This history of Hopkins Chapel AME Zion Comes from the “Power of a Living Faith” celebration in 2001
Hopkins Chapel A. M. E. Zion Church 1868-2013
In 1868, a few years after the Emancipation, the Negro communicants of Central United Methodist Church decided to withdraw from the membership of that church and establish a Temple of Worship among members of their own race, faith and denomination.
This action took place after Rev. Tillery, a Negro minister, came to Asheville. He asked the pastor of Central United Methodist Church for permission to preach to the Negro members of his congregation. He was refused this request and told if he wanted to preach to the Negro members of Central Church, he would have to do so in an edifice of his own. He further stated that if the Negroes of his congregation wished to be released as members of that church, they could go.
Remembering the unkindness suffered at the hands of members of this church, it is understandable why the black men and women took such decisive action. They no longer could endure having to receive Holy Communion in the galleries and extreme back pews, to which they had been relegated, after the white members had received the Lord’s Supper at the Holy Table. They found intolerable the fact that Sunday School lessons were taught to their children by white girls on back pews at the rear of the church or on benches arranged outside the church building. When a Negro felt moved by God to join the church, he was not allowed to do so until after a white joiner had been received and returned to his seat. Thus, the timely coming of the Reverend Tillery gave the black members of Central Methodist Church an incentive to leave, for which they had perhaps yearned but had not had the opportunity to do so.
Having reached the decision, the Negro members began to formulate plans. At the foot of Beaucatcher Mountain, a brush arbor was constructed. During the week following the refusal of the white minister to allow the Negro preacher in his pulpit, every Negro member was contacted by the strong leaders of the group and were instructed to meet the following Sunday in front of the Central Methodist Church. This they did. Toward Beaucatcher Mountain they started, singing as they marched. Indeed, this became the first “protest” march for human dignity in the city of Asheville. It is not known which songs they sang, but memory takes us back to the old songs of our grandparents. Such songs as “Were Marching To Zion” and “Children of the Heavenly King were probably sung. It was remembered that Brother John Whitson, who was one of the leaders of that singing band, said that that day should stand forever as a memorial of the throwing off of the restraints that bound the black men and women of Central Methodist Church to what they considered a stinted religion. With excelling heights of joy and gladness, they prayed, shouted and sang all the day.
Later, other preachers came. The brush arbor proved inadequate for the rainy and cold days. With the coming of Reverend Hopkins, the group rented a white pine schoolhouse situated on the corner of Clemmons and Pine Streets. The teacher at the school was Harriet Burton, aunt of Minnie Latta Woodside. A society called the White Pine Society, headed by Perry Woodside, father of Minnie Latta Woodside, was formed. Both the church and the society flourished for a while.
The church membership then bought property on Haywood and Montford Avenues. The white residents of that neighborhood strenuously objected to this move. Subsequently, a white man by the name of Thomas J. Lenoir desiring the property agreed to an exchange for the present site – College and Pine Streets – along with an additional sum of two hundred dollars. A temporary shack was built on the present site and was later replaced by a weather-boarded structure. A more desirable location for the erection of the small but beautiful church could not have been chosen. The property faced north toward College Street and was sided by sloping hills of Pine Street. It was named Hopkins Chapel in honor of the first pastor of the new congregation. The original trustees were Wesley Mills, Perry Miller, Tecumseh Twitty, Nelson Erwin. Willie Lewis, Mitchell Whitaker and Julius Ragland.
Between the years of 1893 and 1898, the Reverend Fred M. Jacobs was the pastor. He lived at the home of Brother McDuffie Erwin, the chairman of the trustee board, at 41 Pine Street, until the first parsonage was constructed. The Reverend Jacobs also taught the primary grades of school at the church. Among his pupils were Willie Walls (later he became Bishop Walls), Pearl Crump Jordan, Sarah Murray and Augusta Kearney.
During the year of 1907, the group suffered a great setback. The beautiful little church, built by the hands of ex-slaves, burned. The Reverend Charles S. Finney was the pastor during that time. The congregation then worshipped at the Young Men’s Institute (now the YMI Cultural Center) auditorium located at the corner of Eagle and Market Streets until the basement of the present church was completed, during the pastorate of the Reverend S. J. W. Spurgeon. The Zionites obtained architect Richard Sharp Smith, supervising architect for the Biltmore House to design the new church and Brother James V. Miller, noted African-American Builder and father of Dr. L. 0. Miller, as the contractor. In 1910, the entire structure was completed and dedicated to the glory of God. Among the trustees during the reconstruction of Hopkins Chapel were Noah Murray, Thomas McDonald, Jerry McDowell, Dr. J. W. Walker, Soloman Evans, Walter Cline, Dr. J. W. Trent, Caleb Martin and W. P. Brooks.
The years, which followed, witnessed continual growth. It is recalled by many that on Sunday mornings, the five hundred seat capacity sanctuary would many times be insufficient for all of the worshippers who came.
During the bleak years of the depression of 1930′s, the Reverend R. L. Jones, who later became Senior Bishop, served the congregation. Prior to his coming, a mortgage was secured in order to make necessary additions to the church. With the support of faithful trustees and loyal members, many sacrifices were made by both pastor and members in order to keep operations moving until better days. After nine years of service, the Reverend Jones transferred to Broadway Temple Church, Louisville, Kentucky, from which he was elected to the Bishopric in 1948. With the coming of the Reverend Babington-Johnson and the passing of the depression, the $3,000 mortgage had been reduced to $1100.00 and was liquidated in a short while.
During the pastorate of the Reverend George Smith, one of the finest parsonages in all Zion Methodism was erected at a cost of $15,000.
