A Look Back in History
Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church is the oldest African American church in the Monroe County. Established over 190 years ago in 1827, it played a pivotal role Rochester’s history.
From providing shelter for escaped slaves being led to freedom by Harriet Tubman to giving Susan B. Anthony a platform for her last public address to having the distinction of being the home church of Frederick Douglass and his abolitionist paper, "The North Star"; Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church’s contributions are unprecedented.
Today, under the leadership of Rev. Derrill A. Blue, Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church remains at the forefront of community service, civic activity, and community responsibility with plans to continue building on its distinguished legacy.
The Church’s beginnings are traced back to a group of “Negros” who met in secret in various homes to worship as such gatherings were forbidden until the Emancipation Act was passed by the State of New York in 1827
Under the leadership of Rev. Thomas James, a church site at the corner of Spring and Favor was obtained and a one-story wooden structure was completed and occupied as the church edifice.
The first Sunday School was organized.
When Frederick Douglass moved to Rochester in 1847 to begin his abolitionist newspaper, he became one of the prime "stationmasters" on the railroad.
Both his home and office were used as stations. Frederick Douglass edited his famous abolitionist newspaper, North Star” from A.M.E. Zion Church’s basement.
Rev. William Abbott is appointed Pastor.(1869 – 1870)
Rev. William Stanford is appointed Pastor. (1870 – 1871)
Rev. Abram Cole is appointed Pastor.
Rev. David Weir is appointed Pastor.
Rev. J. W. Lacy is appointed Pastor. (1874 – 1877)
During his tenure, he held a large revival
that resulted in 62 people uniting with the church.
Rev. George Biddle is appointed. (1880 – 1882)
Rev. C.A. Smith is appointed.(1884 – 1886)
Rev. M. H. Ross is appointed.
Rev. G. C. Carter is appointed. (1887 – 1889)
Rev. W.A. Ely is appointed. (1894 – 1895)
Rev. J.H. Anderson, appointed (1896 – 1898)
Was known for his singing ability.
Rev. Alonzo Scott is appointed. Although only with the church for 4 months, he was known as a gifted musician. During his short stay as pastor, the church experienced a split with some members leaving to organize Trinity Presbyterian Church on Allen Street.
Rev. J.J. Adams, appointed, (1898 – 1905), succeeded in reorganizing and reenergizing the congregation.His stay as pastor for 6 years was the longest pastor in the church’s history to that point.
A building fund campaign led by the current pastor, Bishop J.W. Brown of New York City, resulted in a new church structure erected which still stands on Favor street today.
Memorial was added to the title of the church in recognition of the beautiful stained glass windows featuring and memorializing Frederick Douglass, donated by John W. Thompson, messenger for the attorney general’s office at Albany and former leader of the colored branch of the Republican party in Rochester). Major Charles R. Douglass, son of the late Frederick Douglass, delivered the principle address.
Other windows were also dedicated to Susan B. Anthony, donated by the Susan B. Anthony Club and Harriet Tubman donated by Rev. J.E. Mason. The Susan B. Anthony and Harriet Tubman windows still exist in the current church at 549 Clarissa Street.
The 85th Anniversary of A.M.E. Zion was held to includeJ.C. Price and Frederick Douglass Day.J.C. Price was the founder of the Livingstone College at Salisbury, N.C.
Bishop E.D. W. Jones, was pastor at Memorial from 1916 – 1920.
Rev. Dr. A. Gorham was pastor at Memorial from 1920 – 1924.
The Yadseut Club, first African American Women’s Club in Monroe County was established by Rev. James Clair Taylor, the minister of Memorial A.M.E. Zion church at the time. Its purpose is to “inform, uplift, and motivate its members to follow the motto – To Serve Others.” The club includes members from other churches within the community. The first president of the club was Mrs. Maude Gouch. The name of the club was given by Charter Member, Alberta Bailey. She decided since the meetings were held on Tuesday evenings, the club should be named Yadseut, Tuesday spelled backward.
