Saint Paul’s African Methodist Episcopal Church

LOCATION:  506 East Harrison Avenue, Tampa, FL 33602

CLIENT:  Brush Harbor Mission / Rev. Thomas Warren Long

ARCHITECT:  Unknown

BUILT:  1913

SIZE:  15,000 square fee

PHOTO CREDITS:  Richard Headland, AIA

 

The African Methodist Episcopal Church was born in protest against slavery – against dehumanization of African people, brought to the American continent as labor. In 1870 the Rev. Thomas Warren Long hiked 50 miles from Brooksville through treacherous swamps and thick woods. His mission: Organize an AME church in Tampa, as he had in other locations throughout the state. He called it Brush Harbor Mission. Two years later the mission built a small church on Marion Street and called it Mount Moriah AME. The church eventually got a new name – St. Paul – and a new location at the corner of Harrison and Marion. St. Paul’s African Methodist Episcopal is the oldest church settled by blacks in Tampa.

The congregation broke ground in 1906 and finished the red brick Gothic Revival-style building in 1913. With its prominent location, a 1,500-seat sanctuary and a spacious meeting area, St. Paul was a gathering place for Tampa’s black residents. During the years of segregation, it was a safe haven where members and guests felt acceptance and unity, bonded by their color and their faith. St. Paul wasn’t just for worship; it was the social hub, where congregants donned their Sunday best on the Sabbath for daylong activities, from Bible study to potluck suppers.

The church is steeped in Tampa history and has been the corner stone of black politics and civil rights. It was to the go-to for the city’s celebrity visitors: performer Paul Robeson, President Clinton, singer Ray Charles, activist Jesse Jackson, NAACP president Benjamin Hooks, Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.

The restored St. Paul A.M.E. Church now serves as the 15,000 square foot “life center” for 120 affordable workforce apartment homes. The sanctuary’s cultural and community significance is the heart of Metro 510 where ‘Knowledge’ is the theme of the computer lab,  ‘Energy’ heralds the fitness area, and ‘Fun’ defines the sanctuary, now dedicated to children’s play. The restored and backlit stain glass windows celebrate the spirit of civic responsibility by satisfying the City of Tampa’s public art requirement for new construction projects.