THE LITTLE ROCK A.M.E. ZION CHURCH
Click here to view the photo gallery
of the Little Rock A.M.E. Zion Church.
This report was written on February 4, 1981.
1. Name and location of the property: The property known as the
Little Rock A.M.E. Zion Church is located at 403 N. Myers St. in Charlotte,
2. Name, address, and telephone number of the present owner and
occupant of the property:
The present owner of the property is:
City of Charlotte
600 E. Trade St.
Charlotte, N.C. 28202
Telephone: (704) 374-2241
The present occupant of the property is:
Little Rock A.M.E. Zion Church
403 N. Myers St.
Charlotte, N.C. 28202
Telephone: (704) 334-3782
3. Representative photographs of the property: This report
contains representative photographs of the property.
4. A map depicting the location of the property: This report
contains a map which depicts the location of the property.
5 Current Deed Book Reference to the property: The current deed to
this property is recorded in Mecklenburg County Deed Book 4210, page 954.
The original deed to this property on behalf of Little Rock A.M.E. Zion
Church is recorded in Mecklenburg County Deed Book 60, page 395. The Tax
Parcel Number of the property is: 080-104-08.
6. A brief historical sketch of the property:
Little Rock A.M.E. Zion Church was established in the early 1870's, as
the black people of Charlotte were struggling to fashion an identity outside
of the shackles of slavery. Its founder was Thomas Henry Lomax (1832-1908),
a remarkable and resourceful human being.1 A native of Cumberland
County, North Carolina, Lomax had come to Charlotte to advance the interests
of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, a denomination which had its
roots in the antebellum North but which began to penetrate coastal North
Carolina when Union forces occupied Beaufort and New Bern. After the Civil
War, A.M.E. Zion preachers moved inland to rally the former slaves to a
Christian institution which was entirely devoid of white influence or power.2
The church reached Charlotte about May 1865, when Edward H. Hill arrived and
founded Clinton Chapel, the first black church in the city. It stood on S.
Mint St. between First and Second Streets.3 Thomas Henry Lomax
came to Charlotte about 1873. Six years earlier, in 1867, he had received
his license to preach. Initially, he labored in eastern North Carolina,
where he demonstrated the administrative skill and adroitness which were to
characterize his entire career. It is not surprising, therefore, that Lomax
was assigned to Clinton Chapel in Charlotte, an important frontier for the
African Methodist Episcopal Church. Between 1873 and 1876, Lomax worked
feverishly to build upon the foundation which E. H. Hill and others had
started. In addition to increasing the size of Clinton Chapel by
approximately seven hundred members, he established a second church in
Charlotte, Little Rock A.M.E. Zion Church.4
Little Rock Church originally occupied a parcel on S. Graham St. between
Second and Third Streets.5 In 1876, Lomax became a Bishop and
journeyed to Canada as a missionary. Although Lomax served the church in
several capacities during the decades that followed, he maintained a strong
connection with Charlotte and with Piedmont North Carolina. He was
instrumental, for example, in having the A.M.E. Zion Publishing House locate
in this community. Also, Bishop Lomax was on the committee which selected
the site in Salisbury, N.C., for Livingstone College, an A.M.E. Zion
institution of higher education. Not surprisingly, he received the Doctor of
Divinity Degree from Livingstone.6 Bishop Lomax resided in
Charlotte during the final years of his life. He died there on March 31,
1908.7 Indicative of his standing in the community was the fact
that the Charlotte Observer commented editorially upon his death.
