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St. Paul was originally at the south end of Lincolnville

St. Paul was originally at the south end of Lincolnville. The Willie Galimore Community Center now sprawls over the old church grounds.

A Humble Beginning

It was during federal Reconstruction of the Confederate South when Richard James received his spiritual call. He and his son built a wooden twelve-foot building at the end of Riberia Street and invited people to church. The group worshipped there for fifteen years. As they grew, they built an addition to their tiny building. At the same time, the booming development of Florida attracted many black laborers, further swelling their membership.

Flagler-Era Boom and Bust

In 1888, as the palatial Flagler hotels and churches changed the face of old St. Augustine, a local Building and Loan Association convinced the St. Paul congregation to join the facelift. The congregation agreed to a mortgage, and the developer built them an attractive masonry church on School Street closer to downtown. The costs totaled $3,000. Payments were due quarterly.

St. Paul enjoyed their new church for another fifteen years. Meanwhile, the AMEC marched into Florida's old south politics. In his book, Laborers in the Vineyard of the Lord, Larry Eugene Rivers says the AMEC "proved itself the single most effective organizational force for Florida's black residents." In fact, according to Rivers, the organization "had demonstrated its capability to rock Florida's political balance of power," and "nearly had succeeded in seizing control of the state's government."

Despite the successes of the AMEC, mainstream America would take another half-century to understand the meaning of "freedom." Southern entrepreneurs clung to ridiculous Jim Crowe laws for cheap labor, while outspoken blacks demanded equality. As a result, Florida became one of the most lynch-prone states. Already struggling to hold jobs, many black laborers found themselves unemployed when the freeze of 1895 wiped out the farms they worked for. At St. Paul, the spirits and finances of the congregation tumbled. They began to default on the building loan. In 1903, the developer evicted the congregation during Sunday school and locked the building. It was later taken down and a house now stands on the site.

Birth of the Current Building

Door to the New St. Paul A.M.E.

Door to the New St. Paul A.M.E.

For several months, the more dedicated members of the congregation continued to worship in various locations around town. A local black leader provided the spark for revival. In January 1904, county commissioner William Van Dyke, St. Johns County's first elected black official, sold the St. Paul group a lot on St. Benedict Street for $1,000. An old wood frame building on the lot provided a makeshift meeting place.

St. Paul's Reverend E.F. Williams immediately led a drive to construct a new building that was debt-free. He designed a church he felt would best serve and represent his congregation. At the ground-breaking ceremony Reverend Williams prayed, "Upon this spot God's Church is built and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." Members and supporters donated time, labor and money. In eight months, they erected the attractive brick church St. Paul's A.M.E. has now called home for over a century.

In 2004, St. Paul's 200 active members celebrated the 100th anniversary of this building. That centennial anniversary qualified it to be one of the stops on St. Augustine's annual House of Worship walking tour, which is sponsored by Grace United Methodist Church.


 
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