The club has taken on many outreach projects within the Rochester community and the Zion Connection including assisting the late Bessie Hamm with support for the youth attending Livingstone College; supporting YMCA’s Emergency Housing Program, the Salvation Army’s Safe Haven Shelter, and American Red Cross Hurricane Sandy relief. Over the years the Yadseut Club has provided school supplies for classrooms, purchased china and linen for the church, established a building fund to renovate the church bathrooms, and developed Welcome packets for visitors. Our Memorial Messenger, church newsletter has been produced and distributed by the Yadseut Club since 2007.
Rev. Archie C. Bell appointed (1949 – 1961). During his tenure, Rev. Bell created several boards within the church. In addition, he started a free open house thanksgiving dinner, Everybody’s Birthday Party, and the Annual Appreciation Banquet.
The congregation of the Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church will honor Dr. and Mrs. Charles Lunsford at a testimonial banquet.Dr. Lunsford was a county physician for 25 years and held an appointment at St. Mary’s Hospital.
The Community Child Care Center under the direction of, Memorial A.M.E Zion member, Dr. Juanita Pitts was one of the first Day Care Centers in Rochester started by an African American church. With its beginnings in the church basement on Favor Street, it is still operational today at 170 Troup Street. Dr. Pitts was the first female African American physician to have a private practice in the city of Rochester. Dr. Pitts also created the Frederick Douglass Oratory Contest held annually at Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church.
The church at 432 Favor street is designated Rochester’s 22nd landmark by the city Preservation Board. Located at the corner of Spring and Favor street, the A.M.E. church was first built in 1831, replaced in 1879 and again in 1907.
Mrs. Bessie Hamm dies at the age of 80.
Baritone, William Crimm, a member of Memorial, also the founder and director of the inner-city William Crimm School of Music, was the featured performer in a benefit performance for the school at Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church. Other soloists included soprano Patricia Fleming.
The C.I. Bullock Scholarship Board was established. Named after Charles I. Bullock, a native of Homer, Louisiana, the C.I. Bullock Scholarship Board provides support to the ongoing educational experience of graduating seniors of Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church.Mr. Bullock moved to Rochester in the 1920s and immediately joined Memorial A.M.E. Zion church, quickly establishing a reputation as a pioneer in molding the careers and lives of young people. His passion for assisting young people reared in the church led him to donate the first $100 contribution to a fund established as the Memorial A.M.E. Zion Scholarship Fund. In 1983 the Scholarship Fund was renamed in memory of its founder to the C.I. Bullock Scholarship Fund of Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church.
The Frederick Douglass Memorial stained glass windows were too fragile to move to the new church on Clarissa Street. Vandals later destroyed them along with a pipe organ.
In a Democrat & Chronicle article, 93-year-old, Walter Derham, the oldest member of Memorial A.M.E. Zion’s congregation, was quoted as saying, “When I first moved to Rochester, I don’t think there were 300 negroes (in Rochester). The Memorial Zion church was the center of their world. It was the only place to go."
While the Pastor at Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church, Rev. Errol E. Hunt founded the RL Edwards Manor Retirement Home and The Daisy House, affordable apartments, both in the area surrounding the church.
Twenty-three new single-family houses the congregation helped build in partnership with the Frederick Douglass Development Corporation.
A 50 unity seniors complex is built with church involvement.
The 81st Session of the Young People’s Congress of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church was held at Memorial A.M.E. Zion church hosted by current pastor Rev. Dr. Kenneth Q. James.
Congresswoman Louise Slaughter welcomed Civil Rights Icon Congressman John Lewis to Rochester at Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church during which time he spoke to a packed church sharing his experience during the Civil Rights Movement, especially what is now known as “Bloody Sunday” in Alabama where he almost lost his life fighting for equal rights and justice.
Three Day Spring Revival kicking off the 190th Anniversary featuring guest preacher Bishop W. Darin Moore.
Harriet Tubman Pilgrimage Weekend to Auburn, NY to participate in the renaming of Thompson Memorial A.M.E. Zion church to Harriet Tubman Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church. Our own Sister Magelene Moore-Holley performed a Harriet Tubman Memorial re-enactment.
Beyond the Sanctuary (BTS), Memorial AME Zion’s Churches Community Service Ministry, was established in recognition of Memorial’s recent 190th Anniversary celebration and as an attribute to the many Memorial members who were instrumental in positioning Memorial as a church of action from its founding Minister, Rev. Thomas James, an escaped slave, to Frederick Douglas, to its current leader, Rev. Dr. Kenneth Q. James and all those in between.BTS began as a Food Pantry and Clothes Closet and grew to include social worker services, emergency services, job readiness & workforce development, and rental assistance & eviction prevention.
