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History of Morris Brown AME Church

The origins of Morris Brown African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, date to the year after the United States Civil War. The congregation was established because of the rapid growth of Emanuel AME Church, previously known as the African Church. After the botched slave revolt of Denmark Vesey in Charleston and the slave revolt of Nat Turner in Southampton County, Virginia, South Carolina, made it illegal in 1834 for black churches to gather for fear of conspiracy. This ban on Black Churches lasted for three decades. During this time, Emanuel continued to meet underground. When Emanuel could legally gather, the church membership increased to over 10,000 persons. In 1866, the Reverend Richard Harvey Cain, then pastor of Emanuel, purchased the property where the church now stands at 13 Morris Street from a Lutheran congregation that disbanded because of diminishing church membership.

The congregation is named after Bishop Morris Brown, a native Charlestonian who was the first pastor of the African Church, later known as Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, founded in 1818. He was later elected as the second bishop of the AME Church. After an unsuccessful attempt to implicate Brown in the planned slave revolt of Denmark Vesey, he and his family escaped Charleston by night to prevent him from being hung. Morris Brown AME Church experienced rapid growth under Reverend Cain's leadership, growing to become a two-thousand-member church in its first year. Reverend Cain proved to be a leader in religious and civic circles. Cain opened a seminary institute in Liberty Hall, a former meeting place for soldiers toward the rear of the church property. Cain became a reconstruction-era State Senator and U.S. Representative and was elected the 14th Bishop of the AME Church in 1880. He was also one of the founders of the all-black town of Lincolnville, South Carolina.

The Reverend Benjamin F. Porter, another pastor of Morris Brown AME Church, initiated missionary and repatriation efforts in Africa in the 1870s through his organization, the Liberian Exodus Association. During his tenure as pastor, Morris Brown was the scene for rallies encouraging immigration to Africa to promote commerce and Christianity. In 1878, Reverend Porter's organization, in cooperation with black Baptists in the City of Charleston, dispatched a ship to Liberia with over two hundred settlers. By 1890, at least three Liberian congregations had developed because of these initiatives. Families rooted in Morris Brown AME Church also distinguished themselves in Liberia's governmental, judiciary, and religious life. During the 1970's many of their descendants returned to Morris Brown AME Church to trace their American roots.

During the pastoral tenure of the Reverend Zedekiah L. Grady, Morris Brown AME Church was very active in the Civil Rights Movement. This became evident in the pivotal role that Reverend Grady and the congregation played in the Nursing Strike at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) Hospital in 1969. Black nurses and healthcare workers initiated this strike to receive the same compensation as their white coworkers. Reverend Grady played an essential role in the negotiations that led to the black employees receiving more equitable compensation and both sides reaching a compromise. The strike gained national attention, and Mrs. Coretta Scott King came to Charleston to assist with the efforts of the black workers. Amid a national effort to achieve Civil Rights, Morris Brown AME Church understood that it could not be silent concerning the mistreatment of black people.

During the pastoral tenure of Reverend Grady, Morris Brown AME Church partnered with Mother Emanuel AME Church and Ebenezer AME Church to start the Emanuel-Morris Brown-Ebenezer (EME) Apartments, Inc. in 1968. Receiving a loan from the newly developed United States Housing and Urban Development, the congregations did not have to put down any money from the congregations. As a result, the organization has a net worth of about $15 million. Starting with one complex in Charleston on James Island, today, EME Apartments have added complexes in the South Carolina cities of Conway and Darlington.

During the pastoral tenure of the Reverend Joseph Darby, Morris Brown AME Church became a founding congregation in the Charleston Area Justice Ministry (CAJM). CAJM is a part of the Direct Action and Research Training Center (DART). This is a justice ministry composed of different faith traditions (Christian, Jewish, and Muslim) to work together to make a difference in the Charleston community. Every year, the group identifies concerns in the community that we will research and work on, leading to the annual Nehemiah Action. At the Nehemiah Action, we seek public commitments from public officials that will improve the lives, especially the marginalized, of the residents of our city. Among other things, the ministry has worked collectively on issues such as equality in school discipline, affordable housing, improving public transportation, and racial equality in policing practices. Morris Brown AME Church has some very dedicated church members committed to doing justice and making a difference in the community.

On November 12, 2016, the Reverend Dr. James A. Keeton, Jr. was appointed to the pastorate of Morris Brown AME Church at the Seventh Episcopal District’s Post Planning Convocation and Theological Institute. Under his leadership, a communal vision has been cast that Morris Brown AME Church is “A Christ-centered Church glorifying God by serving the spiritual, social, and economic needs of a diverse community.”

Under the leadership of Dr. Keeton, we have had to learn to do church differently as it relates to the COVID-19 virus. Through the establishment of a Contingency Task Force, Morris Brown AME Church has installed screens in the sanctuary, upgraded and added cameras, installed hand sanitizing stations, developed hybrid worship experiences, and conducted the first virtual trustee election in the history of Morris Brown AME Church. Morris Brown continues to practice by taking temperatures and filling out COVID-19 questionnaires upon entering the sanctuary.

Another addition under the pastorate of Dr. Keeton has been the inclusion of a Blessing Box in the parking lot at the rear of the church. This is part of the Lowcountry Blessing Box Project, a community collaboration to address our community's lack of food security. The simple rule of the blessing box is "Leave what you can, take what you need." The addition of the Blessing Box has allowed the generosity of the church members to come to the forefront.

Morris Brown AME Church has been blessed with pastoral leadership throughout its faithful history.

The following pastors have served this congregation:

  1. Bishop Richard Harvey Cain

  2. Reverend Theophilus Stewart

  3. Reverend W. D. Harris

  4. Reverend Benjamin F. Porter

  5. Reverend Samuel Washington

  6. Reverend J. E. Hayne

  7. Bishop Moses B. Salter

  8. Reverend David Lites

  9. Reverend Bruce Williams

  10. Reverend C. W. McQueen

  11. Reverend Lewis Ruffin Nichols***

  12. Bishop William W. Beckett

  13. Reverend W. D. Johnson

  14. Reverend Sandy Simmons

  15. Reverend Jesse Beard

  16. Reverend Patrick W. Greatheart

  17. Reverend James Murph

  18. Reverend Julius Benbow

  19. Reverend Witherspoon

  20. Reverend Isiah Lemon

  21. Reverend F. F. Farmer

  22. Reverend B. F. Glover

  23. Reverend J. C. Quarles

  24. Bishop Z. L. Grady

  25. Reverend James Gilbert Blake

  26. Reverend Jonathan Baker

  27. Reverend Allen Parrott

  28. Reverend Joseph Darby

  29. Reverend Dr. Charles Watkins

  30. Reverend Dr. James A. Keeton, Jr.


***Served two pastoral tenures at Morris Brown AME Church.

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