The Mother African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, built in 1923-25, is the sixth home of New York City’s first black congregation and the founding church of the A.M.E. Zion Conference of churches, which spread throughout the United States and Canada.
Established in 1796, under the leadership of James Varick, Mother Zion has a long and illustrious history of religious and social activism. In the nineteenth century, the A.M.E. Zion conference was popularly known as the “Freedom Church” because of its important role in the abolitionist movement; many conference churches, including Mother Zion, served as stations on the Underground Railroad. The movement of the Mother Zion congregation northward, beginning in lower Manhattan, to the present location in Harlem, reflects the residential patterns of New York City’s black population.
At the time the present church was constructed, Harlem contained the majority of New York’s black residents. A distinguished composition in the neo-Gothic style, reflecting the tradition of Protestant church design in the 1920s, the church building was designed by George W. Foster, Jr., one of the first black architects to be registered in the United States. During the twentieth-century leadership of Pastor James W. Brown and his successor, Dr. Benjamin C. Robeson, Mother Zion rose to even greater prominence as a religious and social institution.
Robeson’s civil rights crusade attracted such notable Harlem residents as Langston Hughes and W.E.B. DuBois, and the Zion pulpit was often a platform for the social and political activism of Robeson’s brother, Paul Robeson. Mother Zion has continued its almost two-hundred year tradition of service to its congregation and community, not only addressing the spiritual needs of its members but also providing an array of social programs.
STATUS Designated Individual Landmark
“I don’t know what the City would be without HDC. [They] testified before LPC time after time and helped us focus on the right issues. We would not be an historic district without HDC! ”
Doreen Gallo: DUMBO Neighborhood Alliance
“Use HDC as a resource because they know what they are doing and can offer advice on how to go about creating a district from every front: architectural, political, LPC, and the media. I had floundered prior to my involvement with this invaluable organization.”
Fern Luskin: Lamartine Place Historic District; Friends of Lamartine Place & Gibbons Underground Railroad Site
“HDC provided guidance and shared information during that process—we knew which Council members were going one way or another and we changed a few minds. I don’t think NoHo would have had as cohesive a district had it not been for HDC’s aid.”
Zella Jones: NoHo Historic District; NoHo East; and NoHo Extension
“I remember Richard saying at a meeting, we have someone here from HDC, Nadezhda Williams, Director of Preservation and Research, to help us. She said to us, ‘You are not the only ones going through this.’ HDC included us in an enormous community”
Erika Petersen: West End Preservation Society