Indeed, the acclaim which he received from the white leadership of the city
was almost unknown in those days of intense and prevailing racial
segregation. "In the death of T. H. Lomax of this city, the colored race and
the community lose a valuable member and the A.M.E. Zion Church a shining
light," the newspaper asserted. "His example and counsels always made for
good and by all colors and classes his death is to be regretted."8
Perhaps some of the esteem which Bishop Lomax enjoyed among his white
compatriots was due to his abilities as an entrepreneur. He invested heavily
in real estate in Charlotte, especially in Second Ward, and possessed an
estate of approximately $70,000 at the time of his death.9 "He
had remarkable business talent," the Charlotte News proclaimed, "and
set an example to his people of how power and respect come to a man from
thrift and industry."10 Bishop Lomax is buried in Pinewood
Cemetery in Charlotte, N.C.l1 Little Rock A.M.E. Zion Church
prospered and flourished in Charlotte. In June 1884, the congregation
purchased a lot at N. Myers and E. Seventh Sts. and began the construction
of a new house of worship.12 It is reasonable to assume that the
people of Little Rock Church abandoned their original building on S. Graham
St. and moved to First Ward, because the largest and oldest A.M.E. Zion
church in Charlotte, Clinton Chapel, was only about a block away from the
initial site.13 By 1889, activities were in full swing at the
First Ward location.14 So successful was Little Rock A.M.E. Zion
Church in ministering to the black people of the neighborhood that a larger
edifice replaced the first building in 1893.15
In order to appreciate and understand the function of the black church in
Charlotte in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, one must
realize the difficulties which the customs and attitudes, not to mention the
legal strictures, of white supremacy and racial segregation placed in the
path of black men and women. Imagine, for example, how the black citizens
felt when a play entitled "The Nigger" was performed on the stage of the
elegant Academy of Music on S. Tryon St.16 Fancy how they reacted
emotionally to the announcement that the owners of Lakewood Park, a popular
amusement complex, would not extend the fall season for a week in 1910, so
the black residents of Charlotte could visit the facility, because the "fear
existed that such a course might injure the resort in some manner, or might
lesson the prestige."17 At almost every turn, the black men and
women of Charlotte encountered events which threatened their sense of
self-esteem. In November 1911, the Board of School Commissioners announced
that it was abandoning plans to construct a black school in Third Ward
because of the "objections which have been forthcoming from the citizens."18
In April 1911, black Sunday School teachers were invited to the Mecklenburg
County Sunday School Association, but they had to sit in the balcony.19
Within this cultural milieu, the black church served as a haven from the
white man; there black men exhorted their congregations to persevere in the
face of adversity and scorn. The African Methodist Episcopal Church provided
a service whereby congregations could obtain architectural plans from
offices in Philadelphia, PA.20
When S. D. Watkins, minister of Little Rock A.M.E. Zion Church from 1900
until 1906, undertook to build more imposing structure for his congregation
than the wooden buildings which had housed the people theretofore, he
decided to raise the funds to secure an architect.21 W. R.
Douglas succeeded Watkins as minister in 1906 and superintended the building
program. By May 1908, the plans were drawn and the congregation had raised
$2000 in its building fund.22 The building permit was issued in
September 1910, and the new church was finished by June 1911. The cost of
the new, brick house of worship was $20,000.23 This phenomenal
sum of money for a black congregation of that era was raised entirely by the
congregation itself. "Built by the subscription of Negroes entirely,"
boasted the Greater Charlotte Club, an influential white organization, "this
structure is a monument to the thrift and religious inclinations of
Charlotte negroes."24 By pursuing the more difficult and
expensive route of securing a local architect, the members of Little Rock
A.M.E. Zion Church made a more forthright statement about their standing in
the community than would have been the case if they had ordered a standard
design from the A.M.E. Zion offices in Philadelphia. The architect of the
new edifice was James Mackson McMichael (1870-1944).25 A native
of Harrisburg, Pa., McMichael was the architect of several imposing
buildings in this community, including the
North Carolina Medical College Building, the old
First Baptist Church (now Spirit Square), East Avenue Associate Reformed
Presbyterian Church, St. John's Baptist Church,
First Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, and Myers Park
Presbyterian Church.26 Unlike these affluent white congregations,
however, the people of Little Rock Church had raised the money to hire the
leading church architect of Charlotte at great financial sacrifice to
themselves.27 The official history of the Little Rock A.M.E. Zion
Church reveals that the text for the first sermon in the new building was
taken from Nehemiah 4:6: So built we the wall; and all the wall was joined
together unto the half thereof; for the people had a mind to work.28
Over the years, Little Rock A.M.E. Zion Church has played a leading role
in shaping the destiny of the black community of Charlotte, NC. Happily, the
exterior of the building is essentially unchanged from the original.
