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Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church Celebrates 190-Year Legacy in Rochester with Black-Tie Event Sept. 29

By Tracie Isaac –


Rev. Dr. Kenneth Q. James stands in front of today's Memorial AME Zion Church at

Rev. Dr. Kenneth Q. James stands in front of today’s Memorial AME Zion Church at 549 Clarissa St.

Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church (Memorial AMEZ) has announced the limited availability of tickets for its 190th Anniversary Soirée on Sept. 29, at 6 p.m. in the Hyatt Regency Rochester.

Bishop Darius G. Pridgden, of True Bethel Baptist Church in Buffalo, will be the keynote speaker for the event, along with featured psalmist and national recording artist Eli Wilson, of Eli Wilson Ministries in Orlando, Florida.

Dinner will be served during the event.

In addition, tickets will be $65 per person, and can be reserved by calling Ms. Arneska Harvey, Memorial AMEZ executive assistant, at (585) 546-5997.

According to Memorial AMEZ officials, the event will celebrate the church’s unique and prominent place in Rochester’s African-American, and civil rights history.

Founded in 1827, Memorial AMEZ is the oldest African-American Church in Rochester and Monroe County.

Rev. Thomas James, an escaped slave, was the founder and first pastor of what was then called A.M.E. Zion Church.

Its original location was on Favor St., and served as a place of shelter on the Underground Railroad for hundreds of escaped slaves who were being led to freedom by Harriet Tubman.

Original AME Zion Church

Original AME Zion

A.M.E. Zion was also the platform from which Susan B. Anthony delivered her last public address, as well as the home church of Frederick Douglass.

Mr. Douglass edited his abolitionist paper, “The North Star,” from printing presses set up in the church’s basement.

He and other political activists would meet regularly at the church, where he gave many historic speeches, including his last speech in Rochester.

Rev. Thomas James also licensed Frederick Douglass to preach in the AME Zion church.

The original structure on Favor St. remains today, and the property has been designated as a national historic landmark.

The church eventually relocated to its current location at 549 Clarissa St., and “Memorial” was added to its name in 1907, when one-of-a-kind stained-glass windows memorializing Frederick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony, and Harriet Tubman were donated to the church.

The original Susan B. Anthony and Harriet Tubman windows are still adorning the church today, which is under the leadership of Rev. Dr. Kenneth Q. James.

Rev. Dr. James previously served at the historical Mother A.M.E. Zion Church located in Harlem, New York City.

The church was the founding organizing church of the African Methodist Church in the United States in 1896.

Rev. Dr. James was born and raised in New York City, and he is a fifth-generation member of AME Zion.

A graduate and product of all AME Zion schools, post high school, Rev. James obtained his masters and doctorate degrees from Cliff Theological College.

The reverend’s vision “is to build on the legacy and leadership of Memorial AMEZ, make more inroads with young people and youth, and to not be the last generation of A.M.E. Zion in Rochester, NY.”

“I want to reach young people to let them know that the church wants you, and you have something of value to offer the church,” he stated.

In discussing how the community can assist the leaders of our community with Rochester’s growth, James said, “We need to reach young people, and let them know that there are viable careers and life opportunities in Rochester. Additionally, I heard this from Kwesi Mfume, ‘We have no permanent friends or permanent enemies, we have permanent interests.’  We need to find our permanent interests, perhaps from the people we represent.”

Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church will also host a special worship service at 549 Clarissa St., on Thursday, Sept. 28, at 7 p.m., featuring Bishop-Elect Marvin L. Winans, the founder and senior pastor of Perfecting Church of Detroit, Michigan, in order to commence the celebration.

Stained glass windows, honoring Susan B. Anthony (left) and Harriet Tubman

Stained glass windows, honoring Susan B. Anthony (left) and Harriet Tubman

Bishop-Elect Marvin L. Winans is widely known as a member of the musically-anointed Winan’s family, and as an international recording artist with multiple Grammy, Staller and Dove awards.

Memorial AMEZ also remains at the forefront of civic activity and responsibility, locally.

In October 2016, U.S. Congresswoman Louise Slaughter invited U.S. Congressman and civil rights icon John Lewis to speak at Memorial AMEZ about his experiences during the Civil Rights Movement.

He shared his memories of “Bloody Sunday” in Alabama, an event during which he nearly lost his life, while fighting for equal rights and justice.

The Memorial AMEZ Choir has also been a featured performer at the White House during the Clinton Administration, and at the anniversary of the Women’s Suffrage Movement.

Ultimately, the church and its members have established a strong tradition of helping to better the lives of others.

“I want this church to have a strong voice in the community, to be in the vanguard of speaking up and out for those that Jesus termed ‘the least of these’ – those who are disadvantaged, oppressed, or in some way outsiders, outcast or unwelcomed,” Rev. Dr. James said. “That is where the church has always staked its claim. Quoting the late Gardner C. Taylor, ‘the gospel should comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable.’”

Examples of the church’s efforts to uplift the community include the creation of the Ralph Bunche Scholarship, which is the first African-American scholarship in Rochester, funded through the generosity of church members Mr. and Mrs. Hamm; the church serving as the founding home of Rochester’s oldest African-American Boy Scout Troup, Troop #169; the development by then-pastor, Reverend Errol E. Hunt, of affordable apartments (the RL Edwards Manor Retirement Home and The Daisy House) surrounding the church; as well as the creation, over the years, of a food pantry, soup kitchen, and coordinated activities for the elderly.

“We are blessed to celebrate 190 years of service to the Rochester community, and are extremely proud of our legacy of civil rights advocacy and spiritual support for all,” Rev. James stated. “We look forward to celebrating our past, present, and future with the Rochester community, at our soirée on Sept. 29 – and we remain firmly committed to continuing our work to enrich the lives and spirits of our parish congregation, and our community neighbors for many decades to come.”

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