Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, established 1864, was the first African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E. church) in the state of Mississippi and the site for T.W. Stringer Grand Lodge of Freemasonry for the State of Mississippi in Vicksburg founded by Rev. T.W. Stinger in 1867, as well as a sanctuary for Prince Hall Masons. The church is located at 805 Monroe Street in Vicksburg, Mississippi, at the corner of Monroe and First East streets. While the building that houses the church was built in 1828, a demolition took place in 1912 to build the present building. The most famous of the church’s early pastors was Rev. Hiram Revels who in 1870 became the first Black U.S. Senator in the history of the United States, oath of office February 25, 1870, and first president of Alcorn University.
Bethel AME Church was first organized and founded by Rev. Page Tyler, a missionary from Missouri. As the congregation grew, in 1868 the current church property was purchased at a cost of $28,000 from a white Presbyterian congregation that had built the church on this site in 1828.
At one point the congregation, then led by Rev. W.L. Anderson, met in a small chapel in the rear of a three-story hall in the rear of the church that became the campus of Campbell College. At that point the congregation numbered 550 parishioners.
Over time the congregation decreased due in part to the passing of its members. Nonetheless, the church community exhibited a strong desire to ensure the history of the church is preserved and continued to be shared. To that end, the city of Vicksburg and the state of Mississippi supported the successful effort to add the church to the National Register of Historic Places in the United States of America. On July 30, 1992 Bethel AME Church was added to the Register.
The Bethel AME congregation is currently led by Pastor Arnita Spencer who continues to share the message of God’s love and the historical accomplishments, as well as services offered by the church. The celebrations that continue to take place at the church highlight the various achievements that its members have made over time as the first AME congregation in the state of Mississippi. A notable member is Dr. Isaiah Thornton Montgomery, the only African American member of the Mississippi Constitutional Convention of 1890, also the leader for founding the town Mound Bayou an all-African American town in 1887 and Campbell College. John Lynch, another notable member, was the first African American Congressman from Mississippi. L.J. Bowman, Alcorn State University President, was a notable member of Bethel A.M.E. William H. Jefferson, co-founder with wife, of Jefferson Funeral Home, Mississippi’s oldest-black owned business and oldest registered black funeral home were members of Bethel A.M.E and Lucy C. Jefferson, William Jefferson’s wife, a prominent woman who invited Booker T. Washington to come to the state and organize the Mississippi Federation of Colored Women’s Club, as well as founded wit in 1894.