Friday, June 19, 2015

Payne Theological Seminary and A.M.E. Church Archive

I've been trying to write a blog post over the last two days, but the murders in Charleston have been so horrific that I keep stopping and starting posts.  I have a few other posts forthcoming, but I decided that I needed to feature the Payne Theological Seminary and A.M.E. Church Archive. This digital collection isn't a "historical" (pre-2002) digital humanities project, but the materials on the A.M.E. Church are crucial within the context of Charleston.

The site is huge, with over 80,000 items and growing. It contains two sections: The Payne Theological Seminary materials and the A.M.E. Church Archives. The Payne Theological Seminary was launched in 1894 by the African Methodist Episcopal church to provide training to ministers. The A.M.E. material are divided into five subsections: A.M.E. Church, Church Histories, Clergy, Publishing and Women in Ministry.

The collection is searchable and features high quality images, many housed in the internet archive. The items included are stunning and the Emanuel A.M.E. Church of Charleston, South Carolina is mentioned again and again.

Richard Wright's Centennial encyclopedia of the
African Methodist Episcopal Church (1916)

"During the first fifty years, the church was confined almost entirely to the Northern States, as it was not allowed to operate among the slaves in the South, though in Charleston, New Orleans, and one or two other places, there were small organizations among free Negroes." (5) Emanuel A.M.E. has long stood as an important symbol within the deep South.

Carter Woodson's The History of the Negro Church, 2nd edition (1921)

Woodson writes: "The African Methodists had with some difficulty under the leadership of Rev. Morris Brown established in Charleston a church reporting 1,000 members in 1817, and increasing by 1822 to 3,00- in spite of the intolerant laws and the police regulations making it difficult for slaves and free persons of color to attend. In 1822, however, because of the spirit of insurrection among Negroes following the fortunes of Denmark Vesey, who devised well laid plans for killing off the masters of the slaves, the African Methodists were required to suspend operation. Their pastor, morris Brown, was threatened and would have been dealt with foully, had it not been for the interference of General James Hamilton, who secreted Brown in his home until he could give him safe passage to the North, where he very soon reached a position of prominence, even that of bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal Church." (77-8)

African Methodism in the South, or, Twenty-five years of Freedom by W.J. Gaines (1890)

Emanuel A.M.E., according to Gaines, was the Mother church of the South, a title that many parishioners continue to sue. Writing of the return of Bishop Payne to Charleston, "after that long absence he returns, a man of fifty-four years of matured experience and wisdom, to take the step which has opened up a vast amount of territory to the Mother Church and spread wide her dominions." (243)

These are just a few mentions of Emanuel A.M.E. in the church documents. Martin Luther King's visit to the church in 1962 was not the first moment of resistance launched from the church. The church and its people were founded on resistance to white racism and violence and had, by the Civil Rights Era, fought for equality for over 150 years.

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