Presently, the congregation is erecting a new sanctuary across Myers St.
from the 1910-11 edifice. Hopefully, the old building will survive as a
reminder to the contributions of individuals such as Bishop Thomas Henry
Lomax, who guided his people toward a new and better tomorrow.
1 Charlotte Observer (April 1, 1908), p. 8.
2 J. W. Hood, One Hundred Years of the African Methodist
Episcopal Church (New York: A.M.E. Zion Book Concern, 1895 , pp.
3 Ibid., p. 297. Map of Charlotte: F. W. Beers (1877).
4 Charlotte Observer (April 1, 1908), p. 8. William J.
Walls, The African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church: Reality of the Black
Church (Charlotte, NC: A.M.E. Zion Publishing House, 1974), p. 580.
5 Map of Charlotte: F. W. Beers (1877).
6 Charlotte Observer (April 1, 1908), p. 8.
8 Charlotte Observer (April 2, 1908), p. 4.
9 Charlotte Observer (April 1, 1908) , p. 8.
10 Charlotte News (April 1, 1908), p. 9.
11 Charlotte Observer (April 1, 1908), p. 8.
12 Mecklenburg County Deed Book 60, p. 395.
13 Map of Charlotte: F. W. Beers (1877).
14 John Hirst and Dudley G. Stebbins, eds., Hirst's
Directory of Charlotte (Charlotte: Hirst Printing and Publishing House,
1889), p. 35.
15 Mecklenburg County Deed Book 91, p. 366.
16 Charlotte News (January 6, 1911), p. 9.
17 Charlotte Evening Chronicle (September 21, 1910), p.
18 Charlotte Observer (November 10, 1911), p. 6.
19 Charlotte Observer (April 21, 1911), p. 5.
20 Star of Zion (September 7, 1911), p. 3.
21 Official Journal of the Twenty-Third Quadrennial Session
of the General Conference of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church,
pp. 149-150. The Journal states that the plans were drawn "by one of the
leading architects of the city."
23 Charlotte Evening Chronicle (October 29, 1910), p.
9. Mecklenburg County Deed Book 271, p. 648. Official Journal of the
Twenty-Fourth Quadrennial Session of the General Conference of the African
Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, p. 345. 24. Charlotte: The
Hydro-Electric Centre (Charlotte: The Greater Charlotte Club, 1913).
This source contains an early photograph of the building.
25 Interview of David S. McMichael by Dr. Dan L. Morrill
(January 22, 1981). Mr. McMichael, who lives in Alexandria, Va., has the
original drawings of the building.
26 Charlotte News (October 2, 1907), p. 5. Charlotte
Observer (October 4, 1944), 2nd. sec., p. 1. Charlotte Evening
Chronicle (February 23, 1911), p. 9. 27. Eighty Sixth Anniversary
Little Rock A.M.E. Zion Church, p. 6. 28. Ibid.
7. A brief architectural description of the property: This report
contains a description prepared by Jack O. Boyte, A.I.A.
8. Documentation of why and in what ways the property meets the
criteria set forth in N.C.G.S. 160A-399.4:
a. Special significance in terms of its history, architecture,
and/or cultural importance: The Commission judges that the property
known as the Little Rock A.M.E. Zion Church does possess special
significance in terms of Charlotte-Mecklenburg. The Commission bases its
judgment on the following considerations: 1) the building was designed by
J. M. McMichael, an architect of local and regional importance; 2) the
structure is the only known building which McMichael designed for a black
client in Charlotte; 3) the building is the most architecturally
sophisticated of the older black churches in Charlotte; 4) the only other
historic A.M.E. Zion church building in the center city, Grace A.M.E. Zion
Church, has already been designated as "historic property" -- Clinton
Chapel has moved to a suburban location and the original building is not
extant; and 5) Little Rock A.M.E. Zion Church has occupied a place of
great importance in the cultural and social life of the black community.
b. Integrity of design, setting, workmanship, materials, feeling
and/or association: The Commission judges that the architectural
description included in this report demonstrates that the property known
as the Little Rock A.M.E. Zion Church meets this criterion.
