St. Mark African MethodistEpiscopal (AME) Church, the first African American church in Wisconsin, wasfounded in Milwaukee as the First African Methodist Episcopal Church by EzekielGillespie and seven other men and women. Gillespie desired to establish a “Church ofAllen,” referring to Richard Allen, who had founded the first African MethodistEpiscopal church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1787. Reverend Theodore Crosby held the firstservice on January 8, 1869 in a former Marshall Field’s department storebuilding. For 30 years, St. Mark was theonly black church in Milwaukee and, as a result, became the focal point forAfrican American culture in the city and in Wisconsin.
Services were held at the first location for only two months. The church moved into another temporarylocation until June of 1869 when St. Mark moved into a more permanent structure,formerly a German Zion Evangelical Congregation building, in the Oak Creekneighborhood. This same year thecongregation purchased property near the Milwaukee River. Reverend William R. Alexander oversaw theconstruction on this new property beginning in 1876 and held the first serviceat the new location on April 3, 1887.
Although St. Mark became known as the “Friendly Church,” Rev. Alexanderand subsequent ministers ensured that St. Mark was both sophisticated and strait-laced. The church recruited ministers who hadreceived formal training in a seminary and therefore would provide dignified,proper sermons where shouting was discouraged. These staid services attracted Milwaukee’sblack elite and successful working class by promoting middle classrespectability.
By 1914, St. Mark held over 100 members, by far the most of the three blackchurches established in Milwaukee prior to World War I. Calvary Baptist and St. Benedict, bothestablished in the first decade of the 1900s, had congregations composed mostlyof African Americans migrating from the American South. St. Mark’s combination of size, history, andelite parishioners made it the religious and civic center for