Allen Temple AME

Originating in Philadelphia in 1816, the African Methodist Episcopal Church was described by Benjamin W. Arnett, pastor of Allen Temple in the 1870s and later a bishop, as “the first successfully organized effort of the American negro.”[1] The African Methodist Episcopal movement spread like wildfire across the Appalachians into Ohio—from Mount Pleasant, to Jonesville, to Lancaster, to Chillicothe, to Hillsboro, and finally to Cincinnati in 1824, with the birth of what is now known as the Allen Temple AME Church. In a span of only eight years, the AME Church had spread from Philadelphia to the banks of the Ohio River.

Allen Temple

Proceedings of the Semi-Centenary Celebration of the African Methodist Episcopal Church of Cincinnati, Held in Allen Temple, by Benjamin W. Arnett, 1874

            Throughout the first fifty years of its existence, the congregation changed meeting spaces frequently. This transience is not evidence of failure; on the contrary, the church thrived due to its location within the heart of Cincinnati’s African-American community, and the congregation quickly outgrew venue after venue. On February 4th, 1824, the members of the congregation began meeting at the home of Rev. James King, known as “Father King,” on Broadway. They also occasionally met in Rev. Philip Brodie’s basement, which they called “Jerico.” Later that year the congregation began meeting in the “Little Red Church on the Green,” near the intersection of North Street. and New Street. This building had been a blacksmith’s shop, which provided a significant link to the heritage of the AME Church, as the original AME congregation in Philadelphia first met in a blacksmith’s shop. When King’s Church outgrew the Little Red Church on the Green, the congregation moved into the Old Lime House on 7thStreet. This was a two story building, although at first the upper floor was residential; as the congregation continued to grow in size, the entire building was converted into space for worship.

Proceedings of the Semi-Centenary Celebration of the African Methodist Episcopal Church of Cincinnati, Held in Allen Temple, by Benjamin W. Arnett, 1874

Proceedings of the Semi-Centenary Celebration of the African Methodist Episcopal Church of Cincinnati, Held in Allen Temple, by Benjamin W. Arnett, 1874

Even that space soon proved insufficient. In 1834, the church moved to the Old Bethel on 6th Street. With this move, the congregation changed its name from King’s Church to Bethel Church. In the mid-1840s, the congregation moved down the road to a building dubbed Allen Chapel, in honor of the AME Church’s founder Richard Allen. Finally, in the 1870s, the congregation purchased the Bene Israel Temple and changed its name to Allen Temple, “to signify their spiritual heritage with the Jewish people of the Old Testament as well as their linkage to black Christianity.”[2]

The connection between the city’s Jewish and African-American inhabitants points to their shared marginalization. African-American women in particular faced intense racism and sexism in the community, but the church provided a welcome sanctuary from hate. From the outset, women played a central role in the congregation. Although restricted from holding positions of formal authority, women were still recognized as powerful and important community members, at least by posterity. Eliza Thomas, for instance, was considered by the congregation to be “one of the most useful women in this city.”[3] She organized Allen Temple’s chapter of the Juvenile Daughters of Samaria, a mutual aid society “for young girls between eight and sixteen years of age.”[4] Societies like the Juvenile Daughters of Samaria “allowed black middle-class women [and girls] to extend concerns of the family and home to the entire community.”[5]

Investigate Allen Temple AME at History Pin. Allen Temple continues to minister in Cincinnati today. Visit its website here.


[1] Benjamin W. Arnett, Proceedings of the Semi-Centenary Celebration of the African Methodist Episcopal Church of Cincinnati Held in Allen Temple (Cincinnati, Oh.: Watkin, 1874),  10.

[2]The Allen Temple, Formerly the Bene Israel Synagogue: Cincinnati, Ohio, 1852-1979, 29.

[3] Arnett 35.

[4] Nikki M. Taylor, Frontiers of Freedom: Cincinnati’s Black Community, 1802-1868 (Athens, Oh.: Ohio University Press, 2005), 127-128.

[5] Taylor 128.

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