150 Years of
Written By: Reverend Elizabeth Few
(First Writing- 1980) Second Writing- 1987)
New Hope A. M.E. Church (1869-1975)
Arden Road, N.W.
Atlanta, Georgia 30305
In 1869, the guns and the cannons of the Civil War had been silent for four years. Black people, though happy to be free of the shackles of slavery, were bound by poverty and a lack of survival skills. They were intimidated by a complex society with which they were not prepared to cope and threatened by hostilities of those who wished for a return of the Black man to slavery. They were having a difficult time trying to establish themselves as a free people because they had no civil rights, no land to call their own and no formal education. As a result of these severely dehumanizing and painful experiences. Black people sought comfort in religion as a source of strength in an effort to endure their lot. Camp meetings sprang up throughout the South and people took to the open fields on foot, on horseback, in horse-drawn buggies, surreys, and carriages to the early camp meetings. There they sang the old hymns, shouted, cried, and enjoyed the powerful sermons and fervent prayers. They fellowshipped with friends, neighbors, and strangers alike. Dinners were spread on the grounds and families often spent days and nights camping at the meeting site. “It would be impossible for people of today to realize the extent to which camp meeting entered into the work and plans of the tenters of days long gone by. Everything was timed and planned for it from one end of the year to another. Hens were set very early in the spring in order that fryers might be big enough for use in August.
Hams of the finest quality had been smoked and cured to perfection over hickory goals in the old log smokehouses the winter before. And the boiling and the baking carried on was in pots and big ovens behind the tented households have left memories of their lusciousness in the minds of all who were fortunate enough to have scented them.”
In short, the camp meeting style of worship was a well-established American Institution which endures even today, though on a much smaller scale. The 1800’s editions of the Christian Recorder, the publication of the A. M. E. Church, chronicled numerous camp meeting reports from A. M. E. pastors across the South.
The Black people who resided in the Buckhead area during the latter part of the eighteenth hundreds were, for the most part, servants of wealthy landowners in the area. Many of these persons live on the land of their employers and were isolated from the larger Black community in parts of Atlanta. They had a need for a special place of worship but had no resources with which to purchase the land. It is believed that they came together informally for payers and songs in their homes and visited other churches within traveling distance.
The late Mr. James “Whispering Smith”, a white resident of the Buckhead community, decided to give two acres of land to be used for a church and school for “Negroes.” The will was dated on May 29, 1872. James Smith was a man of great insight and courage. He was very specific in stating that the land is used for a church and a school. “At this time, only the bare framework for the Atlanta Public Schools and had been set up. Many procedural difficulties remained to be resolve and much opposition upon a sizeable segment of the citizenry had to be overcome before the system went into operation in 1872. This foundation was laid for Negro children.
As we reflect on the character of James Smith, we cannot help but believe that he was inspired by God to conceive and execute such a kind and magnanimous act. His efforts on behalf of the Black people who lived in Buckhead during his lifetime have served to inspire us and to blaze trail to human dignity and self-respect for those privileged to be a part of the Buckhead community and the broader Atlanta community Eight days after affixing his signature to his last will and testament, Mr. James Smith, servant of God, friend of ma, and benefactor of New Hope Church went “Home” to his eternal rest and reward. It is significant to note that on the land given to New Hope were the graves of slaves of persons unknown. Though the slaves’ graces have been banished by the natural changes in the earth, their rest on these hollowed grounds reminds us that they held on to “An old hope which sustained them” until God took them “Home” to be with Him.
The land which James Smith gave New Hope was the site of the first New Hope Camp Meeting. According to noted Atlanta Historian, Mr. Franklin Garrett, Mr. Smith, in all probability, permitted “Negros” to use a plot of his land as early as 1869 or before to conduct worship services long before it was deeded to them in his will. An 1893 area map at the Atlanta Historical Society pictures the site of the New Hope Camp Ground with the name of Reverend Roland Wishun printed on it. Before the first pastor arrived, a group of men and women led by Reverend Wishum laid the foundation so necessary in the establishment of an organized body of people. According to Julia Pace Defoor in her unpublished History of New Hope Church. “ The men who served as the first group of leaders in the church exhorted quite a while before they called a minister.” Shortly after calling a pastor, they decided to become a part of the African Methodist Episcopal Church.
This particular denomination grew out of the efforts of Richard Allen and many of his followers who had originally been a part of the Methodist Church. Because Negroes were not treated with respect and dignity, Allen led a walkout from the white Methodist church in 1787. Allen went on to establish the African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1793 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The A. M. E. movement gradually gained converts across the Southeast and established itself in Georgia. New Hope was among the first Negro congregations in Atlanta to accept Methodism.
The first services on the New Hope camp Ground were held in the open, under shade trees. This continued until a plank and long building was erected. This building was also used as a school before New Hope School was constructed.
Problems were encountered during the efforts to dig a well. As a result, water was brought in barrels from the homes of Hudson Bailey and Reverend Roland Wishum. At one time, a small stream in the area provided water for the children who attended New Hope School. The founders and very early members of New Hope Church were; the Wishums, Defoors, Paces, Calhouns, A. Johnsons, Hutchins, Palmers, Cooks, Plasters, Nelms, Hills, Abrams, Winstons, Barners, Baileys, Hudson, Treadwells, Maddoxes, Irbys, Dells, Scotts, Hunters, Simmons and Howells.
