BNHA Bethel AME Church
Baltimore City Landmark
Gaining Freedom for All: African American Heritage and the Struggle for Equality
Pennsylvania Avenue Heritage Trail
Points of Interest
1300 Druid Hill Ave
Baltimore, Maryland 21217
In 1850, Baltimore held the largest denominational variety of African American churches in the country. On the eve of the Civil War, a reporter for New York’s weekly Anglo-African newspaper wrote, “No city where I have been can boast of better churches among our people. Baltimore churches are not a whit behind, either in beauty or attendance for our people are a church going people.”
The Bethel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) congregation began as a prayer group, the Colored Methodist Society, in 1787. Ten years later, the group became the Bethel Free African Society (BFAS), led by “prayer leaders” Jacob Forte and Caleb Hyland. In 1801 a black preacher named Daniel Coker joined the BFAS prayer group. Coker was an eloquent speaker, educator, and philosopher, and by 1810 became the head of a school that provided formal education to blacks. He became the first black Marylander to publish an abolitionists treatise, A Dialogue between a Virginian and an African Minister. In 1811 he became the first “official” pastor for Bethel, and the church became known as the African Methodist Bethel Church of Baltimore City with a roster of over 600 members.
In 1816 Bethel sent six delegates to Philadelphia, led by Coker, to help establish the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the first denomination in the world to form on account of race. Coker was elected the first bishop of the AME Church by conference delegates, however, he declined and the next day Reverend Richard Allen was elected the first Bishop of the A.M.E. Church. Coker became the church’s first missionary to move to Liberia, West Africa.
In 1847, Bethel became the first AME church to play instrumental music during services. Bethel, then located a half block away from today’s City Hall, and helped organize the first conference of Free Negroes in 1852. In 1910, the church moved to its Druid Hill and Lanvale streets location. In the 1950s and 60s, clergy from Bethel participated in the protests against Jim Crow laws. Reverend Harrison Bryant, Pastor (1948-64), and Reverend Frank M. Reid II (1964-68) became involved in national and international civil rights activism. Rev. Reid marched with Martin Luther King, Jr. in Alabama. At the age of 85, Bryant was incarcerated for protesting at the South African Embassy in Washington, D.C.