St. John A.M.E. Church, 1870, Columbus

The second oldest A. M. E. congregation in Georgia (after Savannah’s St. Phillip’s), St. John A. M. E. has weathered numerous challenges throughout its history.

The church notes: On September 18, 1870, a third Sunday, African Americans’ fellowship became Saint John Chapel, now known as Saint John African Methodist Episcopal Church.  The people were. a part of Saint James AME church members but decided to begin a new fellowship by God’s guidance.  According to the Columbus Enquirer in an article on March 29, 1970,  a local newspaper, a “New Church Enterprise,” purchased the lot opposite the Claflin Institute and erected a church building.  The location was Fifth Avenue in downtown Columbus Georgia.  In a short time, a spacious church building for the Saint John people and denomination happened.  Among the founding members of Saint John were Edmund Baily and Alexander Howard of Columbus, Georgia.  Alexander Howard was the grandfather of Bishop Richard R. Wright Jr. and former college president of Wilberforce.  By the record of the cornerstone, the first pastor of Saint John was Reverend Dr. John G. Mitchell. Also, Reverend Dr. John G. Mitchell was one of the founders of the first free-standing HBCUs in America, Wilberforce University, in 1894.  

The original structure was a two-story building with a wooden framed top and bricked bottom.  As the story goes, Saint John had “brick rallies” and “carpenter rallies” to beautify their building. Many white people of Columbus and other African Americans gave liberally to support the church’s building.  Later, the entire building was veneered with brick from the ground to the roof.  In 1890, Reverend T.M. Mitchell built the basement.  Saint John African Methodist Episcopal Church was considered one of the very best church buildings architecturally because of the simplicity of its Victorian Gothic style.  To the north, its round tower and the conical roof were one of a kind.  On the opposite front side of the building was a square tower that housed the melodious church bell.  It reminded the members of Sunday school and church.  It tolled sadly when a member died.  The doorway was also beautifully designed.

It was damaged by fire in 1951, lost its roof to a tornado in 1991, and survived an arson attempt in 1998. The congregation moved to a different location after the last fire. Presently, it is home to a Church of God, who has worked diligently to secure its place as one of Columbus’ most important African-American landmarks.

National Register of Historic Places

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