A History of Black Americans in California:
Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church Site
The County of Sacramento now owns the lot in Sacramento on which the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Church stood. This site represents the location of the first organized political activity by Blacks in California.
Historically, the Black church has played a critical role as both sectarian and secular institution. While serving as a place of worship, the church was also a principal vehicle for political activity. Through its seminaries and church schools, the African Methodist Episcopal, the Methodist Episcopal Zion, and the American Baptist churches developed a cadre of educated and trained leaders even before the end of slavery. California benefited from this tradition of leadership which began in the eastern United States. Numbered among the earliest Black settlers were outspoken clergymen who actively organized and supported educational and political efforts to improve the status of their people.
California's first Black church was organized the year the state was admitted to the Union in 1850. Not only did California have the distinction of having the first African Methodist Episcopal church in the western United States, but the state also hosted the first Black church. Organized in the Sacramento home of Daniel Blue, the first Black church was named the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church. In 1851, after a special vote of the congregation and a petition to the Indiana Conference for admission into the African Methodist Episcopal, the name was changed to the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church. Later in the nineteenth century, the name was changed to the St. Andrews African Methodist Episcopal Church.
One year after the church was organized, the congregation erected its first church edifice, a 20' x 30' frame building costing $3,000. Fifteen years later, on November 13, 1867, the cornerstone for a larger brick building was laid on the Seventh Street site in front of the original church. In 1867, to assist in securing the money to build the second church, the trustees appointed James Williams agent and collector for the church's building fund. Williams was paid two dollars per day to defray travel and board expenses during fund-raising activities throughout the state. Almost 100 years later, the church erected a modern building on a new site at 2131 Eighth Street, Sacramento.
St. Andrews African Methodist Episcopal Church is a fine example of a church that assumed a prominent political role in the history of nineteenth-century California. It actively supported California's Black community in its struggle to gain the full rights of citizenship. Bethel A.M.E. is the name under which this church acquired political prominence in the mid-nineteenth century. On three occasions, 1855, 1856, and 1865, Bethel A.M.E. hosted the California Colored Citizens' State Convention.
The framers of the convention brought together representatives from all counties where there were Black residents to act as a formal political body to address issues affecting the status of Blacks in California. Each of the three Sacramento conventions was called to develop strategies to bring about changes in legislation that adversely affected Black Californians. The right to testify in court against a White person was the political issue of the first two conventions; abolition of segregated schools was the subject of the 1865 convention.
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