Last updated: April 13, 2022
Built in 1891, the Thompson Memorial African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church in Auburn stands as a testament to Harriet Tubman’s legacy. This was the location that Harriet Tubman would worship in and is where Harriet Tubman would be buried from in 1913. For years, the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church (A.M.E. Zion) was involved in the Anti-Slavery movement. Several members of the congregation worked as Underground Railroad activists, as did countless other A.M.E. Zion congregations throughout the country. Churches would be important locations for freedom seekers, often represented as “stations” on the Underground Railroad.
The National Register for Historic Landmarks listed the Thompson Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church in 1974. The Thompson Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church congregation would continue to use the building for worship for over 100 years, from 1891 until finally moving to a new location in 1993. The original building would go largely unused after 1993 by the Church and would be acquired by the National Park Service in 2017. In the same year, the National Park Service began stabilizing efforts to protect the property. Restoration efforts are underway for the building since 2017, and once completed visitors will be able to view the Thompson Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church building as it appeared in 1913 during Harriet Tubman’s funeral.
The African Methodist Episcopal congregation of Auburn, first established in 1838, had originally met in the homes of various members. On August 24, 1846, at the home of one of the members of the congregation, the church would reincorporate as “The African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church of Auburn,” adding the “Zion” to the name of the church.
As the congregation in Auburn grew, so did the need for a building, and fundraising efforts would begin. The church cost more than originally expected, and at first the community struggled to raise enough funds to erect a sanctuary. At last, in 1891, the A.M.E. Zion Church of Auburn would raise enough money for their new building, including a pledge of $500 from Harriet Tubman. During the cornerstone laying ceremony, the Church renamed itself “Thompson Memorial African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church” to commemorate Joseph P. Thompson, an early pastor in the Church who had since become a bishop. Harriet Tubman added a single item inside the cornerstone, which is still there today, a coin with the profile of her good friend, John Brown.