St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church is located at 521 West College Street, Fayetteville, Lincoln County, Tennessee. In Middle Tennessee's Central Basin, the southern edge of Lincoln County borders Alabama. Fayetteville is in the approximate center of the county. Situated in a residential neighborhood on a prominent hilltop visible from the town square, the church is a landmark for the surrounding African-American community.
Organized in 1824, the St. Paul AME Church congregation was originally on the congregation's quarter acre plot, only three fourth of one mile northeast of the current church. The timing of the church's organization closely followed what historian Graham Russell Hodges calls the "third revolution," after "Methodist evangelicalism" and revolutionary egalitarianism" swept across America during the late 18th century. Northern Methodists, with their avowed anti-slavery messages and acceptance of black members appealed to the majority of blacks seeking religious affiliations. Because Methodists used circuit-riding preachers, their ministry reached numbers of African Americans not sought out by other denominations. The black church congregation in the South was the one place slaves could find equality, hope, and support--spiritual as well as practical.
Although Methodist allowed blacks to become "exhorters" (persons who deliver the call for profession of faith and church membership), usually the first step along the ministerial path, even this egalitarian denomination denied blacks the opportunity to rise to the ranks of preacher. That paternalistic nod to the slave-holding membrs of the denomination pushed blacks to form their own churches, such as the African Methodist Episcopal Church in New York in 1799.
Fayetteville and Lincoln County were authorized by legislative act in 1809 and the one hundred acre town was laid out shortly thereafter. St. Paul was just beyond the original city limits set at the edge of a predominantly African-American neighborhood. In keeping with the pattern of newly freed slaves occupying the fringes of town in the post Civil War settlement migration from plantations and farms to urban areas.
Shortly after the Civil War, St. Paul's membership followed the pattern of African-Americans across the South by forming their own institutions or improving facilities as soon as possible. Believing that God chose them to elevate their black brethern, AME leaders eagerly went south to evangelize and establish schools and churches. Black AME leaders encouraged their followers to display their Christian faith, educate themselves, and work industriously, believing that self-improvement would erase prejudice.
Within two years of the Civil War, in June 1867, the St.Paul trustees Ben McDaniel, Hiram Bright, Thomas Bright, and Henderson Moore purchased for 50 dollars a one-half acre parcel of land at the present church site. Just one month later, the same trustees sold for 30 dollars the original site at Rock Hill north of Fayetteville. Seven years later, in 1874, trustees Ben McDaniel, Thomas Bright, Hiram Bright, Burrell Landers, Robert Scales, and Thomas Kincannon purchased for 200 dollars another one and one-half acre at the present church site. In 1876, the chruch moved to the present site, erecting some sort of church building. Again in 1883, trustees John Dobbins, James Bright, and Caeson Small purchased another quarter acre for 10 dollars.
As members gathered adequate financial resources, they made improvements to their church. Althoughit is not known exactly how the church building was altered during the 1913 renovation, a news article in the Fayetteville Observer explained how the church was "overhauled and beautified...making it an attractive and comfortable auditorium." These improvements "necessitated an expenditure of about 3,000 dollars." this large amount of money indicates a major improvement to the property, and it is believed that these funds provided for the present day front facade and towers.
As the center of the black community in Fayetteville, St. Paul attracted prominent pastors and congregants. St. Paul was honored when one of its pastors was elected the 75th Bishop of the AME Church in 1956 Born and raised in Lincoln County, Bishop Ernest Lawrence Hickman first received his license to preach in 1924.
Pastors of St. Paul over the past 100+ years include: Rev. Thorn, Rev. Pickett, Rev. D.J. Gordon, Rev. McDowell, Rev. J.J. Edwards, Rev. Gregg, Rev. A.J. Ercin, Rev. E. Phillip Ellis, Rev. T.J. Clark, Rev. A.J. Simmons, Rev. A. H. Harris, Rev. E. L. Hickman, Rev. E. Toombs, Rev. F.E. Roundtree, Rev. G.L. Jackson,Rev. M.T. Cooper, Rev. J.M. Brown, Rev. Horton, Rev. T. Gene West, Rev. A.O. Burkes, Rev. J.A. Jones, Rev. E.J. Russell, Rev. G.H. Matthews, Rev. Charles Jenkins, Rev. S.W. Smith, Rev.Charles Spivey, Rev. Isaiah Ewing, Rev. Carl Liggin (2wks), Rev. Wesley Reid, Rev. Harold Williams, Rev. Howard Clark, Rev. Edwin O'Neal, Rev. J.A. Hendon, Rev. George White, Rev. Anthony Thomas, Rev. J.K. Brown, Rev. E. Paul Beavers, Rev. Carl Liggin, and Rev. Everett Hobson. Since 2006, Rev. Chris Grizzard, Sr. has been pastor of St. Paul. In November of 2015, Rev. Dr. Charles Holsey, MD-Phd, was appointed pastor of St. Paul.
NOTE: This history of St. Paul contains excerpts from the the church's February 2003 nomination to the National Register of Historic Places. The research was done by the Center for Historic Preservation at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. St. Paul was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in October 2003. An updated and more complete history of the church will be available in 2014 in the publication The Legacy of St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church in Fayetteville, Lincoln County, Tennessee from 1824 to 2013.