Bethel AME Church provides insight into early Indianapolis history
The church steeple was a welcoming beacon for Underground Railroad passengers.
INDIANAPOLIS – If you’re looking for black history in downtown Indianapolis, you don’t have to go far. For me, it was a short trip down the Indianapolis Canal Boardwalk to a somewhat hidden gem that is part of my commute almost every day.
Bethel AME Church is a historic African Methodist Episcopal Church on Vermont Street. Its entrance gates are adjacent to the canal, which was built around the same time as the church. Organized in 1836, the history of Bethel AME is certainly etched in early Indianapolis history.
It is known as the church of the pioneering entrepreneur, Mrs. CJ Walker. But long before that, its steeple was a welcoming beacon for Underground Railroad passengers. The congregation housed freedom seekers traveling to and through Indianapolis fleeing slavery.
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So how did I miss this? Well, as tour guide Sampson Levingston pointed out, it’s a little hard to spot if you’re walking past it.
You will usually pass the church when traveling on nearby North West Street. However, the church is now surrounded on almost all sides by a Hampton Inn and Homewood Suites hotel.
The congregation itself has since moved decades ago. However, the exterior of Bethel AME Church is now preserved and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
It was just one stop on WTHR’s Black History Tour in Indianapolis. Tour guide Samuel Levingston led our anchor team around the city to introduce them to the many historic sites that have played a vital role in Indianapolis’ black community. Follow February to learn more about them. Click here to see the other stops on the tour.