African Methodist Episcopal Church
222 North Roman St. New Orleans, LA
1844 -2011 period
A Historic Summary of St. James Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church
In 1844, slavery in Louisiana was sanctioned by the law and a large segment of the black population was enslaved. A small group of free people of color was inspired by Rev. Jordan W. Early, an African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) minister to establish their own church. The group was members of St. Paul Methodist Church (now Wesley Methodist Church). St. Paul Methodist Church had a diverse membership of free people of color, whites and slaves. Whites worshipped on the ground floor, while the very small balcony/gallery was set-aside for slaves and free people of color.
The group of ten members led by Rev. Charles Doughty, a blacksmith, rented a site on the corner of Villere Street and Bienville Street. They held service, calling themselves the A.M.E. Church. Almost immediately the police, who objected to their allowing slaves to attend services, approached the congregation. They feared the newly formed congregation would incite slaves to seek their freedom. But, the leaders persevered and their faithful community increased. Soon their quarters became too small and they began to seek land to build a church.
On October 6, 1848 the state issued a charter to the A.M.E. Church authorizing it to legally operate in Louisiana with the ten founders as incorporators. According to the charter, slaves were not allowed to become members of the church or the corporation. By December 1848 the board had purchased a site in the suburb of Treme and began construction on the church building, which was completed in 1851. The entire congregation carried materials to the new church site. The women carried bricks in their aprons. They named the church St. James Chapel. Rev. Charles Doughty, the organizer and leader of the congregation, traveled to the Indiana Conference with a petition to affiliate with the A. M.E. Church. The conference, under the leadership of Bishop William Paul Quinn, accepted the petition and St. James Chapel became an official member of the connectional A. M. E. Church. Rev. Doughty, formerly a local preacher in the Methodist Episcopal Church, was ordained a Deacon and continued as pastor.
The second pastor was the Rev. John Miflin Brown, a well-educated Northern minister. He encountered much hostility because he allowed slaves to attend the services. Under the leadership of Rev. Brown, the church grew both in membership and financial stability. The church also actively helped to organize and build other A.M.E. Churches in the city, including Morris Brown. Rev. Brown was jailed five times during his five-year ministry in New Orleans. He was later elected the eleventh Bishop of the A. M.E. Church.
From 1858 to 1862, the police closed St. James Chapel because its membership advocated an end to slavery. During the Civil War Colonel James Lewis organized a company of Black Union Soldiers. They used the church as their headquarters.
The Louisiana Conference was organized at St. James Chapel A. M. E. Church on November 1, 1865 with Bishop Jabez P. Campbell, presiding. Other historical events include the church being the site of the organization of the Black Masonic Organizations of Louisiana, the initial organization of the YMCA for Black men and youth and the advocacy for the establishment of a Black elementary school. The school was initially known as the Bienville School and later renamed Albert Wicker School in honor of an educator who was a trustee of St. James.
St. James Chapel, the oldest A. M. E. Church in the Deep South, is praising God under the name, “Historic St. James A. M. E. Church”. It is in the process of restoration and renewal from the ravages of Hurricane Katrina and other challenges. Pastor Otto W. Duncan, Jr., a son of the church, is the present leader of the congregation.