Emanuel A.M.E. Church is the oldest black A.M.E. Church in the South and contains the oldest black congregation south of Baltimore, Maryland. The church’s early roots emerged out of slavery in a shared legacy with Charleston (South Carolina) Methodist Episcopal Church in 1791. Due to disputes over burial grounds, enslaved and free black members of the church withdrew their membership, and, under the leadership of Morris Brown, they established a church affiliated with the African Methodist Episcopal churches in 1816. Because of the perceived threat of religious gatherings by enslaved and free blacks in antebellum Charleston and elsewhere in the slave-holding South, Brown and fellow ministers were placed in jail for violating state and local laws just two years after the church’s founding.
In the 19th century, Emanuel formed the hotbed of anti-slavery and political activism, alarming the city’s white population. But nothing perhaps had been more alarming and national in scope than the developments around the largest planned slave revolt that rocked not only the South, but the nation. In 1821, Denmark Vesey, a former slave and one of the church’s leaders, began organizing a major slave rebellion in Charleston to be carried out in June of 1822. Authorities were informed before the plot could take place, and, in 1822, they investigated the church for its participation with the slave revolt. Rev. Morris Brown became a central target and suspect of the plot but was never convicted. He immediately fled to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania where he later became the second bishop of the A.M.E. denomination. Vesey, along with 35 other conspirators, was executed while over 300 alleged participants were imprisoned.
Due to the church’s connection with the slave revolt in their fight for freedom, local white agitators burned the church, and the state passed a series of stringent laws against the congregating of black churches, including a ban on services conducted without white supervision. However, the church continued its