Beyond the Sanctuary becomes incorporated receiving its 501 (c)(3) designation and Not for Profit status.
Memorial’s beloved former Pastor, Rev. Dr. Kenneth Q. James died unexpectedly in Charlotte, NC.
Rev. Thomas James, an escaped slave become the first pastor of A.M.E. Zion Church. Rev. James was born a slave in Canajoharie, New York in 1804.
At the age of seventeen, he was bartered for a yoke of steers, a colt, and some additional property. After a severe beating, he sought to escape from slavery finding refuge in Canada. He returned to the U.S. to Rochester and gained employment at the Hudson & Erie Warehouse.
He found time to attend school and joined the Young Methodist Society. Thomas James demonstrated religious leadership abilities and eventually began to preach.
Rev. Thomas James began to hold meetings and teach school in a house on Ford Street which formed the humble beginnings for our church.
Incorporation papers are recorded in Monroe County Clerk office, 1832.
The church’s incorporation was finalized in 1835 signaling a significant step in its establishment as one of Rochester’s institution. Soon after it became known as the A.M.E. Zion Church of Rochester.
Rev. Thomas James remained pastor until 1835 and is replaced by Rev. Dempsey Kennedy. Unfortunately, church history during this timeframe until 1869 is not well recorded and exact dates of the following pastoral appointments are not known:
Revs. John Lyells, Zacheria Tyler, John Thomas, and Roswell Jeffreys
John Brown, the famous abolitionist and mastermind of the attack on Harper's Ferry, West Virginia, and Frederick Douglass first met in 1847 at John Brown's home in Springfield, Massachusetts.
From this meeting, Brown and Douglass became close friends. Whenever Brown visited Rochester, Douglass' home became his headquarters. Douglass and Brown supported each other's efforts to free the slaves.
John Brown was also connected to the family of Susan B. Anthony. Brown visited Rochester in April of 1859, gave a speech from A.M.E. Zion and City Hall.
Harriet Tubman escaped slavery eventually finding a home in the Finger Lakes Region. Once she had her freedom, she returned south countless times to lead hundreds of slaves to freedom. Some of those trips included stops at A.M.E. Zion church which contained a trap door by the pulpit and escape tunnels leading to Plymouth Avenue and the Genesee River.
Susan B. Anthony, the women’s rights activist, delivered her last public address from A.M.E. Zion Church to “Colored Citizens” just three months before her death.
Rev. Isaac Stewart is appointed (1877 – 1880), was known as a forceful speaker and effective preacher. During his pastorate, a new church was built.
The first church was replaced by a second building at the same site.
Rev. N.E. Collins is appointed.(1882 – 1884)
Rev. Gordon Stewart is appointed.
Rev. J. E. Mason is appointed, (1890 – 1894), organized the church work and revised the Sunday school, introducing social features and made the school the largest in the state outside of New York City.
Rev. H.J. Callis is appointed. (1895 – 1896)
John W. Thompson, a member of Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church, formed a new committee, which included Mrs. R. Jerome Jeffrey (secretary) and Rev. James Mason, pastor of Memorial A.M.E. Zion church and prominent African Americans across the country to erect a monument in honor of Frederick Douglass after his death in 1895. After many years of delay due to mechanics with the statue, transportation, and JW Thompson’s illness, the statue was unveiled in 1899 with more than 10,000 people attending including the Mayor and the Governor.
Rev. J.W. Brown only had two years’ experience as a minister before moving to Rochester to become the pastor. A building committee was established under his leadership.Mr. J.W. Thompson was named chairman and Mr. A.J. Spragues, vice-chairman. It was soon discovered that the members did not possess the deed to the property. This became an immediate priority for the Committee and the deed was soon secured. Rev. Brown was minister at the memorial from 1905 -1913.
A banquet and reception were held in honor of Dr. Booker T. Washington who addressed the church at the occasion.
After 83 years, the first church parsonage was purchased from Miss L. Sweeting located at 397 Clarissa Street (formerly 91 Caledonia Ave). Pastor J. W. Brown was the first pastor to go from living from room to room to living in a house.
