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Oldest AME Church in the South Starts Elevator Fund Campaign
12/17/2014 3:54:57 PM

Emanuel AME Church Rev. Clementa Pinckney speaks at press conference with City of Charleston Mayor Joseph P. Riley at his side showing support for their Elevator Fund Campaign. Photo: Tony Bell
Mayor Joseph P. Riley, Jr. and Rev. Clementa Pinckney (also SC State Senator) spoke on the need for an elevator to be built at Emanuel AME Church (EAMEC) and the support needed from the community. The sanctuary of EAMEC is located thirteen feet six inches (13’-6”) from the ground with two steep flights of stairs. It is difficult for aging members, handicapped persons and visitors to maneuver the stairs. The membership of EAMEC stands at about 500 members, many of them elderly.

Of the $270,000 needed to build the elevator, members and friends of the church, along with a few local business owners have raised (and/or pledged) $251,892. Rev. Pinckney and Mayor Riley made the pitch to the community to assist with donating the $26,835 balance.

Rev. Clementa Pinckney noted, “Building an elevator at EAMEC will accommodate those attending meetings and provide for handicapped persons to be able to get to the sanctuary (on the second level of the building). Having an elevator at EAMEC will allow us to offer the church as a venue to the community for concerts and events sponsored by Piccolo Spoleto, MOJA, the Charleston Symphony Orchestra Gospel Choir, and many others”.

Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church (EAMEC) is a Gothic Revival style church built in 1891. Retaining its original altar, communion rail, pews, and light fixtures, the church is one of only a few unaltered religious interiors in Charleston, especially from the Victorian period. The brick Gothic church with its tall steeple replaced an earlier 1872 church badly damaged by the 1886 earthquake. Today, EAMEC is the oldest AME church in the South, and houses the oldest black congregation south of Baltimore, Maryland.

The history of this congregation reflects the development of religious institutions for African Americans in Charleston. Its roots stem from a religious group of free blacks and slaves organized in 1791. In 1816, black members of Charleston's Methodist Episcopal Church withdrew over disputed burial ground, and under the leadership of Morris Brown, formed a separate congregation. The church's 1,400 members soon thereafter established themselves an African Methodist Episcopal church, a denomination formally established in 1816 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Worship services continued after the church was rebuilt after a burning until 1834 when all-black churches were outlawed. The congregation subsequently met in secret until 1865 when it was formally reorganized, and the name Emanuel was adopted. Today, Emanuel AME Church is one of more than 1,400 historically significant buildings within the Charleston Old and Historic District.

EAMEC was designated an historic landmark in 1978 by the SC Department of Archives and History.   EAMEC is the primary location of statewide meetings of the AME church because of its size and central location in the state.

“The seating capacity of the church is 1,200 which makes Emanuel the perfect venue for weddings and large funeral services” said Maxine Smith, a life member of the church and chair of the Elevator Fundraising Campaign. She continued, “We are so pleased that the campaign has gone so well, but need businesses, individuals, friends and family members of EAMEC (locally and out-of-town) to help us reach our goal”.

“A souvenir booklet is planned to list all donors regardless of their level of giving”, she noted. “We’re even planning a “First Ride” party after the construction of the elevator has been completed – and will invite all donors to attend” Smith concluded.

Donations may be mailed to Emanuel AME Church, 110 Calhoun Street, Charleston, SC 29401. In the memo section of the check, write Elevator Fund Campaign.

For information about donor levels for the elevator fund campaign and/or sponsorship opportunities for The First Ride reception, contact Maxine Smith at (843) 577.2546 or 

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