Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church

Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, known informally as “Mother Emanuel” because of its place as the oldest African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church in the South, was first organized as a congregation in 1791 by a group of free and enslaved Black members who left a white-led church with the desire to worship freely and without discrimination.

The congregation soon affiliated with the newly-established African Methodist Episcopal church, the first independent Black denomination in the United States. In 1822, white community leaders learned of a revolt planned by enslaved Blacks led by one of the congregation’s founders, Denmark Vesey. In retaliation,, the church was burned to the ground, and 35 members, including Vesey, were executed.

The congregation rebuilt the church and met there until 1834 — when all Black churches were outlawed by the state legislature. Undeterred, members bravely continued to meet in secret until the end of the Civil War in 1865, when they formally reorganized and adopted ‘Emanuel,’ meaning God with Us in Hebrew, as their name.

The church’s storied history continued throughout the 20th century as esteemed local and national civil rights leaders, including Septima P. Clark and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., took to the pulpit to encourage members of the Black community in their fight for equal rights. Over the years, Mother Emanuel has remained an enduring icon of strength, providing a spiritual gathering place for social and political activism.

Today, the church maintains an international reputation as a symbol of forgiveness and grace.

​​With seating for 1,200, Mother Emanuel has the largest seating capacity of any African American church in Charleston. The church was added to the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places in 1985.

Hours of Operation
Monday-Friday 9:00 am to 5:00 pm
Sunday 9:00 am to 1:00 pm

Mailing Address

Mother Emanuel Memorial Foundation
P.O. Box 242
Charleston, SC 29402

Visiting Address

Mother Emanuel Memorial Foundation
110 Calhoun St
Charleston, SC 29401

Legal Information

EIN: 82-1776426