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Work on African-American heritage center moves forward

 


Work on African-American heritage center moves forward

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
Courtesy of Archives and History
The heritage center will gather old photos and artifacts from black Methodist history
Feb. 16, 2005

A UMNS Feature
By Linda Green*

Many people are unaware that African Americans’ involvement in Methodism dates back to the beginnings of the church in America, a United Methodist bishop says.

A lot of whites don’t know that African Americans were a crucial part of Methodism before the racially segregated Central Jurisdiction was created in 1939, says Bishop Forrest Stith.

And some African Americans have been so "obsessed with the injustices of the Central Jurisdiction," he said, that they seldom share or remember the stories of black involvement in the church as far back as the Christmas Conference of 1784, when the church in America was organized, and of African Americans’ presence at such historical sites as Epworth Chapel and Strawbridge Meeting House.

"African Americans were present in all those settings and made a difference," Stith said. "To know one’s history determines how one lives in the present and the future."

Stith is leading a project that will help people understand the contributions that blacks have made to Methodism. The new African American Methodist Heritage Center will gather the stories, artifacts and other historical items of black Methodists from the mid-18th century to today.

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
Credit: The General Commission on Archives and History for the United Methodist Church.
Newberry Avenue Center Nursery School.
The 2004 General Conference approved creating the heritage center, which was proposed two years ago at a national meeting of Black Methodists for Church Renewal. Before General Conference approved it, the church had "no one single place that was exclusively dedicated to the restoration and preservation of the African Americans who contributed so significantly to and through Methodism," Stith said.

Although books have been written and churches have separate museums and exhibits, "no one entity had the capacity to exhibit or portray through various modes, and capture our story," he said. "Only a heritage center would suffice."

African-American United Methodist have longed for "our place," Stith said. "Like Joshua paused at the Jordan River and demanded that each tribe pick up a stone and carry it across so that the children’s children will know ‘how we passed over,’ so too, the heritage center will be our stones, so that our children’s children will know our story."

African Americans have had a significant impact on Methodism during the past 266 years, he said. "Unfortunately, the vibrant history of African Americans’ impacts on Methodism remains largely undocumented, untold and unappreciated by Methodists and by the general society." The African American Methodist Heritage Center will "rectify this deplorable historical oversight," he said.

Until a permanent home is built at one of the denomination’s historically black colleges or universities, the center is housed at the United Methodist Commission on Archives and History at Drew University in Madison, N.J. The center is also using Asbury United Methodist Church in Washington as an office and transition depository. Stith is bishop in residence at the church.

A Web site is being created to provide regular updates on the center’s progress. The 2004 General Conference established an endowment fund for the center through the United Methodist Church Foundation.

The heritage center’s board of directors is talking with Clark Atlanta University and Gammon Theological Seminary, also in Atlanta, about housing the center at one of the campuses and supporting it through programs. The historically black university is creating a Center for Religious Life where a heritage center might flourish.

Since last year, the churchwide Commission on Archives and History and the Asbury church have received large quantities of artifacts, memorabilia, pictures, journals, letters, exhibits and other items for the heritage center. Donations include an exhibit on the history of black colleges, minutes of the Washington Conference since 1912, and materials from the late Bishop W.T. Handy’s family and other bishops. The commission is housing all the items.

Through Web sites and programs, the center will link with historic institutions such as Gulfside Assembly in Waveland, Miss., and churches such as Mother African Zoar United Methodist in Philadelphia.

For more information, call Stith at (202) 628-0009 or send an e-mail to aamhc@aol.com.

*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

FLASH:
Suggested Articles
Unlocking the Future: Eliminating the Central Jurisdiction
Church’s 1936 debate revealed passions, differences over race
BMCR still fills vital role, black leaders say
Gulfside center bridges segregation era, 21st century
Many white Methodists joined fight against segregated church
Chronology of Central Jurisdiction
Suggested Resources
General Commission on Religion and Race
The General Commission on Archives and History
Black Methodists for Church Renewal, Inc.

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