other parts of Ontario had a strong reason to come to London, too. Well. This is it. At the time, we also talked about the tales of tunnels leading from the Thames River to safety for escaping slaves . . . JBNBlog has always been dubious, but is transfixed at the suggestion by ace Londoner Butch McLarty, they led to Thames St.

So. Maybe those buses can make two stops. One at Thames St. for what was (suitably celebrated) & one at Grey St. for what continues to be a respectful honouring of London’s true heritage.

For now, here are the good words from the The Historic Sites Committee of the London Public Library Board plaque which has disappeared from the 275 Thames St. property. A speculative & hypothetical explanation suggests it was removed & is likely in Toronto where it wandered to keep it away from owners who might wish to demolish the property.

African Methodist Episcopal Church

275 Thames Street
London

This is the site of the first church of the Black community in London, Upper Canada (now Ontario). This church, however, existed in a much wider historical context.

All European empires which began their expansion in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries used some kind of slavery in their imperial territories, with most slaves shipped from the west coast of Africa. The British Empire shipped hundreds of thousands of slaves to labour in the British American colonies.

The first legislature of Upper Canada, under Lieutenant-Governor John Graves Simcoe, passed a statute on July 9, 1793, that ended the importation of further slaves into the province. The abolition of slavery throughout the Empire received Royal Assent from King William IV on August 28, 1833 , after passage by the Imperial Parliament.

Subsequently, Upper Canada became a sanctuary for Black slaves from the U.S., and the London area had a sizeable colony of Black refugees by the 1840s.

In 1847, land was bought for the African Methodist Episcopal Church (also referred to as the Fugitive Slave Chapel). It became the British Methodist Episcopal Church in 1856.

It is believed that the American orator and Harper’s Ferry revolt leader John Brown spoke at the church in the summer of 1858, a gathering to which only those who knew the password were admitted. Reports suggest that Brown’s plan was the formation of a Black military company which would join with other units in St. Catharines, Chatham, and Windsor to aid in his planned revolution. This objective was never realized.

In 1869, the congregation moved to Grey Street where it built a new church, Beth Emmanuel, which remains today at No. 430. The congregation’s tenure here is a testament to the importance of religion to Black settlers and the deep faith which gave them hope during a long period of oppression.

Plaque installed August 11, 1986.

 

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4 comments

  1. Backing words with cash says:

    Where can the public send donations to assist with the relocation ?
    Maybe the ladies of the Beth Emmanuel congregation can recreate
    the hospitality of ’76 as we recall it when it held a heritage open house.
    For those who are fans of those little tea sandwiches from a gentler
    era and a rousing singalong, hope the Reverend lady reads your blog.
    Remember this is the city that blew a similar opportunity to extract
    Balkwill’s Hotel from the Cambridge fiasco…

  2. Glen Curnoe says:

    Re: the undated picture ourtesy of the London Room
    I took the picture in 1988;
    See page 1 of the Walking Guide to Historic Sites in London published by the London Public Library Board in 2005.
    I was the Secretary of the Historic Sites Committee and made the arrangements for the plaque unveiling which took place on Aug 11, 1986. At the former African Methodist Episcopal Church. The late Dr. Jack O’Farrell spoke that day. A copy of his excellent speech can be seen in the London Room. Mr. David R. Jenkins unveiled the plaque.
    Unfortunately the owners of the house thought that the plaque belonged to them and took it when they moved. I don’t know if it was ever returned as I had retired by then.

    The former church building at 275 Thames Street managed to survive the devastating floods of 1883 and 1937.

    Hopefully, it will survive the present controversy.

    If it is decided that the building will be moved to the Beth Emanuel Church property on Grey Street, I will be gland to make a donation toward the cost.

    Glen Curnoe

  3. Backing words with cash says:

    That’s two of us. Is there somewhere contributions to the Saving can
    be sent In Trust now, lest we all are less concerned when action is
    actually being taken? Isn’t that the sort of thing the Heritage London
    Foundation was set up for many moons ago ?
    -Trust current Library Sites people are following this story pondering
    plaques for marking the oldspot, and to explain any relocation.
    Where would we be without the corporate memory of the London Room
    overseers for what – aout 60 years since Miss Shaw – is that right name?
    recollection of a Miss Spicer anecdote – put stuff on her ‘London Shelf”.
    What fun if those who liberated the original plaque showed up here with
    it while the story is current.

  4. james.reaney says:

    There is a great day coming indeed . . . for now, here are details re a Friday meeting on this topic:

    Hi All,

    Thanks for taking the time to complete the poll for our community meeting. Based on the results, the meeting time that works for the greatest number of us is Friday, March 22nd, 6:00-7:30 p.m. Even if you cannot stay for all of the meeting, please come for part of it. All of our contributions are valuable. Here is the poll for your records: http://www.doodle.com/xbtttb4k5pgyweeg#

    Please remember that we will be meeting at the Beth Emmanuel Church (430 Grey Street in London; south of Horton St,, between Wellington St. and Adelaide St.).

    Share this information about the meeting with others who might be interested.

    Best,
    Shamara (of the core group)

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