Madison’s riverfront today.
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Madison, Indiana

African Methodist Episcopal Church

African Methodist Episcopal Church

African Methodist Episcopal Church
Courtesy of Larry Hunt

Built in 1850, the African Methodist Episcopal Church on East Fifth Street acted as a community gathering place in the heart of the African-American neighborhood called Georgetown. William Anderson, a freedom seeker who settled in Madison in 1836, and other active members of the Underground Railroad living in Georgetown originally attended services at a Methodist Church on Main Street. Once the congregation asked African American members to sit in the gallery instead of with the white parishioners, however, the church’s black members started their own Methodist Episcopal church on Walnut Street around 1840. A few years later, disturbed by the race-related violence occurring in Madison, church leaders asked members to stop participating in Underground Railroad activity. This led Anderson to start the African Methodist Episcopal Church on East Fifth Street.

The new congregation included noted Underground Railroad participants George DeBaptiste, Elijah Anderson, Griffin Booth, Joseph O’Neal, and David Lott. The building is a modest, one story, Greek Revival design with elongated windows along the side walls and two double doors with transoms and flat stone lintels on the facade. Its front gable meets with a thick brick course that follows the roofline, creating the illusion of a front pediment. A stone marker within the façade’s brick course reads “AME Church, Founded 1850.”

The AME Church housed more than just religious services. Before the Civil War, African Americans were not allowed to attend public schools in Madison. Thus, the church offered classes in its basement. The AME Church continued to be active until dwindling numbers forced the congregation to sell the building to Pilgrim Holiness Church, which used it from 1926-1943.

Historic Madison, Inc. purchased the building and returned the church to its historic appearance. The space now hosts African-American history programs and interprets the importance of Madison’s Georgetown neighborhood. The church contributes to the historic significance of the Madison Historic District, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and designated a National Historic Landmark.

Plan your visit

The African Methodist Episcopal Church is located at 309 E. Fifth St. in the Georgetown Neighborhood, which is part of the National Park Service National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom. Click here for the Network to Freedom page. Click here for the National Historic Landmark nomination file: text. The African Methodist Episcopal Church is owned by Historic Madison, Inc., and is open for special events and by appointment. For more information, visit the Historic Madison, Inc., website or contact HMI at 812-265-2967.

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