Congregants, community leaders and city officials gathered on Sunday to dedicate a historic marker honoring First American Methodist Episcopal Zion Church on Ellison Street as the oldest African-American religious institution in Passaic County.“I am honored to share at this dedication ceremony of your historic marker,” said Paterson Historic Preservation Commission Chairman Martin M. Feitlowitz.
“This was established as the first African religious institution in Paterson 180 years ago,” Feitlowitz added. “It was established as the first school for African American children, in 1855. And, because of the church’s original location on Godwin Street, being in proximity to Huntoon’s corner, it was likely the first to assist in the Underground Railroad. The installation of this historic marker announces, for all to see, the pride in all of your past accomplishments.”
The marker says the church was first established in 1834 and had been on Godwin Street for decades before the congregation erected a new house of worship on Ellison Street in 1911. The church was destroyed by fire in 1921 and was replaced in 1925 with a new structure, “which proudly stands here today,” says the marker.
Speaking of the church, the marker says, “It is associated with the free African-Americans that worked and worshipped in Paterson prior to the Civil War and experienced an often difficult life of segregated cultural, educational, and economic life in proximity to continued vestiges of slavery.”
Congregants who attended the ceremony spoke of the church’s role in their lives.
“This church is my family,” said Danielle Daniels, a 2002 graduate of Paterson Catholic High School.
Deanna Butler recalled first coming to the church when she was four years old. She had been brought by her grandmother, Adame Hunter, she said.
“I want to bring my children here, and my children’s children here,” said Hunter. “I want them to see this marker. I want them to see that this is part of history.”
Terrence Gilbert spoke of the impact the church has had upon both himself, and generations of family members. “My great-grandmother, and grandmother, came here,” Gibert stated. “They both passed away in the past few years.”
A.M.E. Zion’s pastor, the Rev. Douglas L. Maven, performed both of their funerals. “I first attended here in 1995 and joined the choir,” Gilbert said. “I have been a member ever since. It’s a good feeling. History is being made. I’m privileged to have a pastor I can go to. I can talk to him about anything.”
Source: NorthJersey.com | ED RUMLEY