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Historic St. Paul AME embarks on Legacy project

Posted on Tuesday, July 16, 2013 at 7:52 am

St. Paul AME Church around 1913 or 1915.

St. Paul AME Church around 1913 or 1915.

St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church, located on 521 College Street West, has a rich history in Fayetteville that dates back to 1824.

In 2003, the church was added to the National Register of Historic Places based on the research and nomination led by a team from the Middle Tennessee State University Center for Historic Preservation in September of 2002. One of the significant criteria the church met was that it closely followed what historian Graham Russell Hodges calls the “third revolution,” after “Methodist evangelicalism” and “revolutionary egalitarianism” swept across America during the late 18th century.

The nomination further states, “Northern Methodists, with their avowed anti-slavery messages and acceptance of black members, appealed to the majority of blacks seeking religious affiliations. Because Methodist used circuit-riding preachers, their ministry reached numbers of African Americans not sought out by other denominations. The black church congregation in the South was the one place slaves could find equality, hope, and support – spiritual as well as practical. In Tennessee, a move to convert slave owners and slaves began in the 1830’s as a response to northern accusations that slavery was un-Christian.”

Nomination photos of St. Paul can be seen on Southern Places, a digital database sponsored by MTSU Center for Historic Preservation.

Early History

In 1824, St. Paul was known as the African Church and was located on a quarter acre lot on Rock and Stigall Hill. Based on the patterns of the time, this church was probably organized by white homeowners who utilized African American as live-in servants or housekeepers. The 1824 deed lists Allen Kennedy and Samuel Bentley as trustees.

St. Paul historians are looking for anyone who may have family Bible information regarding the African Church, the aforementioned trustees, any early members and the exact location on Rock Hill where the original church was constructed.

The church was relocated to its present site on West College Street in 1867. Records indicate that some type of building was initially constructed. The present structure was not completed until 1913 with circular windows that adorned the third story towers. Oral history tells of the women of the church who carried bricks in their aprons to construct the building. A fire occurred at an unknown later date that necessitated removing the round windows and replacing them with two-over-two double hung windows. When the sound system was updated in early 2000, it was discovered that the circular windows were still stored in the upper tower areas.

Many early members of St. Paul made important contributions to Fayetteville and Lincoln County. Joe Todd was one of Fayetteville’s most prominent African American businessmen of the first half of the 20th century. From about 1905 until his death in 1951 he owned a poolroom, restaurant, and barbershop right off the town square. Johnny Hayes, Odell Gregory, and George Howard, Sr., had long histories as local funeral directors.

Dr. L.M. Donalson opened Fayetteville Negro Hospital in 1936. It was the only black hospital in a town the size of Fayetteville between Washington, D.C., and Tuskegee, Ala., for many years. Around 1946, the hospital was renamed to Donalson Hospital. He taught at North Carolina College for Negroes in Durham, N.C., and Meharry Medical College in Nashville.

Dr. Donalson was married to Claudia Taylor Donalson who was a teacher in Fayetteville/Lincoln County for 30 years. She was on the board of directors for First National Bank. In addition to Mrs. Donalson, St. Paul has a rich history of teachers, such as Professor Bruce Welton, William T. Bright, Mildred Stewart, Jessie Lee Cathey, Lucille Wooding, and Lorraine Lockett. Current teachers include Shawn Brown, Tina Grizzard, Rhonda Harris and retired teacher, Joyce Eady.

William Jones served on the board of directors of Fayetteville Electric Service, was an elected member of the Fayetteville City School Board for 23 years, a member of the Fayetteville Planning Commission, and an elected alderman of Fayetteville for 12 years with two terms as vice mayor. In 1990, Bearden Mill Road was renamed William D. Jones Boulevard. Prior to William Jones, Tom Alvin Bailey served on the Fayetteville City School Board from 1971 to 1985.

St. Paul AME Church in 1950.

St. Paul AME Church in 1950.

For many years, St. Paul served the community as home to the St. Paul Headstart, which relocated to Amana Avenue. The church currently has several members involved in community public service. Joyce Eady currently serves as an elected school board member and member of the Fayetteville Housing Authority’s board of directors. Anthony Taylor serves as a county commissioner. Dorothy Small is a Fayetteville alderman. Polly Jeter, an officer of the Fayetteville Police Department, is an E-911 supervisor whose accomplishments have been featured in The Elk Valley Times. Members Thomas and Barbara Kemp were featured in a black history article in 2012 focusing on their work with People Helping People for Progress, which sent boxes to overseas soldiers for two and a half years. St. Paul has been the celebration final destination for the Martin Luther King, Jr., March and activities since 2001.

