Teaching & Learning
Vanishing Black Atlanta: Proud to Be CME—The History of the CME Church in Atlanta
December 28, 2022
By Herman “Skip” Mason, Jr.
Exterior views of the Butler Street and West Mitchell Street CME churches. Warren LeMay, Wikimedia Commons and Terry Kearns, Flickr
“Long live the CME Church,” proclaimed Evelyn Hood.
Mrs. Hood, 96, is a retired Atlanta Public School principal and the former national president of the Sigma Gamma Rho sorority. She has been a member of the Christian Methodist Episcopal church since she was a little girl and she said she has watched how the church has evolved into a steadfast spiritual and religious force in Atlanta’s African American community.
Originally called the Colored Methodist Episcopal church, the church’s history is rooted in America’s original sins: slavery and racial segregation. It was out of this experience that the church was established separately from the all-white Methodist Episcopal Church, South.
From 1860 to 1866, the Methodist Episcopal Church, South (later known as the United Methodist Church) was losing its Black membership. Most of the denomination’s Black members left to join the African Methodist Episcopal Church or the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Zion where they were free to worship as they saw fit.
George Foster Pierce, former president of Emory University and leader of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. George Foster Pierce Papers, 1872-1875, Manuscript Collection No. 85, Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library, Emory University
To remedy the continuing loss in Black membership, in 1866 the Methodist Episcopal Church, South began to organize its Black members into an independent church. In 1868, Bishop George F. Pierce, the leader of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, invited affiliated Black preachers and laity to gather for a conference at Trinity Church in Augusta, Georgia. At the conference, about 60 Black preachers became full members of the conference, and deacons’ orders were given to most of the preachers present. In the fall of 1869, the Colored Conference of Georgia assembled in Macon, Georgia.
In 1870, the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church was founded in Jackson, Tennessee. At the founding convention, bishops from the Methodist Episcopal Church, South consecrated William Henry Miles and Richard H. Vanderhorst as the first bishops of the new CME Church. The CME Church was the first African American denomination established in the South. Of the 41 delegates present at the church’s founding, eight represented the Georgia Colored Conference, including pastors Isaac H. Anderson, Lucius H. Holsey, Vanderhorst, and Edward West. After the church was established, the episcopal district of Georgia was active under the leadership of Bishop Miles, and Bishop Holsey was responsible for creating churches and adding members.
Bishop Lucius Holsey from “The History of the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church in America: Comprising Its Organization, Subsequent Development and Present Status,” Charles Henry Phillips, author, Jackson, Tennessee: C.M.E. Church, 1925.
Bishop William Henry Miles from “The History of the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church in America: Comprising Its Organization, Subsequent Development and Present Status,” Charles Henry Phillips, author, Jackson, Tennessee: C.M.E. Church, 1925.
Previous slide.Next slide.
The History of the CME Church in Atlanta
The success and rapid growth of the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church in Atlanta can be contributed to Bishop Holsey, who was a dominant force in the church’s direction across Georgia and Atlanta. After serving as a pastor at Trinity CME Church in Augusta and being elected bishop, he moved to Atlanta. He resided in a home on Auburn Avenue near “Bishops Row,” a collection of houses occupied by African American bishops.
Holsey spearheaded the establishment of Atlanta’s first CME churches on the east and west side of Atlanta: Butler Street CME and West Mitchell Street CME churches.
West Mitchell Street CME Church. Terry Kearns, Flickr.
Reverend S.E. Poe founded the Butler Street CME church in 1882 in the old Fourth Ward community. It was organized on property donated by the John L. Grant estate. Church members commissioned a wooden frame structure that was eventually be replaced by a modern brick structure in the 1920s.
Also in 1882, near the old railroad viaduct on West Mitchell Street, the West Mitchell Street CME Church was established. Soon after, the church relocated to a corner property directly across from Atlanta University. The church would see the likes of Lucy Craft Laney, James Weldon Johnson, and W.E.B. DuBois from its front steps.
In 1954 at the 23rd General Conference of the church in Memphis, the conference received a recommendation from Channing H. Tobias, a lifelong CME member and the one-time senior secretary of the Colored Work Department of the YMCA. At the time of the 1954 conference, Tobias was chairman of the board of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Tobias, along with a committee, suggested renaming the church from “colored to Christian” to remove the color and racial designation. The measure was adopted on May 20, 1954, the same day the Supreme Court ruled in Brown vs. Board of Education. The name change was met with mixed enthusiasm throughout the denomination. Some believed that the name change made the church lose its identity, while others thought it created a more inviting name for its future.
