Capers Memorial CME Church

The Oldest African-American Church in the State of Tennessee
319 15th Avenue North
Mailing:  P.O. Box 331053
Nashville, Tennessee 37203  
(615) 329-2082  
E-Mail:  capersmemorialcme@yahoo.com
 
Reverend William Cole, Sr., Pastor
 
Local Preachers
Reverend Norman Roland (Retired)
Reverend Ronnie L. Whitney, Sr.
 

Welcome

We are so glad you stopped by Capers Memorial.  We exist to serve our members, friends and to make new friends.  Whether you have recently arrived in Nashville, are planning a move, or have been here for some time, we extend you a warm “Welcome.”  It is our prayer that you find a church home that meets your spiritual, personal, and family needs.  Capers Memorial might be that home.  We thank you for visiting our home on the web, please come again.
 
Sunday School:                       8:45 a.m.   
Sunday Worship:                   10:00 a.m.
Saturday Bible Study:            11:00 a.m.                  
Thursday Feeding Ministry:   11:00 a.m. - 1:00 p.m.
 

Our Mission

Capers Memorial C.M.E. Church’s mission is to move into the world where Christ is taking servant shape around the needs and hopes of the world.  It is to be the source of grace and truth to the secular world: leading the struggle for justice and peace; helping people discover who they are and their relationship to God and the universe; being alert to political and social issues; leading the lost to salvation, and leading the saved to maturity and eternal life.

 

Direction

From I-24 East (Clarksville)  Merge onto I-65 South (toward Memphis/Huntsville), proceed over the Cumberland River, continue toward Knoxville/Huntsville (still on I-65 South), Exit at 209 Charlotte Avenue, turn right onto Charlotte, go one block turn left onto 15thAvenue, North, at Burger King.
 

From I-65 South  Toward Memphis/Louisville, exit at 209 (Church Street/Charlotte), turn left on Church Street, go 2 blocks turn right on 15th Avenue, North, church is on the left.

From Chattanooga (I-24 West) and (Knoxville (40 West)  from Chattanooga take I-24 West to Nashville, From Knoxville take I-40 west to Nashville.  When you get to Nashville, bear to the left taking the split going to Huntsville/Memphis (65S and 40W), continue bear to the right split to Memphis/Louisville, exit at 209 (Church Street/Charlotte), turn left on Church Street, go 2 blocks turn right on 15h Avenue, North, church is on the left.

From Memphis/Jackson (I-40 East)  when you get to Nashville, take the Huntsville/Knoxville Exit, 206A (bearing to the right), exit at 209 Charlotte Avenue, turn right onto Charlotte, go one block, turn left onto 15th Avenue, North, at Burger King. 

 
Pastor William Cole, Sr.

Pastor William Cole, Sr.

 
Capers Memorial (1925) In 1924, the city condemned the property at 12th Avenue, North, and Church Street to raise the viaduct. The congregation bought land and built a new building at 319 15th Avenue, North, the present location. At the dedication of this building, Capers Chapel was then renamed Capers Memorial.

Capers Memorial (1925)
In 1924, the city condemned the property at 12th Avenue, North, and Church Street to raise the viaduct. The congregation bought land and built a new building at 319 15th Avenue, North, the present location. At the dedication of this building, Capers Chapel was then renamed Capers Memorial.

 

Welcome - We Do It Better Together

  
 
 
 
 
 

History

After completing its work, the Christmas Conference which convened on December 24, 1784, came to a close on January 3, 1785.  Two Bishops (Superintendents), who had been appointed by John Wesley, Thomas Coke and Francis Asbury, were elected and the ministers received their assignments.   It was the appointment of two ministers, in particular, where the history of Capers began.  Bishop Asbury appointed Rev. James Haw as Presiding Elder and Rev. Benjamin Ogden was assigned as the minister of the Kentucky-Tennessee District which included all of Kentucky and Tennessee. 
 
Early in the year of 1786, Rev. Ogden arrived in the Cumberland Valley of Middle Tennessee and began preaching to the settlers.  At the close of his first year’s labor, he reported sixty-three members, four of whom were Black persons.  These early converts later became the congregation which was named the McKendree Methodist Church. 

 

Because of the Methodists’ fervor and zeal for evangelism, the membership of McKendree grew significantly over the forthcoming years.  From Middle Tennessee, itinerant Methodist preachers carried the good news of the Gospel to East and West Tennessee and the bordering southern states.