Road to Building

a Fellowship Hall

Since 1998, the church has embarked on several projects to preserve the history of the church and the African American community in Lincoln County. In 1998, the lay organization of St. Paul published their first Lincoln County Black History Journal. Volume 2 of the Lincoln County Black History Journal followed in 1999 and Volume 3 of the Lincoln County Black History Journal was published in 2000. In 2006, church historians compiled a list of over 200 deceased members who were remembered in a memorial service. This list has been further researched and updated to include nearly 300 deceased members of St. Paul from 1824 to 2013.

Legacy Wall

Fundraiser Project

Men’s Day (June 9, 2013) service began a new history journey that will culminate on the annual Friends and Family Day on Oct. 13, 2013. The Rev. Dezi Fletcher and the West End Cumberland Presbyterian Church in America will be the guest for this service.

The Legacy Committee, which includes Thomas Kemp, Polly Jeter, Joyce Eady, Warden Thomison, Barbara Long, Francis Abbott, Joann Thomison, Anthony Taylor and Rhonda Harris, presented the next attempt to preserve the history of the church. The idea for the Legacy Wall originated from Anthony Taylor’s work on the Men’s Day Program. The Legacy Wall will be a graphic, pictorial, and timeline history of St. Paul from 1824 to 2013 that will adorn the walls of the new fellowship hall.

Since 2008, the church has been raising funds to fully pay for the construction of a fellowship hall. The Legacy Wall Project Fundraiser will enable construction to begin by October 2013. Many of St. Paul’s deceased members were well known in Lincoln County and contributed much to the community. The church is asking businesses, churches, individuals, and former members who have moved away to make memorial donations as follows: Legacy, $1,000 or more; Platinum, $750; Gold, $500; Silver, $250; Memorial, $100; History Patron, $50; and Friend of St. Paul, $1 to $49. Donations should be made to the St. Paul Building Fund, P.O. Box 117, Fayetteville, 37334.

All of the information compiled will be included in the next history publication, The Legacy of St. Paul A.M.E. Church in Lincoln County from 1824 to 2013, which will sell for $25. Donations of $100 or more come with a commemorative coin commemorating the Legacy Fellowship Hall. Anyone making a donation of $250 or more will receive a coin and a free copy of the new publication. In addition, the name of donors who contribute $100 or more will be listed on a donor tree display to be placed in the vestibule of the new fellowship hall.

Once constructed, the Legacy Fellowship Hall of St. Paul will be an asset and a tribute to the Fayetteville-Lincoln County community. The trustees will make it available for community events such as family reunions, wedding receptions, youth functions, church, and family dinners.

The current fellowship hall in the basement of the church is open whenever severe weather warnings create the need to find refuge in the West College Street area.

The Legacy Committee is seeking information from anyone in the community who may have information such as the date of birth, date of death, and any other family data on loved ones who may have been members of St. Paul. The Legacy Committee asks you to call Thomas Kemp at (931) 433-0252 if you know anything about the following members who need a date of death and any other information possible: Samuel Bentley, Allen J. Kennedy, Ann Askins, Will Askins, Lonnie Scott, Morgan Flynt, Joseph Hammonds, Maggie Hickman, Ellen Kelso, Marrie Lamb, and Arthur Suggs.

St. Paul has worship services at 11 a.m. on first, second, and fourth Sundays. The third Sunday is an early service at 9:30 a.m. Sunday School starts at 9:30 a.m. on first, second, and fourth Sundays and 8 a.m. on third Sundays. Praise and worship service is held every third Sunday at 6 p.m. Bible Study is held at 12 noon and 6:30 p.m. every Wednesday. Everyone is invited to attend any services as a visitor or seeking a church home.

This article was compiled and submitted by the Legacy Committee, which includes the Rev. Chris Grizzard, pastor; Rhonda Harris, historian; Thomas Kemp, editor; Barbara Kemp, personal assistant to editor; and Polly Jeter, Joyce Eady, Warden Thomison, Joann Thomison, Barbara Long, Frances Abbott, and Anthony Taylor, members.