Civil Rights Movement
Atlanta CME churches and their leaders were incredibly enthusiastic about the civil rights of their people. Bishop Joseph A. Johnson, a CME minister and theologian who taught at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, explored the relationship between the Black church and social activism in his writings. Reverend Robert S. Shorts, the presiding elder of the CME Church, joined Reverend Williams Holmes Borders and other African American pastors in Atlanta in the Triple L Movement (Life, Liberty, and Love) to integrate the Atlanta bus transit system. Butler Street and West Mitchell Street churches opened their facilities for civil rights meetings and organization sessions. West Mitchell served as the meeting place for the Atlanta branch of the NAACP. Professor Charles Lincoln Harper, Geneva Haugabrooks, attorney A.T. Walden, and other NAACP officers provided stellar leadership and planning from the halls of West Mitchell CME Church.
Tiger Flowers, Middleweight Champion, 1926, Topps Ringside card #42, Brooklyn: Topps Chewing Gum Company, 1951. Jefferson R. Burdick Collection, Gift of Jefferson R. Burdick, Metropolitan Museum of Art
Renowned middleweight boxing champion Theodore “Tiger” Flowers was a member of Butler Street CME Church. A native of Camilla, Georgia, Flowers joined Butler Street after he moved to Atlanta in the 1920s. By his death in 1927, he was one of the wealthiest men in Atlanta, residing in a palatial mansion on Simpson Road. Known for his gentle demeanor, Flowers was a philanthropist giving generously to his church. Though he did not attend college, he valued education, so he also gave to Morehouse and Morris Brown colleges. A street in northwest Atlanta and a historical marker are all that remain of the legacy of Tiger Flowers.
Sadie Gray Mays
What would become the Sadie Gray Mays Nursing Home was established at West Mitchell CME Church. An interdenominational committee was established to provide more effective care for the sick and homeless. On January 21, 1947, a nonprofit corporation, the Atlanta Association for Convalescent Aged Persons, was founded. West Mitchell member Sadie Gray Mays was elected as its president. Sadie Gray Mays was born in Gray, Georgia, and later married Dr. Benjamin Elijah Mays, who became president of Morehouse. Though Dr. Mays was an ordained Baptist preacher, Mrs. Mays joined West Mitchell Street CME Church, where she was a very active member.
Dr. Benjamin Mays with Sadie Mays, circa 1980. Hugh M. Gloster Photograph Collection, Morehouse College, Atlanta University Center Robert W. Woodruff Library, Archives Research Center
In March 1947, the Old Battle Hill Sanatorium site was selected to be used as the nursing home. The home was named “Happy Haven,” and on March 24, 1947, it accepted its first residents. The original home could accommodate up to 60 patients. West Mitchell Street was the meeting place for the Committee to Help the Aged.
A facility renovation was completed at the end of the summer of 1967, which increased its occupancy to 160 beds. On February 8, 1968, the first residents were admitted into their new home. By the end of March, the remaining Fulton County Alms House residents were transferred to Happy Haven, officially closing the county’s “poor house” that had served the Black community. This transfer of residents marked the end of an era of deprivation for the homeless, chronically ill, and unwanted. In 1969, Happy Haven was renamed the Sadie Mays Nursing Home in honor of Mays, who died at the facility on October 10, 1969. It is currently known as the Sadie G. Mays Health and Rehabilitation Center. West Mitchell CME Church was proud of this honor for its most noted member.
Ruby Doris Smith Robinson
Another noted lifelong CME follower and a member of West Mitchell Street CME Church was Ruby Doris Smith-Robinson. Robinson was born in Atlanta on April 25, 1942. The second oldest of seven children born to Alice and John T. Smith, Robinson was raised in Atlanta’s Black middle-class neighborhood of Summerhill. She graduated from Price High School in 1958 and earned a bachelor’s degree in physical education from Spelman College in 1965. Robinson’s exposure to racial discrimination here in Atlanta, the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott, and the Greensboro, North Carolina, sit-ins in February 1960 all influenced her to become involved in the Civil Rights Movement.
Ruby Doris Smith Robinson and son Kenneth Toure Robinson, circa 1965. Mary Ann Smith Wilson, Ruby Doris Smith Robinson Collection on Student Activism, Atlanta University Center Robert W. Woodruff Library, Archives Research Center.
In April 1960, Robinson attended a mass meeting for college students at Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina. At this meeting and under the guidance of Southern Christian Leadership Conference representative Ella Baker, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) was founded. Robinson was designated a SNCC field representative and assisted in organizing chapters in Charleston, South Carolina, Nashville, Tennessee, and Macomb, Mississippi.
