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Black Church History in the Archives

The African Methodist Episcopal Church was founded by Richard Allen in 1816. This new denomination quickly spread throughout the North and arrived in Indiana in the 1830s. In 1836, William Paul Quinn and Augustus Turner established the church that would eventually become Bethel A.M.E. in Indianapolis. Like other A.M.E. churches at this time, Bethel’s congregation participated in the antislavery movement and the Underground Railroad. By the 1860s, members were helping recruit black troops for the Civil War.

Bethel’s commitment to the black community continued into the 20th century with members joining organizations such as the Negro Welfare League, Colored Women’s Club and NAACP. They also offered various social services at the church, including an adult day care, a well-baby clinic and a credit union. It was this dedication to the community that contributed to Bethel’s inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places in 1991.

In 2016, Bethel A.M.E. Church building was sold to a local hotel management company. Prior to this sale, however, church representatives donated a large collection of materials to the Indiana Historical Society. These materials are organized into two collections and include documents, photographs and artifacts from the late 19th century to 2016. Many of these items deal with Bethel’s history: agendas and meeting minutes from church leadership, financial reports, weekly bulletins and worship guides, and numerous event programs. Other materials provide information about the larger A.M.E. Church and include conference programs, reports, newsletters and other publications from various segments of the church such as the General Conference, Women’s Missionary Society, Lay Organization, and Christian Education Department. It truly is a wealth of material that is attractive to a wide variety of researchers.

The Bethel A.M.E. Church digital collection features thousands of photographs, manuscript materials and artifacts from church records dating back to 1871. Researchers can search and browse the digital collection by keyword, subject, date and format of material. This digital collection was created through the LSTA 2016 Digitization Grant “Bethel A.M.E. Church: Capturing the History of Indianapolis’ Oldest African American Church.” The digital partnership was a collaboration between IHS, IUPUI University Library, Indiana State Museum and Bethel A.M.E. Church. Access the digital collection online at images.indianahistory.org.

This project is supported by the Institute of Museum and Library Services under the provision of the Library Services and Technology Act, administered by the Indiana State Library. Project results will also be included in Indiana Memory and the Digital Public Library of America.