The Methodists were also the most prolific denomination attracting Black members, to the extent that the Annual Conference report for McKendree Church reflected more Black members than White (475 Blacks and 423 Whites).  In proportion to the population of Nashville, a significant number of these members were Black females. 

The founder, Bishop William Capers, (organized churches was born in South Carolina in 1790. He became a Methodist bishop, editor, and missionary. He was on the founding council of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. He also worked as a circuit preacher and a planter.

Because of his love for Christianity and his devotion to right and justice, Bishop Capers organized more than thirty missions; the only one surviving is the one that bears his name, Capers Memorial.
 
Capers Memorial, the oldest Black church in Tennessee, began as a spiritual outreach of a White church, McKendree Methodist Episcopal Church. The Black mission began when MEC Minister James Gwin started preaching to local slaves around 1828–29. The size of the Black membership was one of the factors which lead to the establishment of the congregation which became Capers Chapel. 
 

The desire of Black members to celebrate their religious experience through their own culture was the other factor which motivated the McKendree Church to allow free and slave Blacks to congregate and worship together in their own building.  The official designation for this building as the “African Mission” was in 1832 when Rev. James Gwin was assigned pastoral oversight over the congregation. The Mission grew under Rev. Gwin’s leadership to 819 members in 1833.

The abolitionist movement and slave rebellions (e. g. Nat Turner) which were very active in the northern states affected some of the African Mission’s activities.  Sunday School and night meetings were stopped temporarily. However, Black preachers continued to participate and exercise leadership in the services.  One was called “Simeon” who preached until his death in 1847.

The slavery issue had plagued the American Methodist Church from its inception.  A slavery resolution was brought to each General Conference.  However, slavery was not a priority for the General Conference until the schism of 1844.  The southern White leadership of the church, in an appeasement of its slave holding members, separated and organized the Methodist Episcopal Church South in 1846.  The “African Mission” continued as a separate, independent congregation of McKendree Church.  This was not unique to Nashville. By this time almost every annual conference in the Southern Methodist Church had its “slave mission.”

Not only was the African Mission the major source of religious expression for Black Nashvillians, it was also the center of their cultural life.  In 1833 a Black barber opened the first school for Blacks in the basement of the church.  As Blacks worshiped together freely and openly in the “African Mission,” it helped to blur the line between “free Blacks” and “slave Blacks.”  Hence, the “African Mission” helped to unify and solidify the Black community.

In 1851 the congregation of the “African Mission” purchased a lot at Hynes Street and McCreary (11th Avenue North), near the Nashville-Chattanooga Depot.  The new, large brick edifice was paid for from the sale of the “African Mission,” fund raising and donations.  The new building was dedicated in honor of Bishop William C. Capers.  The dedication sermon was preached on December 25, 1853, by Dr. John B. McFerrin.  Bishop Capers was influential in persuading White Methodists to recognize the advantages of evangelizing the Black slaves.

 

In 1859, one of Capers’ members, Mrs. Fannie Grundy, donated the first communion set. The set was retired from service in 1957 at the church’s 125th anniversary when McKendree United Methodist Church celebrated with Capers Memorial. The set is displayed on special occasions and serves as an important piece, not only of Capers history, but of the history of Black churches in Nashville.

The Civil War disrupted both social and religious life.  The Union Army’s occupation of Nashville began in February 1862.  Military Governor Andrew Johnson arrested McKendree’s pastor, Rev. Samuel Baldwin, and imprisoned him in Ohio for disloyalty to the United States.  During this time Capers was pastored by Rev. Elisha Carr.  The Union Army confiscated Capers for use as a brass shop because of its location in the rail yard complex.

In 1863, after the Battle of Murfreesboro, the Union Army converted the building into a military hospital. Although these were turbulent times, the Civil War created the opportunity for the emergence of independent Black pastoral leadership as Black preachers gradually assumed control of the Capers Church.   It should be noted here that though Blacks had been in the Methodist Church since its implantation on American soil, they had not always been afforded full acceptance or membership.  The African Methodist Episcopal Church began in 1787 by Richard Allen after he and a fellow worshiper, Absalom Jones, were ejected from service by a White deacon at St. George Methodist Church, in Philadelphia.  Due to White southerners’ hostility and fear of independent Black leadership, the AMEs and AME Zion (African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, founded 1824, James Varick was the first Bishop), confined their evangelistic activities primarily in the northern states. 

The War opened the door for the entry of African Methodist evangelism below the Mason Dixon line. In Nashville, it created the conditions for the split of the Capers’ congregation.  Bishop Daniel A. Payne of the AME Church arrived in December 1863 to organize churches.  And, on December 15, 1863, Rev. Napoleon Merry and seven of Capers’ members applied for membership in the AME Church.  Bishop Payne accepted the petition and changed the name to St. John AME Church.  After the war, a legal decision was rendered and the property repossessed by the M. E. Church South.

