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The Metropolitan African American Episcopal Church is sandwiched between two modern office buildings on M Street, NW in Washington, DC. This red-brick church is a superior example of Gothic revival architecture. Built in 1886 to a design by Samuel G. T. Morsell, it has become one of the important buildings in the American Civil Rights Movement.
The parent African Methodist Episcopal Church grew out of an anti-segregation protest in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1787. In Washington, the Union Bethel church also grew out of protests over segregation. The Union Bethel resulted from dissatisfaction among African Americans over the racial segregation at the Ebenezer Methodist Church. On July 6, 1838, the Union Bethel received the official sanction of the Baltimore Conference of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. This is recognized as the official founding date of the Metropolitan.
The Union Bethel church had the name Metropolitan first applied to it in 1870. The name was officially designated in 1872 when the Baltimore Conference authorized the construction of a new “Metropolitan Church in Washington, DC”. The name was officially changed to the Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church by the same Baltimore Conference.
The Metropolitan was known for its anti-slavery leadership in the mid-19th century including the harboring of runaway slaves. It has also held a position at the forefront of civic, cultural and intellectual life of African Americans, not just in Washington DC.
The Metropolitan was the site of funerals and memorial services to some of the most significant people in African American history. The funeral of abolitionist Frederick Douglas was held here in 1895. This was followed three years later in 1898 with the funeral of the first African American US Senator elected to serve a full term, Blanche Bruce. More recently, the memorial service to Rosa Parks was held at the Metropolitan African American Episcopal Church in 2005.
The tradition of being an important part of African American history continues. On January 20, 2013, President Obama attended services in the Metropolitan before his second inauguration.
Befitting its significance in the American Civil Rights Movement, the church was added to the National Register of Historic Places on July 26, 1973.