As its name suggests, the First African Methodist Episcopal Church (FAMEC) was indeed the first of its denomination to open in Oakland. In fact, it was the first African-American church of any denomination to open in Oakland. The year was 1858, nine years after the gold rush brought hordes of new Americans to the area, seven years after Oakland was incorporated as a city of the United States, and seven years before slavery was finally abolished. When FAMEC opened in Oakland in 1858, there were approximately 5,000 African-Americans in California as a result of the gold rush. By 1870, the “non-extinguishable and stable source of income,” means to education and property ownership, and importantly, the dignity of what was viewed as a sophisticated and reputable career of the Pullman Porter, offered by the Pullman railroad company, led to the establishment of West Oakland as an “African American dreamscape.” The next major wave of African-Americans to California came as a result of WWII. As the defense industry boomed, they migrated in droves for offerings similar to that of the Pullman Porter career: a reliable source of income and sorely overdue dignity. In the 1940’s, the number of African-Americans living on the west coast increased by 33%.
The story of the African Methodist Episcopalian (AME) Church begins in 1787 when Richard Allen, Absalom Jones, and others established the Free African Society, the first black mutual aid society in (free) Philadelphia. Out of this society, these early African-American leaders developed the AME Church. Prior to the civil war, there were major AME Church congregations in all major and many minor cities across the Northeast and Midwest United States, and several in the South, too. The denomination first reached the West Coast in the early 1850s where churches were constructed in Stockton, Sacramento, San Francisco and elsewhere in addition to Oakland.
Many religious leaders of the AME tradition have contributed significantly to how Africans are viewed in the Christian legacy. In 1895, Bishop Benjamin T. Tanner wrote in The Color of Solomon that biblical scholars “wrongly portrayed the son of David as a white man.” In the post civil rights era, AME theologians James H. Cone, Cecil W. Cone, and Jacqueline Grant critiqued both Eurocentric Christianity and African American churches alike for failing to adequately intervene in the “plight of those oppressed by racism, sexism, and economic disadvantage.” Afterall, the AME tradition was born out of the racist practice of Methodism in antebellum America.
By the 1990s, the AME church had spread into more than 30 nations in North and South America, Africa, and Europe, and included over 2,000,000 members. Since its beginning, the African Methodist Episcopalian Church has held as their motto, “God Our Father, Christ Our Redeemer, Man Our Brother.”