ABOVE PHOTO: Metropolitan AME Church – 1918 Int. cr Metropolitan AME Church
Washington, D.C. – Last week, the National Trust for Historic Preservation named Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C. to its 2010 list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places. This annual list highlights important examples of the nation’s architectural, cultural and natural heritage that are at risk for destruction or irreparable damage.
Since 1821, when a group of free and enslaved African Americans formed its congregation, Metropolitan A.M.E. Church, the national cathedral of African Methodism, has been much more than a spiritual sanctuary. A major landmark of African American heritage and one of the most important religious institutions in the United States, Metropolitan A.M.E.’s red brick Victorian Gothic-style church, completed in 1886, was constructed by donations – large and small – from A.M.E. congregations across the country. Their goal was to establish a permanent presence for the A.M.E. denomination just a short distance from the White House and the U.S. Capitol in order to pressure the federal government for equal treatment of African American people.
PHOTO: Metropolitan AME Church – 1890s cr. Library of Congress.
Photos courtesy of Library of Congress
Since its inception, Metropolitan A.M.E. Church has been a bastion of advocacy for human rights, and its congregation has been involved in this country’s seminal struggles, including the fight for abolition of slavery and the civil rights movement. In segregated Washington, Metropolitan A.M.E.’s stained-glass sanctuary was one of the largest meeting places available to an integrated audience and, therefore, attracted prominent speakers, including President Taft and First Lady Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt and, later, Dr. Dorothy Height, Rev Gardner Taylor, and Bishop Desmond Tutu. It was here that the funeral of congregant Frederick Douglass was held in 1895 and where mourners said goodbye to Rosa Parks a century later. This African American institution was the first to be included as an official host of a Presidential inauguration event during the two terms of President William Jefferson Clinton.
Once at the center of a vibrant residential neighborhood, Metropolitan A.M.E. Church is now in the middle of the downtown commercial district of the nation’s capital. Walled in on three sides by recent development projects, the church has suffered numerous structural cracks resulting from vibrations during adjacent construction. While the congregation has been a responsible steward and funded major repairs over the years to maintain the building and begun a restoration drive, previously unknown, ongoing water infiltration has caused extensive damage. Now structurally compromised, the building urgently requires a multi-million-dollar rescue effort, a capital investment that Metropolitan A.M.E. Church’s community of dedicated supporters cannot afford.
“From anti-slavery leadership in the mid-19th century to AIDS education and voter registration projects today, Metropolitan A.M.E. Church has been not just a major center of worship but an institution at the forefront of the civic, cultural and intellectual life of African Americans,” said Richard Moe, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. “The church is sadly illustrative of many historic urban houses of worship that are in danger of being lost forever.”
Moe announced the 2010 list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places while standing in the sanctuary of the Metropolitan A.M.E. Church. He was joined by church leaders and other prominent supporters including Ernest Green – a member of the Steward Board of Metropolitan AME Church and one of the members of the famed “Little Rock Nine,” the students who integrated Little Rock’s Central High School in l957.
Metropolitan A.M.E. Church also is nationally significant as the founding sponsor and home of the Bethel Literary and Historical Association, a highly influential educational institution that sponsored programs with nationally-known speakers, including Carter G. Woodson, Mary Church Terrell, Ida B. Wells, Archibald H. Grimke, and Booker T. Washington. A leading cultural institution in the nation’s capital, the association became the model for other literary societies that sought to preserve the legacy of African Americans.
Metropolitan is the oldest A.M.E. church in the District of Columbia and, along with Philadelphia’s famed Mother Bethel, remains one of the most prominent A.M.E. churches in the country. The church is known for its 29 stained glass windows, which chronicle the A.M.E. church’s phenomenal growth during a period of racial oppression. Despite their significance, the windows are compromised due to deteriorated lead jointing. In addition, the building’s original exterior metalwork has rusted, and there is evidence of settlement of the church’s grand staircase and sanctuary floors. A poorly designed internal gutter system also has caused water damage to the church’s walls and ceiling. The current physical condition of the church threatens its continued use as a place of worship, as well as its role in local and national humanitarian ministries. Recently, when portions of the sanctuary’s tin ceiling fell to the floor, the church was forced to halt services in the sanctuary for safety reasons. While preliminary emergency repairs have been made and Metropolitan’s congregation is committed to saving and restoring its church, approximately $11 million is needed to stabilize the structure and restore the building.
The public is invited to learn more about what they can do to support these and hundreds of other endangered sites, experience first-hand accounts of these places, and share stories and photos of their own at www.PreservationNation.org/11Most.
The 2010 list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places was made possible, in part, by a grant from HistoryTM. Local preservation groups across the nation submitted nominations for this year’s list; the nomination for Metropolitan was submitted by the Metropolitan AME Church.