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First African Methodist Episcopal Church of Los Angeles

From humble beginnings in the home of the formerly enslaved Bridget “Biddy” Mason, the First African Methodist Episcopal Church of Los Angeles has grown into one of the largest, most prominent churches in the African American community.

Westward Expansion and Freedom of Expression

Black and white image of a copy of an image of people standing outside the steps of a church. The church exterior is wood paneling and features two (2) windows with gothic arches in the front. Between the two (2) windows, centered, is the doorway, also with a window above with a gothic arch. The arches are all divided by curved leading. The steps in the front of the building are obscured by a wall. The people stand on the steps between the exterior of the church and the exterior wall of the steps. The crowd of people are both men and women in a variety of clothes. The image is bordered in white with text centered at the top and bottom. At the top [Old Church]. Along the bottom [AZUSA STREET]. On the reverse in the lower left corner is a stamp with text and blanks to fill in. Only the last line is filled with a penned note [M. Matthews]. The stamp is four (4) lines [COLLECTION OF MIRIAM MATTHEWS/PHOTOGRAPHER/SOURCE/PLEASE CREDIT]. Along the bottom in the lower left is a penned note [AZUSA STREET CHURCH (FIRST A.M.E. CHURCH)]. In the upper right corner is the number [2] circled.

Congregation on the steps of the First African Methodist Episcopal Church of Los Angeles on Azusa Street, 1888–1903

Bridget “Biddy” Mason (1818–1891) helped found the First African Methodist Episcopal Church of Los Angeles (FAME) in 1872. Enslaved in Mississippi, Mason had traveled with her enslaver to California in 1851 and won a landmark court case to gain freedom for herself and her daughters. With money she had earned as a nurse and midwife, Mason invested in property and amassed a sizeable fortune. Initially, church members gathered in her home, but with her savings, she helped purchase a church building in 1888 on Azusa Street.

FAME grew with the African American community during the late 19th century as migrants moved west in search of better economic opportunities and freedom from the racially oppressive conditions of the South. The magnificent church buildings, which have symbolized the financial prosperity of many congregation members, have been places of refuge from racial discrimination and of freedom to express an African American style of worship.

Black and white image of a copy of an image of people standing outside the steps of a church. The church exterior is wood paneling and features two (2) windows with gothic arches in the front. Between the two (2) windows, centered, is the doorway, also with a window above with a gothic arch. The arches are all divided by curved leading. The steps in the front of the building are obscured by a wall. The people stand on the steps between the exterior of the church and the exterior wall of the steps. The crowd of people are both men and women in a variety of clothes. The image is bordered in white with text centered at the top and bottom. At the top [Old Church]. Along the bottom [AZUSA STREET]. On the reverse in the lower left corner is a stamp with text and blanks to fill in. Only the last line is filled with a penned note [M. Matthews]. The stamp is four (4) lines [COLLECTION OF MIRIAM MATTHEWS/PHOTOGRAPHER/SOURCE/PLEASE CREDIT]. Along the bottom in the lower left is a penned note [AZUSA STREET CHURCH (FIRST A.M.E. CHURCH)]. In the upper right corner is the number [2] circled.

Congregation on the steps of the First African Methodist Episcopal Church of Los Angeles on Azusa Street, 1888–1903

Building A Community

Members of the First African Methodist Episcopal Church of Los Angeles worshipped at their building on Azusa Street for 15 years (1888–1903). During this time, its founder—formerly enslaved Bridget “Biddy” Mason—passed away at age 73. The Church, however, continued to grow. In 1901, Pastor Jarrett E. Edwards commissioned a new building designed in the Gothic style. Twelve years after Mason’s death, the congregation moved to the historic building at 8th and Towne Avenue, where they worshipped for 66 more years (1903–1969).

Black and white photograph of a church as seen from the street. The church has a white exterior with gothic style windows of stained glass. On the left half of the image is a multi-walled transept extending from the building. Above this in the background is a cupola. In the foreground in the street on in the bottom left corner is a bus with [FIRST A.M.E. CHURCH SUNDAY SCHOOL/EIGHTH and TOWNE, LOS ANGELES] painted on the side. Behind the bus, right of center, is a sedan with [FIRST A.M.E. CHURCH 8th & TOWNE, LOS ANGELES/DR. H. HARTFORD BROOKINS/Minister] painted on the side. In the lower right corner of the image is an arched and covered doorway with a woman in white emerging. On the reverse of the image is a stamp in the center set at a diagonal [J. BANKS/HOME PORTRAITURE PHOTOGRAPHER].

