Historically black church in Durham celebrates 150 years

Thursday, October 24, 2019
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A historically black church in Durham looks to its past rooted in faith and social justice to further develop its future.

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- In 1868, Rev. Edian Markum and his wife Molly moved from Elizabeth City to Durham to start a ministry.

With just six members in a log cabin in 1869, Union Bethel AME Church was formed the same year as the city of Durham.

Twenty-three years later the church moved into a new building, under a new name, St Joseph's AME.

"We're very proud of our legacy," Reginald Johnson says St. Joesph's AME has a heritage rooted in faith and civil and social justice. Johnson is a member of St. Joseph's African Methodist Episcopal Church, who also serves on its historical foundation board. "This is hallowed ground."

This historic black church on Fayetteville Road is rooted in Durham's Hayti Heritage community, a once-thriving business and neighborhood district called Black Wall Street.

Two of St. Joseph's most prominent members: John Merrick, founder of NC Mutual Company, and John Wheeler, President of Mechanics and Farmers Bank shaped Durham's economy.

Remnants of those influencers still exist today.

"We've stayed around for so long because we are the community. The community is us," Johnson said.

During the era of Jim Crow and the Civil Rights Movement, Johnson says, St. Joseph's was the place where civil rights leaders met and prayed before marches and demonstrations in the city.

"Martin Luther King had the opportunity to speak here," Johnson said.

In 1976, the church moved further down Fayetteville Road to its current location and most recently under new leadership.

This Summer, they welcomed presidential candidate Kamala Harris, where she spoke during St. Joseph's launch of Social Justice Sundays, an effort to highlight and organize the community around social justice issues.

A tradition this 700-member church has woven into the fabric of Durham that celebrates 150 years.

"With the city's growth so is the church's growth. We've been there every step of the way," Johnson stated.

On November 16, the church will host a red carpet gala at the Sheraton Imperial Hotel in RTP. For details and ticket information call (919) 683-1379