Each February, Black History Month is celebrated throughout the United States as a way to remember the amazing contributions and achievements of black Americans and other people of African descent throughout history.
Throughout February, we are celebrating the groundbreaking achievements of black Americans in the Arkansas United Methodist Church.
Our final week of Black History Month celebrates not a person but a place: Wesley Chapel United Methodist Church in Little Rock, Arkansas.
Wesley Chapel United Methodist Church is the oldest black Methodist church in Arkansas and sits on the campus of Philander Smith College, which happens to be the home of the Arkansas Conference of The United Methodist Church staff offices as well.
Wesley’s history dates back to 1853, when the black members of the Cherry Street Methodist Church, a combined white and black membership church in Little Rock, erected a new church near Eighth and Broadway in Little Rock. They named this new church Wesley Chapel.
After Emancipation, the Rev. William Wallace Andrew, the first pastor of Wesley Chapel, helped to move the church out of the Methodist Church, South and into the Methodist Episcopal Church. The church also joined the Missouri Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church at that time.
A long history of church restructuring happened throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but in 1927, the present structure where Wesley Chapel sits today was constructed.
In 1968, the church became a part of the Southwest Conference of The United Methodist Church and changed its name to Wesley Chapel UMC.
Although the church sits on the campus of Philander Smith College, and has been at its current location since the early 20th century, many people may not be aware that Philander Smith College began as a school inside the walls of the church.
In 1863, a school for the children of freedmen was organized in Wesley Chapel by Rev. Andrews, and in 1867, Philander Smith College was organized in Wesley Chapel. The school was called Walden Seminary during the early days of its existence.
The Rev. Ronnie L. Miller-Yow, Dean of Religious Life and Campus Culture for Philander, has served as pastor at Wesley Chapel since 2003.
We celebrate the contributions of black Americans every year in February, but the immeasurable improvements to our society that black Americans have gifted the world should be honored each and every day.
We hope you have enjoyed this five-part series, and have learned something from these articles. Please continue to send us the names and pictures of historically important Arkansas black Methodists to firstname.lastname@example.org.
All information taken from Wesley Chapel’s website, wesleychapelumclr.org/history/. For more information, please visit their site.