The Reverend J. David Armstrong will be remembered for his outstanding leadership, unparalleled services and notable achievements made to the church and community. Under his leadership, our fellowship hall was renovated at a cost of $38,000.00.
Under the leadership of the Rev. James F. Wills, our Centralized Budget System was begun. The members of the committee who helped develop the system were Alfred J. Whitesides, Jr., Jane Horton and Eula Shaw. This system still functions as our financial. system. During the pastorate of Rev. J. A. McDougald, money, which had been bequeathed by Mrs. Minnie Wilson, a seamstress and one of the earliest generous benefactors, was used to renovate the windows and roof of the church.
The Rev. Johnson K. Asibuo added to the spiritual growth of the church with the inception of the Youth Sermonette. Reverend Herbert Grant assumed the pastorate in 1992. Under his leadership, the congregation celebrated the church’s 125th Anniversary with a re-enactment of its great “protest march.” On Sunday, August 15, 1993, at 9:30 A.M, Rev. Grant, flag bearers, marshals. members and friends carrying the church banner led the second march from Central United Methodist Church to Hopkins Chapel. The Sunday morning speaker was Dr. James David Armstrong, a former pastor of Hopkins. He spoke on “Why I Love Jesus.”
Less than two years later, January 1, 1995, Hopkins Chapel was closed to religious services because of water infiltration that damaged the roof, structure and foundation of the building. Like our forefathers who had to find a place to worship after the fire in 1907, the congregation once again worshipped at YMI Cultural Center. Under the leadership of Rev. Herbert Grant and the trustees, the congregation remained together. They continued to pray and raise money to restore this place of worship. After six years, the downstairs, which includes the fellowship hail, classrooms and the pastor’s office, was completed and on September 23, 2001, service was once again held in our beloved church. The Restoration Committee! Trustee Board during the restoration included the following: Richard Shaw, Attorney Terry Young, James E. Harrison, Sheila Fleming, Gladys Forney, Dr. John Holt, Cecil Holt, Dr. Erby Oglesby, Hazel Isaac, Eula Shaw, Nora Valentine. Rubye Young and William Young. Richard Shaw served as Project Manager of the Restoration Project. The Steitler Construction Company and engineer William Wescott, PE are the team that restored the basement of the church.
The next goal is to obtain funds to restore the sanctuary. No date is set for its completion, but God has been with us and He will continue to lead and guide us through the remainder of the restoration work.
To recall the past one hundred and thirty-three years inevitably brings to mind the hundreds of faithful individuals, both pastors and laymen, who have sojourned through the tears and joys of our glorious past. The record shows the many and Lastingly valuable additions, both material and spiritual, that have been made by the thirty-nine pastors who proclaimed the gospel and labored faithfully.
During the year 1887, the family of William J. Walls moved to Asheville from Rutherford County, North Carolina. He attended Hopkins Chapel Kindergarten and primary grades. He later attended Allen Industrial Home School of the Methodist Episcopal Church which later became the Allen High School for Girls and was located next door to the church. As he grew older. William Walls felt the call to preach the gospel during the time he and his family were members of Hopkins Chapel. In September of 1899, during the pastorate of the Reverend W. B. Fenderson, he preached his trial sermon. The Reverend Fenderson helped him raise funds for his first tuition to Livingstone College, where he graduated valedictorian of his class and also of Hood Theological Seminary in 1908 and 1913 respectively. He served as editor of the Star of Zion from 1920 to 1924, and was elected bishop at Indianapolis, Indiana, May 16, 1924. After forty-four productive years of constructive and inspiring leadership to the church, he retired May 1968 at Detroit, Michigan, having served his last four years as Presiding Bishop over the Blue Ridge Conference, his home conference.
Three of the pastors who served Hopkins Chapel were elected to the bishopric. They were Bishop Frederick M. Jacobs, 1928-31; Bishop Elijah L. Madison, 1936-46; and Bishop Raymond Luther Jones, 1948-72.
The following is a list of the pastors who have served Hopkins Chapel A. M. E. Zion Church: Reverends Hopkins. A. G. Kessler, Archie S. Monroe, Frederick M. Jacobs, George L. White, J. W. Wright, W. B. Fenderson, Charles S. Smith, W. J. Sides, George W. Maize I, E. P. Mayo, J. W. Murray. Charles S. Finney, Elijah L. Madison, W. G. Holland, M. D. Smith, P. K. Fonville. S. J. W. Spurgeon. D. E. Thompson, S. J. Howie, R. A. Morrisey, R. T. Hunter, William Bascomb. H. P. Langford, Raymond L Jones, F. Thomas Roberts, J. A. Babington-Johnson, Henry D. Tillmann, George L Smith, Percy Smith Jr., Alfonzo F. Johnson, James David Armstron. Leroy Bennett, R. Lorenzo Newby, Frank Brown, James F. Wills, J. A. McDougald, J. K Asibuo, Herbert Grant, Ronald Pollard, Samuel O. Richardson, and our current pastor Keith L. Lipsey, has served this congregation since May 2009.
Our church has produced many prominent members including the late Dr. J. W. Walker, eminent tuberculosis specialist, the late Dr. W. J. Trent, former president of Livingstone College, Floyd B. McKissick, National Director of Core, Dr. Albert Manley, President of Spelman College. the Reverend E. R. Michael, pastor of Wesley Chapel A. M.E. Zion Church, Philadelphia. Pa.. Reverend G. W. Maize, H, pastor in the Alabama Conference and Mrs. Lucy S. Herring an educator and author.
We thank God for Hopkins Chapel yesterday, today and tomorrow. We dedicate ourselves to the task of perpetuating our heritage of spiritual enrichment and general expansion. We seek Divine guidance and will continue to serve God and the Asheville community.