Robinson was involved in SNCC-sponsored community organizing and voter registration drives. She was also involved in Freedom Rides, integrated bus rides that attempted to challenge segregation on interstate buses and at bus terminals. In 1961 she joined a Freedom Ride from Nashville, Tennessee, to Montgomery, Alabama. When Robinson’s bus arrived in Montgomery, a white mob assaulted her and fellow bus passengers. Due to her activism, Robinson was arrested many times, most notably in Jackson, Mississippi, where she spent 45 days in Mississippi state prison.
In May 1966, Robinson replaced James Forman as SNCC’s executive secretary, the first and only woman to serve in that capacity. The following year Robinson was diagnosed with terminal cancer. She died on October 7, 1967, at the age of 25. Her funeral was held at the West Mitchell Street church, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was in attendance along with active SNCC leaders, including John Lewis, Julian Bond, and Stokely Carmichael.
And Many More
Community leaders George and Ida Prather participated in providing a place for youth and young adults to have a summer camp. They were members of West Mitchell Street Church. Civil rights lawyer Donald L. Hollowell belonged to Butler Street CME Church. His work as Dr. Martin Luther King’s attorney and mentor to Vernon Jordan ranks him as one of Atlanta’s premier legal minds.
Fulton County Commissioner Emma Ione Darnell, a distinguished attorney, was described as fierce and fearless as an advocate for the marginalized and was an outspoken advocate against Atlanta corruption and politics. A daughter of the parsonage, attorney Darnell’s father was the dean of the Phillips School of Theology (the seminary for the CME
Attorney Donald L. Hollowell, circa 1985. Interdenominational Theological Center Audio Visual Collection, Interdenominational Theological Center, Atlanta University Center Robert W. Woodruff Library, Archives Research Center.
Church), and her mother was an advocate for activities for the elderly in the community. The Harriett G. Darnell Center Senior Multipurpose Facility in southwest Atlanta bears her name.
Since its historic founding in Jackson, Tennessee, the CME church become one of the premier Christian denominations for African Americans with leading “colored preachers.” Today there are more than 330 churches that comprise the CME Church in Georgia. Other CME churches in the metropolitan Atlanta area include West Side Community, Holsey Temple, Shy Temple, and Greater Hopewell in Atlanta’s Mechanicsville community. Georgia has been blessed to have had many of the noted and stalwart Episcopal church leaders serving as the presiding prelate. The people of the church are faithful and loyal. As Barbara Jackson often says, “Glad to be CME.”
This Christmas, here are seven things Palestinian Christians need you to know
No, they aren’t recent converts and, yes, they worship Allah too
Christianity was born in Palestine and developed in the wider Levant region in the first century (AFP)
22 December 2020 10:20 GMT | Last update: 2 years 11 months ago
Christmas is a delightful season, the most wonderful time of the year indeed. And yet, as Palestinian Christians living in North America and Australia, we experience a strange disconnect during the festive season.
We watch as shopping malls become inundated with Christmas trees, jolly Santas, candy canes, reindeer and sleighs. We are accustomed to the usual nativity display of three - usually white - wise men approaching a white Jesus, Mary and Joseph (Issa, Mariam and Yousef in Arabic).
You, our neighbors and friends, send us cards hailing the birth of a savior born in Bethlehem, and carolers arrive at our doors singing O Little Town of Bethlehem.
It feels strange because, for many of us, Bethlehem is the town we visited on summer holidays or where our families are rooted. And those memories are distant from the imagined landscape found on a Christmas card.
Furthermore, while we enjoy the traditional Hollywood Christmas classics that grace our screens, we watch with curious amusement as a white actor portrays a Middle Eastern Jesus.
We are Palestinians who grew up in the diaspora, in Christian families; we visited and even lived in Palestine at points in our lives. And here is what we want other Christians around the world to know about our ancient community.
1. Yes, Palestinian Christians exist
Some of you may put up signs on your lawn that say “Jesus: the Reason for the Season”, but our signs say “Palestine: the Region of the Season”.
Thank you for the Christmas trees, but the actual religious component of this whole holiday emanated from our culture.
The Judeo-Christian Western gaze often portrays all Palestinians as Muslims, misrepresenting the Palestinian struggle as an "Islamic struggle". It is not.
While Christians might be considered a "Minority" within Palestine, this centuries-old community is an integral part of Palestinian society.
Westerners, however, cannot fathom the diversity that exists within Palestinian society. The comical consequence of this simplistic understanding is that many of us, growing up, living and working in non-Arab countries, are not only mistaken as Muslims but are asked, in all sincerity, when it was that we or our families converted.
2. We aren’t converts. In fact, you are
That question - “When did you convert?” - is a running joke among our community, just so you know.
