The Union United Methodist Church is the oldest African-American United Methodist Congregation in New England. This year, 2018, the Congregation is celebrating its 200-year anniversary, and a distinguished history committed to Christian love, social justice and “radical hospitality,” that is, a welcoming of strangers that is deep and spiritual.
Union is located at 485 Columbus Avenue, in a magnificent Gothic Revival-style building designed by Alexander R. Estey in the 1870s. It anchors one of the South End’s most popular green spaces, Titus Sparrow Park. The park’s playground was built on land donated by Union.
The Congregation was organized in 1818 out of the Bromfield Street Methodist Episcopal Church by Pastor Samuel Snowden, a former slave turned abolitionist. The Union story had begun earlier, in 1796, with a group of African-American believers on Beacon Hill who formed the May Street Meeting House. David Walker, who published the radical and influential anti-slavery ‘An Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World’ in 1829, was a member of its congregation.
The church moved to Revere Street, a station along the famed Underground Railroad, and next to Shawmut Avenue in Roxbury in 1911, where it was known as Fourth Methodist Episcopal. That is where in 1916 the Hattie B. Cooper Center for Children first opened its doors to 69 children; it was named after the first chairperson of the Women’s Home Missionary Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church.
In 1949, Union moved to its current home on Columbus Avenue, a site previously occupied by the New England Home for Little Wanderers, a charity that cared for children orphaned and made homeless by the Civil War. On its Inaugural Day, May 18, 1949, the keynote speaker was Mary McLeod Bethune, the prominent civil rights activist and educator who was an advisor to both President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt.
In 1950, Union hosted the 1950 NAACP convention that voted to pursue Brown v. Board of Education. In 1966, it showcased a performance by the legendary Duke Ellington and the Duke Ellington Sacred Jazz Orchestra during the liturgical phase of Ellington’s music. In 1968 after the assassination of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Union helped create Boston’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Breakfast. Now in its fortieth year, the annual event is the nation’s oldest continuous celebration of Dr. King’s life and attracts leaders from the business, civic and educational community state-wide.
In the 1970s, Union developed the Meth-Union Manor, a four- building affordable housing cooperative in the South End. In the 1980s and 1990s, Union was active in local and national efforts in the fight against apartheid in South Africa, and for economic equality at home. In 2000, Union’s Congregation became the first historically Black church to vote to formalize what it had been for decades: a safe space for the LGBTQ community.
Local/Focus is a program sponsored by the Friends of the South End Library to connect the South End branch of the BPL with local artists, non-profit institutions and creative entrepreneurs through informative and interesting installations in the library’s Tremont Street window(s).