The African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, a staple of the City of Cape May since 1888, officially transferred into the stewardship of the City of Cape May. On April 12, 2021, members of the community came out to celebrate the transference of the church to City. The church long served as one of the focal points of Cape May’s African American community. One of the most important and influential abolitionists of America walked the land the church sits on; Charles Albert Tindley wrote “we shall overcome” between the church’s walls. Stephen Smith lived and began Cape May’s AME Church. This church saw Jarena Lee became the first female preacher, in 1819, making it a beacon for racial and gender equality.
Not long ago, a group of community volunteers, local contractors and concerned citizens began restoring the parsonage at the Macedonian Baptist Church. Today it is known as the Harriet Tubman Museum, and Lynda Anderson-Towns, the chair of the board of trustees for the Museum, was present to share in the celebration. “This is a moment that we get to preserve what we know Cape May is. And what Cape May was.”
Mayor Zack Mullock added “The City will continue with that vision by restoring this beautiful and historic church to its former glory. This church will now continue to be a place of communion, community, sisterhood, brotherhood, and collaboration. Because of groups in the City such as the Center for Community Arts, East Lynne Theater Company and Cape May MAC(Museums+Arts+Culture), the City anticipates the restoration will be a success.”
The AME Church is a vital step in the creation of this downtown, historic area. It began with the saving of the parsonage and it continues with the restoration of the Franklin Street School. The next phase is the restoration of the AME Church and the Stephen Smith House. Once completed, this block will host the Greater Cape May Historical Society, the Firefighters Museum, a new library, the Harriet Tubman Museum, the Stephen Smith House, a future new firehouse and a restored AME Church.
Mayor Mullock thanked the audience, with special mention of Warren Copeland, chair of the Historic Preservation Commission, Emily Dempsey, a community leader for many years, as well as the “Friends of the AME Church” for all their help with this project.
The building was purchased by the City with no tax increase and the restoration has already begun. The roof was completed over the weekend and the restoration will continue with the use of grant money. There will be parking available for the new library behind the building. The City of Cape May anticipates great success for the community use of this building.