Indy’s 1st Black Church was also a Hub on The Underground Railroad

Indy’s 1st Black Church was also a Hub on The Underground Railroad

Bethel AME Church, which was the oldest African-American Church in Indianapolis, was founded in 1836 in an area that later became known as the “Mecca of Black Culture” in the city — The Historic Indiana Avenue.

Bethel AME, also known as “Indianapolis Station”, was founded in 1836 as a small log cabin house of worship. By 1848 the congregation had transitioned into a renovated building that held 100 people and became very involved in the abolitionist movement to end slavery.

The church began harboring slaves on The Underground Railroad, and became a major hub en route for them to reach freedom in Canada. With Indiana being the first free state slaves encountered after crossing North from Kentucky, Bethel AME grew to be one of the largest “Stations” on The Underground Railroad.

The notoriously racist community of Indianapolis did not take kindly when rumors of the church protecting slaves started to spread. These White Supremacists are believed to have burned down the church in 1862. The congregation was undaunted, and by 1867 had rebuilt the structure that then stood for over 150  years as one of the beacons in the Indianapolis Black Community.

In 2016, after an unsuccessful fundraising attempt to raise money for much needed renovations, the church was sold for hotel space. With it’s closing, the last remnant of the Historic Indiana Avenue disappeared from the city’s landscape.

The Black Indy History Series — celebrating Black History Month — covers historic Black Hoosiers & Events that shaped the Black Indianapolis Community, and beyond.