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 1868-2021
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 occurred after the Reverend 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. Rev. Tillery 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. The Central Church pastor 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, the decisive action taken by the Black men and women congregants is understandable. They could no longer endure receiving 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 altar. They found it intolerable that their children were forced to attend Sunday School, taught by white girls, in the back 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 Rev. Tillery gave the Black members of Central Methodist Church an incentive to leave, for which they had perhaps yearned, but had not yet had the opportunity.
After reaching this 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 hymns of our grandparents, such as “We’re Marching To Zion” and “Children of the Heavenly King.” Brother John Whitson, who was one of the leaders of that singing band, said that day should stand forever as a memorial to the throwing off of the restraints that bound the Black men and women to what they considered the stinted congregation of Central Methodist Church. With joy and gladness, they prayed, shouted, and sang all day.
Finding Our Home on College and Pine Streets
The brush arbor proved inadequate for rainy and cold days. With the coming of the 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. The White Pine Society, headed by Perry Woodside, father of Minnie Latta Woodside, was formed. Both the church and the society flourished.
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 faces north toward College Street and is bordered by the sloping hills of Pine Street. The church building 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 served as 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. Rev. 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.
Setbacks and Growth
During the year of 1907, the congregation 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 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. O. 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, the Reverend R. L. Jones, who later became Senior Bishop, served the congregation. Prior to his arrival, 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, Rev. Jones transferred to Broadway Temple Church, Louisville, Kentucky, from which he was elected to the Bishopric in 1948. During the pastorship of the Reverend Babington-Johnson and the passing of the Depression, the $3,000 mortgage was reduced to $1,100 and 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.
Under the leadership of the Reverend James F. Wills, our Centralized Budget System began. The members of the committee who helped develop the system were Alfred J. Whitesides, Jr., Jane Horton, and Eula Shaw. This financial system is still used today. During the pastorate of Reverend J. A. McDougald, a bequest by Mrs. Minnie Wilson, a seamstress and one of our earliest generous benefactors, was used to renovate the windows and roof of the church.
The Reverend Johnson K. Asibuo added to the spiritual growth of the church with the inception of the Youth Sermonette. The 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, on 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 Hall, 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 included the following members: 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, restored the basement of the church.
Our 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 our one hundred and thirty-three year history 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. William 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, William preached his trial sermon. Rev. Fenderson helped him raise funds for his tuition at Livingstone College, where he graduated valedictorian of his class in 1908. The Reverend Walls graduated from Hood Theological Seminary in 1913. 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, Bishop Walls 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 are 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: The 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 Armstrong; Leroy Bennett; R. Lorenzo Newby; Frank Brown; James F. Wills; J. A. McDougald; J. K Asibuo; Herbert Grant; Ronald Pollard; and Samuel O. Richardson. 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, Pennsylvania; Reverend G. W. Maize, 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.