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Wesley A.M.E. Zion Church is a leading African-American church in Philadelphia founded in 1820. Its nickname is "Big Wesley" for the significant role it has played in improving the lives of the city's black residents throughout its history, from hosting anti-slavery meetings in the 1800s, to actively supporting the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s, and to fighting for social justice and economic equality today. Wesley belongs to the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, which is a Christian denomination established in 1821 (Wesley was originally called the First Colored Wesley Methodist Church of Philadelphia before changing its name to its current one in 1821). Architecturally, the church is an imposing Gothic stone structure built in 1926. It features a corner bell tower and several stained glass windows with tracery including a large one above the three main entrance doorways. Wesley was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978.

Wesley A.M.E. Zion Church was built in 1926 and is home to a congregation established in 1820. It is often called "Big Wesley" for its history of social activism.

Sky, Wheel, Building, Car

In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, more and more African Americans were joining Methodist churches. However, they often faced discrimination and were sometimes barred from attending worship services. As a result, many established their own Methodist congregations. Here in Philadelphia, in 1816 African American minister Richard Allen, who founded Mother Bethel A.M.E. Church in 1794, established the African Methodist Episcopal Church as an independent Methodist denomination (Mother Bethel is the oldest A.M.E. church in the country). He was also elected as its first bishop.

In 1820, a group of around 30 disaffected members from Mother Bethel decided to form their own congregation. After worshipping in three locations over the next six weeks, they bought a former carpenter shed and met there during the construction of their church. It was finished in 1821 and they remained there until 1821 when they acquired an existing brick church. The present church was built in 1926. As noted above, in 1821 Wesley joined the A.M.E. Zion denomination in 1821 with a group of five other churches. The denomination grew significantly over the coming decades, rising to nearly 350,000 by 1896.

Wesley has a long history of helping the community and supporting social causes. During the Great Depression, Wesley struggled financially but managed to provide services to poor residents in the area. One example of note is its success in providing food to 34,000 people in the winter of 1932-1933. It also gave shoes and clothing, owned a nearby apartment building where people could live for free, and paid health insurance premiums. In 1952, Wesley, which was led by Rev. Alfred G. Dunston at the time, led a campaign to boycott certain businesses in the city. As a result, those businesses were forced to hire black residents for higher paying jobs. Wesley also provided funds to support the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which lasted from December 5, 1955 to December 20, 1956. In the early 1960s, Rev. Dunston and other pastors started a job training program for black residents called the Opportunities Industrialization Center.

Edmonds, Arlene. "Wesley African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church celebrates 195th anniversary." The Philadelphia Tribune. June 12, 2015.

Heisler, John W. "Wesley A.M.E. Zion Church." National Park Service - National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form. December 01, 1978.

"Wesley A.M.E. Zion Church." The Historical Marker Database. Accessed December 20, 2022.

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