First African Methodist Episcopal Church (Seattle)

  • By Mary T. Henry
  • Posted 12/31/1998
  • Essay 1621

The First African Methodist Episcopal Church, located at 1522 14th Avenue, is the oldest black church in Seattle. Established in 1886 it was designated a Seattle landmark in 1984. The African Methodist Episcopal Church was founded in 1816 in Philadelphia by Richard Allen.

The Seattle church began in 1886 with the formation of a Sunday School held in various homes under the leadership of Seaborn J. Collins. Four years later it was transformed into a church with charter members I. I. Walker, John T. Gayton (1868-1954), Mr. and Mrs. Milton Roy, Fred Lawrence, and Charles H. Harvey. Reverend Thomas was the first pastor.

On August 13, 1891, the church was incorporated with Reverend L. S. Blakeney as the first pastor. Located in a large house which sat on the present site of the church, it was known as the Jones Street Church: At that time 14th Streetwas known as Jones Street. Later known as Lee’s Chapel, the building was remodeled in 1899 and served the congregation until a new church was built.

In 1912, the present structure was built with memorial windows imported from Italy and custom-made church pews to perfectly fit the sanctuary. In 1923, two lots next to this property, on the north, were purchased.

World War II brought a large influx of black people to Seattle and this increased the membership of the church, rendering the facility incapable of accommodating the congregation.

In 1955, under the leadership of Reverend C. D. Toliver, a $100,000 remodeling and construction program was begun. Benjamin F. McAdoo (1920-1981) was the architect for the enlarged sanctuary and a new wing for religious education.

Under the pastorate of Reverend I. H. Hunt, who served from 1960 to 1962, the Zodiac Tea was instituted and has served as a major source of fundraising each year since.

In 1962, Reverend John H. Adams (b. 1927) was assigned to the church and his leadership in the community as well as in the church was instrumental in making many changes in civil and human rights in the city.

The First AME Church has several housing investments, which include the Texada Apartments at 1128 13th Avenue, Bryant Manor at 18th Avenue and E Yesler Way, and Imperial Apartments at 1427 E Pike. These housing units provide housing for senior and low income citizens and meet the concept of outreach, one of the missions of the church.

Education has been a major focus in the church as witnessed by the First AME Head Start Classes located in several locations outside the church, the Day Care Center, and the Educational Enhancement Program established in 1988 for middle school students.

To promote a sense of pride and heritage, the church has named has a number of rooms in honor of members in addition to the Reverend Dr. C. D. Toliver Wing and Conference Room named for one of the pastors. The Leona Bright Jones Fellowship Hall is named for a Sunday School superintendent; the Clara B. White Education Wing is named for a Sunday School teacher who taught for 60 years; and Hammond Hall Playroom for Day Care honors Reuben and Johnnie Hammond who pioneered the hosting of refreshments after service. The John and Magnolia Gayton Historical Library is a memorial to the church given by their children.

Ministers who have served the church since 1899 are:

  • Reverend Thomas (1899)
  • L. S. Blakeney (1890-1892)
  • Reverend Howard (1892-1893)
  • Reverend Whaley (1893-1896)
  • George S. Bailey (1896-1899)
  • C. C. Holford (1899-1901)
  • M. Scott (1901-1902)
  • S. S. Freeman (1902-1905)
  • F. L. Donohoo (1905-1908)
  • W. T. Osborne (1908-1912)
  • John L. Williams (1912-1914)
  • H. M. Mickens (1914-1916)
  • D. A. Graham (1916-1920)
  • J. Logan Craw (1920-1922)
  • T. F. Jones (1922-1927)
  • A. R. Dobbins (1927-1931)
  • George F. Martin (1931-1933)
  • H. B. Gantt (1933-1935)
  • Fred A. Hughes (1935-1939)
  • L. R. Hayes (1939-1945)
  • E. D. Chappelle (1945-1949)
  • C. D. Toliver (1949-1960)
  • I. H. Hunt (1960-1962)
  • John H. Adams (1962-1969)
  • Solomon H. Hill (1969-1971)
  • Cecil L. Murray (1971-1978)
  • Fred Stephens (1978-1982)
  • James H. Oxley (1982-1992)
  • Ellis H. Casson (1992-1998)
  • John Joseph Hunter (1998-present)


Esther Hall Mumford, Seattle’s Black Victorians 1852-1901(Seattle: Ananse Press, 1980); Cornerstone of Faith; 95 Years Serving God 1886-1981 (Seattle: First African Methodist Episcopal Church, 1981).

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