Place

Shaffer's Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church

a one‐story, rectangular, front gable building on  a street corner
Shaffer's Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church

Photograph by Mary McCormick, Butte Historic Preservation Officer1

Quick Facts
On the corner of South Idaho and Platinum Avenue sits the historic 116‐year old Shaffer’s Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church, a cornerstone and conduit for African American life in Butte and beyond for over five decades. The church was a locus for political activism, benevolent work, and educational outreach in the south‐central Butte community of Emma that soon influenced other communities in Anaconda, Helena, Missoula, Bozeman, and Great Falls. The A.M.E. Church’s story is integral to the history of Butte, African American history throughout Montana, and inextricably linked to the early history of Civil Rights in the United States.  

The building historically known as Shaffer’s Chapel A.M.E. Church is the only remaining church in Butte that once hosted an all‐black congregation, and was one of the only public centers of the African American community during the twentieth century. In addition, Shaffer’s Chapel A.M.E. Church is one of only 31 extant buildings out of 103 original structures identified as having significance to the history of African Americans in Butte. The community now associated with the building is no longer African American.  

In 1892, an A.M.E. congregation built a church on the corner of South Idaho and Mercury in Butte, Montana. Within nine years, the congregation outgrew its location, and raised funds for a new church on the corner of South Idaho and Platinum in 1901. When the Shaffer’s Chapel A.M.E. Church of Butte, Montana, was dedicated on Sunday, August 31st 1902, it became an anchor for social and political action in the African American community, not only in Butte, but across Montana. The building served as a place to gather and shelter the community until the late 20th century when many in the African American community began to leave Montana.  

In Butte, both the A.M.E. and Baptist churches were pivotal institutions that ministered spiritually to their congregations, and also fostered groups that promoted social justice for the African American minority community. The pursuit of social justice proved important as several companies, including the Anaconda Copper Mining Company, barred African Americans from working in the underground Butte Mines until 1942, thus those men who worked in mining, did so on the edges of industry and society.

Women in Butte’s African American community founded their own clubs in the late 1910s, one of them being the Pearl Club.  The Pearl Club began in 1918 as the Pearl Unit, a group enlisted by the Red Cross to raise funds and resources for all ethnicities of American soldiers during WWI. The Pearl Unit was named after Dr. Frank C. Pearl, a Butte physician serving as a captain overseas. Disbanded by the Red Cross at the close of the war in 1919, the Pearl Unit became the Pearl Social Club, which spearheaded the effort to create the Montana Federation of Negro Women’s Clubs (MFNWC) two years later. The club’s main goal was the education and social “uplift” of African Americans in Montana’s cities. These organizations, as well as th National Association for the Advancement of Colored People regularly met in Shaffer’s Chapel A.M.E. Church. 

These women were powerhouses in their communities and across Montana. While advancing African American interests by such actions as contributing $30,000 to the “redempt[ion]” of the Frederick Douglas home in Anacostia, D.C., and actively lobbying for policy change concerning African Americans, including the mid‐20th century nation‐wide Civil Rights campaign, they locally fostered educational, medical, and art organizations that benefited all ethnicities of Butte’s populace. The Shaffer’s Chapel A.M.E. Church continued in its role of hosting many of these meetings where the advancement of civil rights for African Americans took place.

Last updated: December 13, 2018