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In Honor Of Big Bethel African Methodist Episcopal (Ame) Church

Rep. John Lewis

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Madam Speaker, it is an honor that I am able to help celebrate the 160th Anniversary of Big Bethel African Methodist Episcopal, AME, Church in Atlanta. For 160 years, Big Bethel AME Church has been a leader in the Atlanta area and a cornerstone of the community. Big Bethel AME Church stands as one of the oldest and most successful churches in Atlanta, and continues its strong community work today. Big Bethel's anniversary, on October 21, 2007, is truly a day for celebration.

Big Bethel AME Church has a rich and remarkable history. After the Civil War ended slavery, Bethel Church joined the African Methodist Episcopal connection in 1865. The AME Church was founded by Richard Allen, a former slave who had purchased his freedom and started the AME Church partly in response to discrimination. Out of the AME church emerged schools, social welfare programs, character building campaigns and national leaders. Big Bethel AME Church was at the cutting edge of these programs and served as a platform for opportunity in the South, especially for African Americans. For example, in 1879, the Gate City Colored School, the first public school for African Americans in the city, was founded in the basement of Big Bethel. Big Bethel AME Church also played a key role in the early development and growth of Morris Brown College, with the college's first classes being held at the church. Throughout its history the pews of Big Bethel AME Church have held such eminent dignitaries as: Booker T. Washington (early 1900s), President William H. Taft (1911), Mary McLeod Bethune (1937), former Georgia governor and former President Jimmy Carter (1970), Nelson Mandela (1990), and, as a successful presidential candidate, William J. Clinton (1992).

Over the many years, trials and tribulations, successes and honors, Big Bethel AME Church has withstood the test of time. Big Bethel AME Church has been well served throughout its history by dedicated leaders, and active congregations. This tradition continues today under Reverend Gregory V. Eason, Sr., who I would like to recognize for his leadership in the community.

In conclusion, it is my belief that we must all dedicate ourselves to the idea of creating what Dr. Martin Luther King used to call the ``Beloved Community.'' Big Bethel AME Church in Atlanta has been building such a community for 160 years and I am excited for this community to grow and prosper for another 160 years and beyond.