9. Ad Valorem Tax Appraisal: The Commission is aware that
designation would allow the owner to apply annually for an automatic
deferral of 50% of the Ad Valorem taxes on all or any portion of the
property which becomes "historic property." The current Ad Valorem tax
appraisal of the .357 acres of land is $18,680. The current Ad Valorem tax
appraisal of the building is $43,270. The property is exempted from the
payment of Ad Valorem taxes. The property is zoned B2.
Charlotte Evening Chronicle
Charlotte: The Hydro-Electric Centre (Charlotte: The Greater
Charlotte Club, 1913).
Eighty Sixth Anniversary Little Rock A.M.E. Zion Church.
John Hirst and Dudley G. Stebbins, eds., Hirst's Directory of
Charlotte (Charlotte: Hirst Printing and Publishing House, 1889).
J. W. Hood, One Hundred Years of the African Methodist Episcopal
Church (New York: A.M.E. Zion Book Concern, 1895) .
Interview of David S. McMichael by Dr. Dan L. Morrill (January 22, 1981).
Map of Charlotte: F. W. Beers (1877).
Official Journal of the Twenty-Third Quadrennial Session of the
General Conference of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church.
Records of the Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds Office.
Records of the Mecklenburg County Tax Office.
Star of Zion.
William J. Walls, The African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church: Reality
of the Black Church (Charlotte, N.C.: A.M.E. Zion Publishing House,
Date of Preparation of this Report: February 4, 1981.
Prepared by: Dr. Dan L. Morrill, Director
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Properties Commission
3500 Shamrock Dr.
Charlotte, N.C. 28215
Telephone (704) 332-2726
The Little Rock AME Zion Church building is a striking medley of
turn-of-the-century revival architectural styles. Romanesque arches combine
with neo-colonial trim details and domed bell towers to create a unique and
handsome church building, a building which has enriched Charlotte's First
Ward community for nearly three quarters of a century. Its hillside site is
visible from several adjoining neighborhoods, and the church is firmly
implanted in early memories not only of First Ward residents, but of many
who grew up in Elizabeth, Myers Park or elsewhere in eastern Charlotte.
Bordering East Seventh Street where it crosses Myers, the large rectangular
red brick structure rises from a half basement some thirty feet to a steep
tripped roof. Exterior front and side facades are symmetrical and feature a
series of cast stone trimmed window and door openings as well as carefully
executed Adamesque wall and roof design elements of wood. The entrance
facade has a three bay balconied portico in the center and large square
corner stair towers at each side. The front wall of each tower has twin
windows on three levels. Basement sash are small square projecting vents
with opaque, patterned glass. At the second, or main sanctuary level, tall
double hung sash windows are set in masonry openings with lintels of brick
jack arches. Shorter double hung mezzanine windows have rounded brick arch
openings defined by corbeled brick eyebrows.
At the tower side walls single windows at each level repeat, in a smaller
scale, the details of front units. The southern tower touches the Seventh
Street sidewalk, and here there is a prominent secondary entrance. Double
doors open onto a landing from which stairs rise a half flight to the
narthex or drop a half flight to the basement. Clear glass panels fill the
upper half of each door and flood the stair with natural light. The entrance
opening has a low arched stone head. This arch is a continuation of a stone
belt course which bands the entire structure at the main floor level.
Soaring high above the corners, twin octagonal bell cupolas complete the
tower compositions. With segmented curved roofs which rise steeply to knob
finials, the domed roof towers are dominant elements in this eclectic
architectural composition. The eight sided belvederes have Palladian
arches in each segment with wooden casing, spring blocks and arch keys.