The Civil War ended in 1865.  Subsequently, during the General Conference of 1866, the newly freed Black members petitioned the Conference to ‘set us apart’ and approved the establishment of independent Black Methodist ministers, churches and conference. The General Conference approved the resolution and in 1867, Capers became a part of the Memphis Colored Conference.  December 15, 1870 was set as the date to organize a denomination for Black Methodist Churches. On that day a delegation of clergy and lay met in Jackson, Tennessee, and organized the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church.   William Henry Miles was elected the first Bishop.  On January 1, 1871,  (Emancipation Proclamation Day) traveled to Nashville and  preached his first sermon at Capers as Bishop of  the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church (name changed in 1954 to Christian Methodist Episcopal Church). The scripture was Psalm 84:11 -- “for the Lord God is a sun and shield: the Lord will give grace and glory: no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly.”

Although finances were limited for the new church, it neither diminished the need nor daunted the spirit of the CME Church in promoting education.  This acute interest in education was also inherited from the evangelistic Methodist pioneers.  The earliest official Sunday School classes were organized at the Methodist Station (McKendree Methodist Church).  In 1863, the congregation of Capers permitted Rev. J.G. McKee, a United Presbyterian missionary, to establish a school in the building.  The Colored Methodist Episcopal Church responded to the need for education of the former slaves by building, opening, and operating several high schools, vocational schools, and colleges.  Of particular interest for Capers’ history is Lane College, Jackson, Tennessee.  When the Tennessee Annual Conference held its 1878 session at Capers Chapel, with Bishop L. H. Holsey presiding, J. K. Daniels offered a resolution calling upon the conference to establish a school.   The conference appointed a committee.  The committee proposed to erect a building and opened it for the reception of students in January 1883.  This project became the CME High School, then Lane Institute, and finally it was named Lane College in honor of Bishop Isaac Lane who was so instrumental in its inception and continuation.

In 1887, under the leadership of Rev. George Stewart, the   building on Hynes and McCreary was torn down and a new edifice was erected at 12th and Church streets, referred to as “the church on the viaduct.”  The building was completed in phases:  the basement was completed by Rev. J.M. Mitchell. Years later, under the leadership of Rev. G.I. Jackson, the structure was finished and renamed the “Jackson Temple.”  Eventually, the Church was renamed Capers Chapel.

It was previously noted how the educational concern was inherited by the CME Church from the Methodist Church.  Another ministry, which was passed on to the new Church, was the missionary spirit — the birth of Capers with the “African Mission.”  The missionary endeavor was also at the forefront of the CME founding fathers and mothers.  In 1907, the seeds for the establishment of Bethlehem Center were planted at Capers by Sally E. Sawyer. 

On September 3, 1918, the Connectional Woman’s Missionary Society was formerly organized at Capers Chapel.  Dr. Mattie E. Coleman (1870-1942), a member of Capers, was elected the Society’s first Connectional President.  Not only were the roles of Dr. Coleman and Capers influential at the Connectional level, they were involved in the missionary ventures at the local level and in the heart of downtown Nashville. 

 In 1924 and in order to raise the viaduct, the City of Nashville condemned the property at 12th Avenue and Church Street. The congregation bought land at 319 15th Avenue North, the site of its present location.  McKissack and McKissack Architects, who were members of the church, designed and constructed the new building in 1925.  Capers Chapel was then renamed Capers Memorial CME Church. Moses McKissack III opened the first African-American construction company in Nashville in 1905. Later, his brother Calvin joined him. Calvin’s widow, Desiree McKissack, is currently a member of Capers Memorial. Moses III was the grandson of Moses McKissack, a slave who learned the trade of building from his owner.  McKissack and McKissack is the oldest African-America Architectural firm in Tennessee and, according to Desiree McKissack, the oldest existing architectural firm in the Unites States.

As the gateway of Black Methodism to Tennessee and southern states, Capers has planted the foundational seed for other CME churches.  Lane Tabernacle (1880), Phillip Chapel (1910), and St. Luke (1915) had their beginning from the Capers’ family.  Lane Tabernacle no long exists.

The Reverend C.M. Newell, who transferred from the Kentucky Conference, was the pastor of the church during its construction stage and led the congregation into the new church. Capers Chapel was then renamed Capers Memorial CME Church. 