We have generated lots of answers to this question, including “around 33AD” and “you’re the one who, in fact, converted”.
In reality, some of us hail from the same holy cities that are talked about in churches and Sunday schools across the Western world: Bethlehem, Nazareth, Jerusalem and more.
So the next time you watch a white Mary and Joseph get turned away from an inn and end up in a stable (it was actually a cave), remember that Palestinians lived (and continue to live) there.
Christian pilgrims pray at the Church of the Nativity, the site where Christians believe Jesus was born, in the West Bank holy city of Bethlehem (AFP)
3. We keep Christian traditions alive
Europe started to adopt Christianity while it was part of the Roman Empire, in the 4th century AD. Before that, it was kept alive by Christians in Palestine and the wider Levant region, where ancient traditions still thrive today. One of the most beautiful is the Easter tradition, when thousands of devotees flock to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.
The patriarch of the Greek Orthodox church carries out a flame from the crypt - the space where Christians believe Jesus was buried after his crucifixion. Bells ring out, announcing that Christ is risen, and that flame, the Holy Fire, is used to light other candles, which are then dispersed to Christian villages and towns.
The whole town awaits, with their own candles, and then cheers when the person entrusted with protecting the flame rides in on a horse (or in recent years, in a car). They flock to the flame to light their own candles.
This is a beautiful, heartwarming custom, which symbolises unity.
4. Your pilgrimages tend to ignore our existence
We often hear you describe your Christian pilgrimages to the holy land, and we see your Facebook posts about visiting different “holy sites in Israel”.
Were you even made aware, during your once-in-a-lifetime trip, that your fellow Christians are restricted from visiting many of those very sites? For example, Israel banned Christians in Gaza from going to Bethlehem for Christmas in 2019.
5. We worship Allah too
You’ll hear us say “inshallah” all the time. It means “God willing” and it is also a polite way to say: “Maybe I’ll come to your party, but don’t count on it.”
Let us once again explain that in Arabic "Allah" means "God".
Palestinian Christians use these words and expressions because… Arabic is our language.
Our greeting is “assalamu alaykum”. We call celebrations such as Christmas, Easter and even birthdays “Eid”.
Yes, Muslims around the world know these expressions because they appear in Islamic texts and Arabic is also the language of Islam.
It’s worth noting that the great Palestinian scholar Edward Said once described himself as a Christian wrapped in a Muslim culture.
The occupied West Bank is home to Bethlehem, the ancient Palestinian town where Jesus was born (AFP)
6. Like Muslims, we also experience Islamophobia
Hollywood loves to tell our stories but rarely in a favourable way. You do not have to look far for TV shows and movies that stereotype Arabs and Muslims as aggressive, barbaric men and submissive and oppressed, yet dangerous, women.
These stereotypes are linked to anti-Arab racism, which affects all Arabs, irrespective of their faith.
Many of you, as viewers, feel no discomfort around images of a white Jesus from Bethlehem, but the presence of a Palestinian man from Bethlehem today can be a source of fear and hatred - and that bothers us.
7. Stop using us to rationalise Zionism and Orientalism
Being a Palestinian Christian in the diaspora is especially difficult because we cannot go and visit our homeland easily.
We grow up learning how to counter people who try to use our existence to rationalise Zionism or ideas rooted in Orientalist thought.
For instance, we have to put up with the Zionist and Orientalist mantra that the State of Israel is the only democracy in the region and that it is protecting us from Muslim Palestinians.
We like the way you celebrate the holiday season. We see you. See us as well, and listen to our stories
Zionists also put forward the claim that the dwindling number of Christians in Palestine is due to Muslim oppression.
Palestinian Christians do indeed suffer; we were dispossessed from our homes in 1948, a colonial entity built an apartheid wall on our land and bombs are dropped on our cities and towns.
However, the culprits here are not Palestinian Muslims but the Israeli government.
Lest you think we dislike your Christmas decor, we should let you know that Christmas trees stand tall, right at this moment, in Palestinian towns such as Ramallah and Bethlehem.
Palestinian grandfathers are getting ready to dress up in red suits, red hats and fake white beards to take pictures with children in their neighbourhoods.
Palestinian children are practising songs with their choirs for the Christmas day mass.
We like the way you celebrate the holiday season. We see you. See us as well, and listen to our stories.
Also, you’re welcome for Christmas.
The views expressed in this article belong to the authors and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition. Middle East Eye delivers independent and unrivalled coverage and analysis of the Middle East, North Africa and beyond.
Sami Abu Shehadeh
NOTE: Imam Michael Saahir is a board member of UM,
and his article was published in the Indianapolis Recorder.