Both are open to the weather on all sides, yet only the south tower shelters
a bell. Simulated stone entrance stairs matching the front portico in width,
begin at the edge of the Myers Street sidewalk and rise a dozen steps to a
recessed entrance platform. In each bay tall panelled doors open to a narrow
narthex. Over the doors arched
transom windows are glazed with lead patterned stained glass. Fluted
Ionic columns rest on square brick pedestals at the top of the entrance
steps. Above this, the flat portico roof has a broad molded entablature
supporting a projecting denticular cornice. The balcony balustrade is
segmented to match the three bays of the portico. Solid wood panels occur
over each column and slender balusters support a molded intermediate rail.
Set behind the balcony the mezzanine wall has three equally spaced
double hung sash windows. Over these windows is a projecting pedemented
gable featuring molded raking cornices. The Seventh Street facade, which is
repeated on the uphill side of the church, is a lofty wall of red brick laid
running bond. This wall rises more than forty feet from a grass sidewalk
strip to a modest projecting cornice where a narrow bed mold with dentils is
the only elaboration. At the molded eave line a built in gutter anchors a
steeple sloped slate roof. At the main floor level, there is a wide band of
simulated stone which circles the entire building perimeter. Below this belt
line, five shallow windows with low arched heads are spaced evenly in the
basement wall. An exterior basement entrance was inserted in the rearmost
window opening in subsequent years. The wall surface above the stone belt
course is divided equally by five monumental windows. These tall openings
have twin sash lower units with mullion dividers. Above are half circle
stain black transoms and brick Romanesque arches. Three large gable vents
are centered side by side in both sloping long side roof surfaces. Designed
as architectural features, these gables have raking cornices which shelter
horizontal wood louvers. Wood surrounds for the triangular louvered vent
panels are sawn in two cusp, trefoil, arch forms.
Rear facade details are generally consistent with those found elsewhere.
A low-roofed wing extends along the Seventh Street frontage and includes a
pastor's study and choir robe room. Simulated stone steps rise from the
sidewalk to a simply detailed secondary entrance at this wing. Centered in
the high rear facade is a gable roof where another triangular louvered vent
has a trefoil wood surround. Important among the extraordinary features
which adorn the exterior of the church is the consistent use of leaded
stained glass in the windows. On all four sides numerous and varied glazed
openings flood the interior with subdued light warmed by multi-colored
glass. Following the basic rectangular exterior building form, the church
plan is balanced along a central axis. From the main entrance on Myers
Street, one enters a low ceilinged narthex flanked by open stair towers. The
inside narthex wall faces the nave with a center window and double doors at
each side, all set in arched openings. Rising in five runs from basement to
mezzanine levels the tower
stairways are bordered by mill crafted balustrades and molded wall
panels. Sturdy turned
balusters support a heavy molded wooden rail. Large square corner
newel posts at each landing have recessed side panels and molded caps.
Designed to focus on a center pulpit platform and raised choir chancel,
the vaulted nave retains much of its original classical trim, though the
pulpit and pew furnishings have been replaced. Wall and ceiling surfaces are
smooth plaster interrupted only by a projecting chair rail which borders the
interior at the window sill line and a wide crown mold at the ceiling.
Plaster arches divide the nave into equally spaced window bays. The curved
ceiling is likewise segmented by lowered plaster arches. At the rear of the
nave a sloping gallery opens from above the narthex. Here, on high-stepped
platforms, are examples of the original church pews. Fabricated of dark
stained pine, the heavy seats are typical turn-of-the-century molded and
carved furnishing produced in local planing mills.
A dominant feature in the main auditorium is an array of brass organ
pipes set behind the chancel in a shallow plastered alcove. This instrument
with its fine old console is a significant element in the preserved
interior. The Little Rock Church building is a remarkable reminder of an
exuberant expression of faith by the earlier congregations. This intricate
old classic is important not only to First Ward but the entire community and
should be carefully preserved.