Cumberland's African Methodist Episcopal Church stands today as one of Maryland's earliest examples of a free black church. In 19th century pre-Civil War America, prominent free blacks like Frederick Douglass and white abolitionists began calling for the end of slavery and the integration of African Americans into general society. Simultaneously, many other free blacks (over 500,000) were creating their own institutions as a social defense against a largely hostile white population. Free blacks throughout the northern states formed supportive associations for aiding the poorest members of society, for self-improvement, and for socializing. The major free black community organization was the "black Baptist" or African Methodist Episcopal Church. The AME church in the North served as a place of worship, a social and cultural center, a political meeting place, a hiding place for fugitives, a training ground for potential community leaders, and one of the few places where free blacks could express their true feelings.
African Methodist Episcopal Church
Photograph by Kathleen McKenney, courtesy of the City of Cumberland
African Methodist Episcopal Church as represented in a 1906 map of Cumberland
Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division, G3844.C9A3 1906 .F6
Free blacks in Cumberland were no different than their counterparts in other large and growing Northern cities, and in 1847, after worshiping for years from the balcony of Cumberland's Methodist Episcopal Centre Street Church, a group of free blacks decided to leave the predominantly white congregation and organize their own church. The new congregation held services in its new building just a year later. Rebuilt to fit the growing congregation in 1871 and 1875, the Cumberland AME Church constructed their present building in 1891 in the "Methodist tradition" with the sanctuary on the second floor, and the Sunday school class rooms situated on the ground floor. A relatively substantial and decorated building, the Cumberland AME church reflects the growth and success of Cumberland's 19th-century African American community.
The Cumberland African Methodist Episcopal Church is located at the corner of Decatur and Frederick Sts. Tours are available by appointment only by calling 301-759-3419.