WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - Wilmington is home to many locations and people who have shaped black history in the community. One of those places is St. Stephen AME Church on the corner of N. 5th Avenue and Red Cross Street.
St. Stephen was founded in 1865. Originally, St. Stephen was part of what was then Front St. Methodist Church.
After the end of the Civil War, African American members of the Front St. Methodist Church wanted to have the black Chaplain of the Union Army preach a sermon, but they were denied by white members of the church.
As a result, they were withdrawn from that congregation and they established St. Stephen.
The church itself was built by former slaves and free black artisans.
The church historian, Cynthia Brown, says St. Stephen represents black craftsmanship during that period.
Brown also says that the church represents freedom of religion and speech.
"The congregants left a congregation where they could not worship freely and they were able to start their own congregation where they could worship freely and could have a person of color preach to them," Brown said.
Since the beginning of the churches history, Brown says it has served as a center for civic, social, health, economic and religious activity for the community.
They have hosted numbers of conferences and workshops and national and international guests have come to speak to the public at St. Stephen.
One of the most notable people who has visited the church was President Taft. In 1909 he came Wilmington to speak to the community from the steps of St. Stephen.
Today the church continues it's tradition of working with the community on civic, social, health and economic issues. Now they work with the NAACP and local philanthropic groups to have more of reach out in the community.
Brown said one of the most common misconceptions about the church today is that they are a church specifically for black people. However they are open for worship to everyone.
"Often times people here the name AME and they think that we are a church that was established only for black people and that is not true," Brown said. "We were established by people of color, in Philadelphia, long before St. Stephen was established. But we are open for worship to all."