Reverend Wishun, though not a pastor, served as the leader of the founding group and as caretaker of the church property. The first pastor was the Reverend Joseph Woods who was affectionately known as Reverend Joe Woods. His first sermon dealt with the pilot and Nicodemus. His text was, “You Must Be born Again” and the Golden Text was “and they made their lives sweet with bitter bondage,” Tom Pace, the son of Albert Pace, made the first lamp from a jug. It was beautiful and gave much-needed light. The first Catechisms were given by Mrs. Mary Howell, the wife of Judge Clark Howell.
The members and the pastors served well and the church became the center for spiritual growth and social contact for the Negro people in the area and the border Atlanta community. In order to promote the Camp Meeting and to preserve its historical flavor, the first Tabernacle was demolished in 1965. The original New Hope Camp Meeting was a great spiritual and social function as people came from miles around to hear the powerful sermons and fervent prayers—to sing the old hymns and to fellowship with friends. Also, there were those whose business at the Camp Meeting confined them to areas in the woods where homebrew was available. During an interval in the early evening of the Camp Meeting session, brush arbor prayers were said for the “sinners” who had not repented of their sins. Every effort was made to reach and to effect changes in the lives of the saved and the unsaved. There are strong indications that the early New Hope founders and pioneers left to us, among many of her great things, a tradition of love and concern for each other.
On the fourth Sunday in August, dinner was spread and sermons were preached throughout the day. This particular Sunday was a great highlight of the Camp Meeting Services. It is said that people of New Hope began to prepare for that day months in advance by laying aside special hams and designating certain chicken to be killed and cooked for the occasion. The crowds were so intense in the Camp Meeting spirit that some family camped out on the grounds for the duration of that meeting. Children played and frolicked in and out of the woods enjoying each other. But sometimes during the afternoon, children were called together with some of the adults for prayer services. Many of the people attending the meetings found camping convenient since this arrangement sacked them from incontinence of traveling great distances from home to the New Hope Camp Meeting site. New Hope truly was the site of one of the most widely known and well-attended camp meetings throughout the South.
Many of the members of the church have a rich repertoire of very old and charming stories that have been passed on to them by persons in their families. Each story is inspiring and rewarding to listen to and it is in this history. There is one such story which is mostly historical and worthy of note. “At the close of the Camp Meeting of long ago, worshippers would march around the Tabernacle seven times singing, “The Year of Jubilee Has Come, Return Ye Ransomed Sinners Home.” Sometimes they sang, “Blow Ye the Trumpet Blow”, as they closed the meeting, Reverend Roland Wishum would walk to each corner of the Tabernacle and blow a trumpet. A circle was formed and the farewell was given, thus ending the Camp Meeting,”
New Hope African Methodist Episcopal church has been sent a total of forty-one ministers to serve God and to provide leadership. Most of the ministers were married and the wives too made significant contributions. There are those in the church today who speak with fondness of the good teaching and excellent supervision which they received from various ministers’ wives. They too, along with their husbands, deserve to be remembered.
Reverend J. F. Moses, during his tenure, was concerned that the church had no parsonage for ministers. Under his leadership, the first parsonage was constructed. On June 7, 1926, Reverend Moses, through Attorney W.C. Monday, secured copies of James Smith’s will, which was officiated at these services and Brother Harry Howell became the official keeper of the document.
After a fire destroyed the original plank structure in 1927, the Reverend R. E. Lee led the congregation in the construction of the basement of the church. While this was being done Sunday school classes and church services were held in the New Hope School. The basement later served as a classroom for teaching pupils when New Hope School burned in 1942.
In 1936, the Reverend W. W. Stephens and his faithful and dedicated followers completed the Sanctuary of New Hope A. M. E. Church. Mr. Clark Howell was named Honorary Trustee.
The construction of the New Hope Sanctuary was not an easy task to accomplish in 1936. During that period very few members of the church possessed the financial resources required to assure the banks of a return of monies required to cover building costs. The reluctance of the banks to make the necessary loan was due in part to the Great Depression, but also banks generally did not make loans to small Black churches of that era. Thus, someone within the church or friend of the church had to” put up front” the required amount of cash money in order to complete the transactions. The congregation and the contractor, Mr. Alex Milt, were faced with a great dilemma.
Mrs. Beatrice Bogan and the late Mrs. Anna Jones secured loans on personal properties in order to help get the constructed started. Others in the congregation secured gifts from white friends and employees to help. Mr. Milt, because he was not a Black man, was able to make a loan in his name to cover most of the construction costs. Certainly, this contractor was a person of unusual character in this time. The church promptly repaid the loan and cleared the obligations. Mr. Milt lives today and is a great friend of the church.
Over the years, the church has endured through good times and bad and is prevailing with the help of Almighty God. One of its worst times was the devastating tornado which struck Atlanta in 1975. The church sustained heavy damages during this time and was partially restored later.
The members are devoted, loving and loyal band of people who are faithful in their support of the church. They have accepted the challenge to serve unselfishly and are engaged in various efforts to beautify and strengthen the bonds of fellowship. There is in the Church a feeling of kinship of the heart and unity in serving God.
New Hope African Methodist Episcopal Church has survived for more than one hundred and nineteen years because its people have always had “Vision of a New Tomorrow” Langston Hughes, the late beloved Black poet of great renown, once wrote, “Hold on to dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken winged bird that cannot fly.” Dare to dream New Hope for it is the dream which inspires people to greater service to God and man. HOLD ON- HOLD ON NEW HOPE TO THE OLD HOPE THAT SUSTAINS A NEW VISION FO A NEW TOMORROW.