In the General Conference of 1954, the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church voted to change its name, but because it was a constitutional question, it had to be voted on in the annual conferences; the 1958 Discipline states:  "The Secretary of the College of Bishops was authorized by the College of Bishops to announce in The Christian Index, the Official Organ of the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church, the results of the voting by the several Annual Conferences.  The same was done accordingly and the name of the Church became officially known as the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, January 19, 1956" [page 377 of 1958 Discipline].  [Contributed by Bishop Lawrence L. Reddick III].

During the late 1950s and early 1960s, community meetings were held at various churches to further the Civil Rights Movement. It was at a meeting held at Capers Memorial that the boycott (to avoid purchasing from any stores in downtown Nashville because of the stores’ of mistreatment of Blacks) was lifted. The Church was placed on the National Historical Registry in the 1980s and in 1997 a historical marker was dedicated.

Through the years, ministers have served Capers faithfully.  Four pastors of Capers were later elected Bishops of the CME Church: Bishop Elias Cottrell (1878-80 elected 1897).  Bishop Cottrell was also the founder of Mississippi  Industrial College (1905), Holly Springs, Mississippi; Bishop George Stewart (1885-87, elected 1910); Bishop P. Randolph Shy (1937-38, elected 1958); and Bishop Joseph A. Johnson, Jr. (1954-59, elected 1966).  While pastoring Capers, Bishop Johnson was the first Black graduate of Vanderbilt University and the first to receive a Ph.D. degree. The Joseph A. Johnson Black Cultural Center of Vanderbilt University on the campus is named in his honor.

In the last decades, Capers has proven to be a continuing source of community involvement and strength. Initial meetings were held at Capers for Tying Nashville Together. Moreover, the congregation purchased surrounding properties for future development. With this expansion, Capers was able to more readily welcome a new community in 2000 with the addition of an entrance ramp for worshippers who have disabilities. The church continues to improve both structurally and spiritually.

 

Former Pastors of Capers Memorial

Bishop William Capers, Founder

Reverend James Gwin (1828-)
Reverend Simeon (1847-)
Reverend Elisha Carr (1863-)
Reverend Elias Cottrell (1878-1880)
Reverend George Stewart (1885-1887)
Reverend J.M. Mitchell (1887-)
Reverend G.I. Jackson
Reverend C.M. Newell (1925-1927)
Reverend W.J. Wates (1927-1928)
Reverend C.W. Crawford (1928-1930)
Reverend J.G. Hollis (1930-1934)
Reverend N.C. Cleaves (1934-1936)
Reverend Peter Randolph Shy (1936-1939)
Reverend T.J. Douglass (1939-1943)
Reverend Leroy A. Story (1943–1953)
Reverend Joseph A. Johnson, Jr., (1953–1959)
Reverend Roosevelt G. Elam, Jr., (1959–1962)
Reverend W. R. Johnson, Sr., (1962–1964)
Reverend Dr. Charles E. Winfrey, Sr., (1964–1985)
Reverend Emerson Jefferson, Jr., (1985–1989)
Reverend William J.G. McLin (1989–1994)
Reverend Dr. George W. Coleman, Jr. (1994–1999)
Reverend Dr. Stevey M. Wilburn, Sr. (1999–2001)
Reverend Faye Greer-Cook (2001 – 2003)
Reverend Patricia A. Buckner (2003–2010)
Reverend William Smith III (2010 – 11/2011)

 

Pastors Who Became Bishops of the CME Church

Bishop Elias Cottrell (Elected 1897)
Bishop George Steward (Elected 1910)
Bishop Peter Randolph Shy (Elected 1958)
Bishop Joseph A. Johnson (Elected 1966)
 

Over One-Half Century of Bishops of Capers Memorial

Bishop B. Julian Smith (1958-1974)
Bishop John Madison Exum (1974-1982)
Bishop William H. Graves, Sr. (1982-2010)
Bishop Lawrence L. Reddick III (2010-2014)
Bishop Henry M. Williamson, Sr. (2014-Present)
 

Over One-Half Century of Presiding Elders of Capers Memorial

Reverend E.L. Hollis (1960-1961)

Reverend John Glenn (Interim) (1961-1962)
Reverend Dr. Roosevelt Elam, Jr. (1962-1982)
Reverend Thomas R. Crosslin (1982-1990)
Reverend William O. Lowe, Sr. (1990-2000)
Reverend Dr. Charles E. Winfrey, Sr. (2000-2007)
Reverend Dr. Ronald Powe (Interim) (5/2007-10/2007)
Reverend Dr. Wilma Walden Pearson (2007-2010)
Reverend Bobby K. Goliday, Sr. (2010-2014)
Reverend Dr. Ronald Powe (2014-Present)

 

 McKendree Methodist Episcopal Church. Early in the year of 1786, Reverend Ogden arrived in the Cumberland Valley of Middle Tennessee and began preaching to the settlers. At the close of his first year’s labor, he reported 63 members, four of whom were Black. These early converts later became the congregation which was named McKendree Methodist Church — the Mother Church of Capers Memorial.

