St. John African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Church in Topeka, Kansas was officially organized in 1877 when it was chartered by Reverend John M. Wilkerson of the Missouri African Methodist Episcopal Conference. In 1868, nine years before the charter, however, early black settlers, many of whom were former slaves, met in worship. Many of these former slaves were from Tennessee and settled in an area that would eventually be called Tennessee Town. Sixteen of these settlers, men and women, formed a church mission that served the needs of these Tennessee Town residents. Initially they met inside a rented barn that faced an alley between Harrison and Van Buren Streets.
When the mission was finally recognized by the AME conference in 1877, Reverend Wilkerson served as its first minister and it became St. John AME. In 1879 the first church building was constructed after two lots were purchased at the corner of Second Street and Madison Avenue. In this building the church received its second AME Conference-appointed pastor, Reverend Schuyler Washington. Three years later new lots were purchased and in 1886 the church moved to where it currently stands today, the corner of Seventh Street and Topeka Avenue just within sight of the Kansas State Capitol. The church was rebuilt at that site between the years of 1908 to 1926.
As one of the oldest black churches in the state, St. John AME has played a significant role in shaping the Topeka African American community. Besides attending to the community’s spiritual needs, it has been a site of education and community organizing. As early as 1868 the church organized and sponsored literacy classes for adults and children. In 1873 black Topekans met there to protest segregation in education, public accommodations, and public transportation. In 1895 its members supported the founding of the Kansas Industrial and Educational Institute (KIEI). Described as a “western” Tuskegee, the school initially for African Americans had evolved by 1919 into the Kansas Vocational