Israel and Hamas
– Innocent blood on guilty hands
By IMAM MICHAEL SAAHIR
November 09, 2023
O ye who believe! stand out firmly for justice (bil-qis`ṭi), as witnesses to Allah, even as against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, and whether it be (against) rich or poor: for Allah can best protect both. Follow not the lusts (of your hearts), lest ye swerve, and if ye distort (justice) or decline to do justice, verily Allah is well- acquainted with all that ye do. (Yusuf Ali translation)
On October 5th I had a friendly lunch with a very popular and highly respected Indianapolis Rabbi. Over the years he and I have met occasionally to keep in contact as friends and faith leaders. Within 48 hours of this cordial interfaith lunch, all hell broke loose. Reports of an attack by Hamas – an acronym for “Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiya” (Islamic Resistance Movement) – had taken place upon innocent Jewish citizens who were celebrating the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, a major festival in Judaism.
It must be emphatically stated that according to the Qur’an and the life example of Prophet Muhammed, peace be upon him, attacks upon innocent civilians is totally un-Islamic. Hamas, the charged aggressor, is totally wrong for committing the October 7th attacks. As Muslims we should be outspoken against anyone attacking unarmed civilians. There can be no ambiguity from Muslims in our public denunciation of such violations against any human lives. Allah has made it quite clear that we are to tell the whole truth even if bearing witness against our own selves, our parents or against the rich or the poor. Hamas has innocent Jewish blood on their guilty hands!
As my soul wrestled with the unfolding news of the attacks upon Israeli citizens, I sent a text to a total of four Indianapolis Rabbis. An excerpt reads, “…The protected sovereignty of Israel must be maintained. However, and I’m sure you can agree, before my mind can come to grips with the current pains of Israel my mind is flooded with the many, many decades of unjust suffering endured by Palestinians at the hands of Israel…” Israel too has innocent Palestinian blood their guilty hands!
The Qur’an is very clear, 5:8 “…let not the hatred of others to you make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice…” No Muslim can excuse their unjust mistreatment to others simply because they previously suffered injustice. According to this Qur’an injunction Muslims cannot say Hamas was justified in killing the innocent. So, where are the balanced sober-minded thinkers with the courage to confront and address gross injustices?
Too often, on both sides, we only hear divisive, one-sided rhetoric being broadcasted by bias news sources that radiates half-truths around the world; therefore, creating camps of “either you’re with us or against us.” To the dismay of many our president, Joe Biden, (an avowed “Christian Zionist”) unnecessarily exacerbated the tension by initially only acknowledging Israel’s pain while saying nothing about the loss of innocent Palestinian babies and the elderly by the hands of Israel. It was only after protest in support of Palestinians that President Biden finally – and seemingly with reluctance – began to acknowledge the loss of innocent Palestinians. Even most American media outlets seemed to stress less importance on Palestinian lives, comparative to Jewish lives. We need sober-minded, unbiased leaders who have the moral courage to address these grave injustices upon the innocent.
We can find no Islamic support for the atrocities committed upon the innocent Jewish community. Is there any Jewish religious support for the atrocities committed by Jews against the Palestinians? Since the 1948 creation of the State of Israel even the difficult Jewish law of an “eye for eye, tooth for tooth,” in Leviticus 24:20, is ignored by some Jews when they seek vengeance, thus resulting in innocent blood of Palestinians on their guilty hands.
Can Hamas use the Qur’an to defend the evil actions of October 7, 2023? NO! Can Israelis use the Torah to defend the seventy-five years of abusing and killing Palestinians? No! For centuries errant Christians intentionally misinterpreted the Bible to justify their killing and mistreatment of Native Americans and the evil enslavement Africans, not to mention the suppression of women rights. But none of these evils against humanity can be justified if we follow the best of our respective books of revelation. People of faith must lead the way by remaining true to the disciplines of revealed scripture even if our respective scriptures describe us as the guilty party.
Until the good people in all of our respective faith traditions have the courage to stand up tall and speak out loudly against the evils that their own people are committing– directly or indirectly – then we will continue to have innocent blood on our guilty hands.
Despite the imbalance of casualties, the Qur’an and the Old Testament Bible explicitly declares that every human life is special; The Qur’an says, “On that account: We ordained for the Children of Israel that if any one slew a person – unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land – it would be as if he slew the whole people: and if any one saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people.
The killing of the innocent rages on daily as close to 10,000 Palestinians have been killed, often by indiscriminating Jewish bombing of Gaza. This is a terrible sin against humanity as was the killing of 1,400 innocent Jewish souls on October. Both sides have innocent blood on their guilty hands.
IMAM MICHAEL SAAHIR
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