First African Methodist Episcopal Church of Los Angeles at 8th and Towne Avenue, 1960s

Black and white portrait image of a man wearing a dark jacket, dark vest, white shirt, and white bow-tie. He has a mustache and goatee and looks the left of the camera. The image is hazy at the corners and along the bottom. The background is darker near the man's head. The image shows the man from the chest up in three-quarter view. The photo is adhered via glue to a piece of cardstock the same size as the photo.

Pastor Jarrett Edwards commissioned the Gothic style building at 8th and Towne Avenue.

Praise and Worship

The Church developed a mass choir with musicians, a cadre of dedicated ushers and altar boys, and dutiful acolytes. It also played a major role in the social, political, and spiritual lives of African Americans in Los Angeles. Its activist ministry promoted civil rights and community development while its congregation of many leading residents embodied the aspirations of those who had come West seeking freedom and opportunity.

Leadership and Visibility

Photograph of FAME Church of Los Angeles cornerstone laying ceremony

First AME church cornerstone laying ceremony, 1968

A chair made from dark brown wood featuring yellow back and seat cushions. Three crosses are engraved at the top of the chair. The back of the chair is consistent in design with the church archway, podium, and windows.

Pastor’s chair from the First African Methodist Episcopal Church of Los Angeles, ca. 1969

Black and white image of two (2) rows of women. The front row includes seven (7) seated women. The row behind includes fourteen (14) women standing. The women wear a variety of dresses in different styles. Many of the dresses are patterned or with floral prints. One woman wears a hat and stands fifth from the right in the back row. The women are all in a large interior space. On the reverse are a variety of marks. One large angular mark takes up a large portion of the back from the upper right corner to the lower left corner and down to the lower right corner. Along the top half of the back is the image caption with additional numbers and notes. [Ushers for FAMEs 100th Anniversary / Sent" / "Church / 7-28-77 / 4Cals/Hostesses]. In the lower right corner are two (2) stamps with the photographer information and the date [PLEASE CREDIT PHOTO / BY / HARRY H. ADAMS / 4300 SO. CENTRAL AVE. / LOS ANGELES, CALIF. 90011/235-2742 / JUN 1977].

A group of ushers during the 100th Anniversary of the First African Methodist Episcopal Church of Los Angeles

In 1968, members of the First African Methodist Episcopal Church of Los Angeles (FAME) gathered to lay the cornerstone for their new building at South Harvard Boulevard. Present at the ceremony was FAME member and architect Paul R. Williams (1894–1980), who had designed the building in 1963. The congregation moved into the Late Modern style structure in 1969 and celebrated its 100th anniversary at that location. South Harvard Boulevard is the present-day home of the Church, where pastors and congregants have advocated for political representation, economic development, and social justice. Through their ties with organizations like the NAACP, community leaders who are members of FAME have engaged the Church in social activism and have empowered the African American community in Los Angeles. These Civil Rights activities have established FAME as a highly visible forum to discuss local and national issues and a critical stop on the campaign trail for candidates seeking support.

Photograph of FAME Church of Los Angeles cornerstone laying ceremony

First AME church cornerstone laying ceremony, 1968

A chair made from dark brown wood featuring yellow back and seat cushions. Three crosses are engraved at the top of the chair. The back of the chair is consistent in design with the church archway, podium, and windows.

Pastor’s chair from the First African Methodist Episcopal Church of Los Angeles, ca. 1969

Black and white image of two (2) rows of women. The front row includes seven (7) seated women. The row behind includes fourteen (14) women standing. The women wear a variety of dresses in different styles. Many of the dresses are patterned or with floral prints. One woman wears a hat and stands fifth from the right in the back row. The women are all in a large interior space. On the reverse are a variety of marks. One large angular mark takes up a large portion of the back from the upper right corner to the lower left corner and down to the lower right corner. Along the top half of the back is the image caption with additional numbers and notes. [Ushers for FAMEs 100th Anniversary / Sent" / "Church / 7-28-77 / 4Cals/Hostesses]. In the lower right corner are two (2) stamps with the photographer information and the date [PLEASE CREDIT PHOTO / BY / HARRY H. ADAMS / 4300 SO. CENTRAL AVE. / LOS ANGELES, CALIF. 90011/235-2742 / JUN 1977].

A group of ushers during the 100th Anniversary of the First African Methodist Episcopal Church of Los Angeles