Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church
512 6th St SE, Cedar Rapids, Iowa
+41.97763, -91.6602041°58'39" N, 91°39'37" W
Quadrangle map:Cedar Rapids South
Bethel A.M.E. Church in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, is significant under Criterion A as the home since 1931 of the oldest historically black church in the city. Criterion Consideration A applies since the church derives its primary significance from its historical importance. In addition to its essential religious function, from its establishment in 1870 or 1871 Bethel's pastors and congregations also have encouraged civic duty, fostered racial pride, promoted the value of education, and worked to improve the general welfare of the always-small local population of African Americans. The church, which replaced an earlier mid-1870s frame edifice, provided a physical venue for its members to meet, socialize, and form a kinship of strength in the face oflocal prejudice, in addition to and as an integral part of the congregation's religious aspirations. All of this interaction enhanced community among local black residents and connected them to the greater family of African Americans in Iowa and beyond the state. Bethel continues to serve its members as a social and religious institution today, though there are now several other black churches in town and even while it faces mounting pressures to physically relocate. The Cedar Rapids church shares the trials and struggles common to the smallest of churches of all denominations, but it also reflects the historical burdens unique to black Americans. Organized by African Americans of southern origins who traveled north to adopt the separatist-oriented African Methodist Episcopal faith, the founders of Bethel in Cedar Rapids embraced a denomination with distinctly different goals than black churches with more southern origins. The church thus carries on traditions grounded in nineteenth-century free and freedpersons of the Northeast and transplanted to the upper Midwest by missionary African Americans. The period of significance runs from commencement of construction and placement in service in 1931 to the arbitrary 50-year term ofNational Register guidelines. The significant date of 1931 recognizes the ceremonial laying of the building's cornerstone and the building's placement into service.
- January 24, 2014: Added by Dave King