Rev. Dr. J.H. McMullen (1913 – 1916)
A Patriotic Observance of the Birthday’s of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass was held at the church. The program read “You and your friend are invited t be present and help swell the tide of patriotism and enthusiasm, loyalty and race pride.”
The centennial celebration was marked by a week of special commemorative services in November of 1927, under the direction of it’s current pastor, Rev. Richard R. Ball.
Memorial holds an Interracial Day Service. During this Race Relations Sunday Rev. William Lloyd Imes, director of social and adult education for the New York State Council of Churches, advocated for a crusade against school race bias. The service was sponsored by the Federation of Churches, the NAACP, the YMCA, and the YWCA. Among signs of improvement sited during the service was the recent appointment of Dr. Ralph Bunche to head the United Nations’ Commission on the Partition of Palestine.
James and Bessie Hamm, members of Memorial were dedicated to assisting young people in obtaining educational opportunities. Mrs. Hamm cofounded the Ralph Bunche Scholarship Fund in Rochester.
Bishop James Clair Taylor, the former pastor of Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church, was the opening speaker for the 126th-anniversary service.
Memorial holds a series of services called “Know Your Neighbor”.
The Rev. Andrew Gibson appointed pastor. He served Memorial A.M.E. Zion from 1961 until his death in 1993. Under his leadership, Memorial continued to be a leading force in the community. He opened the doors of the church to many civic groups to meet and gather. One of the clubs originated during Rev. Gibson’s tenure is still active today, the Do Something About It Club.
Family Health Sunday
The church-health program concept was created by Mrs. Naomi Chamberlain, assistant professor of preventive medicine and community health at the University of Rochester.
Groundbreaking for the current church structure on Clarissa Street. The Mayor, Stephen May was present along with Memorial’s pastor, Rev. A.N. Gibson, and the presiding Elder of the Western New York Connection, Dr. Milton E. Williams.
The Memorial A.M.E. Zion congregation held dedication services for the new church edifice on Clarissa Street.
Memorial A.M.E. Zion church celebrates 160th Anniversary
Memorial has been the home of the Frederick Douglass Memorial Orator contest for xxx years.
The Memorial A.M. E. Zion Church Choir sang at the request of Congresswoman Louis Slaughter at the anniversary of the women's suffrage Movement with Hillary Clinton as the keynote speaker.
Memorial A.M.E. Zion’s Choir performed on stage with Country Singer, Reba McIntyre at the War Memorial arena in Rochester, NY.
This same year the Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church Choir was privileged to sing at the White House during the Clinton Administration.
Church celebrates its 175th Anniversary
Rev. Dr Kenneth Q. James is appointed Pastor
Memorial A.M.E. Zion is highlighted in a Rochester Democrat and Chronicle article featuring iconic works of local architecture James H. Johnson.
Rev. Dr. Kenneth Q. James and Class Leader of Leaders, Wynndy Turner were honored at the 1st Annual Laity Banquet hosted by the Rochester-Syracuse District Lay Council and Home Missions at the Genesee Grande Hotel in Syracuse, NY.
Ms. Eva Steward Thomas, Director of the Office of Parent Engagement in the Rochester City School District and former “youth of Memorial” was the guest speaker for the annual C.I. Bullock Scholarship Sunday.
Today, under the leadership of Rev. Dr. Kenneth Q. James, Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church remains at the forefront of civic activity and responsibility. Now, Memorial A.M. E. Zion Church is poised to build on its distinguished legacy. Plans are in place to open a clothes pantry to help those in need and to restart the food pantry focusing on nonperishable goods. In addition, Memorial is working to partner with other organizations in the community to have an even bigger impact in Rochester in the years to come.
Throughout the year Memorial will continue to host a series of community-wide services and activities celebrating 190 years of worship and praise.
Rev. Derrill A. Blue begins his appointment as Senior Pastor of Memorial AME Zion Church. The church welcomes Pastor Blue, his wife, Rev. Paula Blue, and their two children, Makis and Norie.
Rev. Derrill A. Blue is appointed Presiding Elder of the Rochester/Syracuse District in addition to his duties as Senior Pastor of Memorial AME Zion Church.