McKendree Methodist Episcopal Church. Early in the year of 1786, Reverend Ogden arrived in the Cumberland Valley of Middle Tennessee and began preaching to the settlers. At the close of his first year’s labor, he reported 63 members, four of whom were Black. These early converts later became the congregation which was named McKendree Methodist Church — the Mother Church of Capers Memorial.

 
Bishop William C. Capers (1790 – 1855) Bishop, Preacher, Planter, Missionary, Editor  Because of his love for Christianity and devotion to righteousness and justice, Methodist Episcopal Bishop William C. Capers organized over 30 missions. Capers Memorial is the only one surviving.

Bishop William C. Capers (1790 – 1855)
Bishop, Preacher, Planter, Missionary, Editor  Because of his love for Christianity and devotion to righteousness and justice, Methodist Episcopal Bishop William C. Capers organized over 30 missions. Capers Memorial is the only one surviving.

 
The “African Mission” The official designation for this building as the “African Mission” was in 1832.

The “African Mission”
The official designation for this building as the “African Mission” was in 1832.

 
Capers Chapel In1851 the congregation of the “African Mission” purchased land at Hynes Street and McCreary (11th Avenue, North) near the Nashville-Chattanooga Depot. This building was dedicated December 25, 1853, in honor of Bishop William C. Capers.

Capers Chapel
In1851 the congregation of the “African Mission” purchased land at Hynes Street and McCreary (11th Avenue, North) near the Nashville-Chattanooga Depot. This building was dedicated December 25, 1853, in honor of Bishop William C. Capers.

 
The Silver Communion Set The set was donated to the Church by Mrs. Fannie Gundy in 1859. The set was retired in 1957 at the 125th Church Anniversary.

The Silver Communion Set
The set was donated to the Church by Mrs. Fannie Gundy in 1859. The set was retired in 1957 at the 125th Church Anniversary.

 
Bishop William H. Miles (1825-1892) First Bishop of the CME Church On January 1, 1871, Bishop Miles preached his first sermon as a Bishop of the CME Church at Capers Memorial. Capers had been established 39 years earlier as a colored church by the white members of McKendree M.E. Church, South, in honor of William Capers, the original founder of the mission of slaves in 1828. The CME Church was organized December 25, 1870, and on January 1, 1871, Capers Memorial became a church in the new colored denomination when Bishop Miles made his initial visit.

Bishop William H. Miles (1825-1892)
First Bishop of the CME Church
On January 1, 1871, Bishop Miles preached his first sermon as a Bishop of the CME Church at Capers Memorial. Capers had been established 39 years earlier as a colored church by the white members of McKendree M.E. Church, South, in honor of William Capers, the original founder of the mission of slaves in 1828. The CME Church was organized December 25, 1870, and on January 1, 1871, Capers Memorial became a church in the new colored denomination when Bishop Miles made his initial visit.

 
 Lane College (Administration Building) At Capers Chapel in 1878, the Annual Conference passed a resolution to establish Lane College. It was founded in 1882 by Bishop Isaac Lane, a former slave,

Lane College (Administration Building)
At Capers Chapel in 1878, the Annual Conference passed a resolution to establish Lane College. It was founded in 1882 by Bishop Isaac Lane, a former slave,

 
Capers Chapel (1887) In 1887 this building was erected at 12th and Church streets after the Hynes and McCreary building was torn down. The city condemned the Church Street building to raise a viaduct. Capers bought land and built a new building at its present location, 319 15th Avenue, North, Nashville.

Capers Chapel (1887)
In 1887 this building was erected at 12th and Church streets after the Hynes and McCreary building was torn down. The city condemned the Church Street building to raise a viaduct. Capers bought land and built a new building at its present location, 319 15th Avenue, North, Nashville.

 
Dr. Mattie E Coleman (1870-1924) September 3, 1918, the Connectional Women’s Missionary Society was formerly organized at Capers Chapel. Dr. Mattie E. Coleman, a member of Capers, was elected the Society’s first Connectional President.

Dr. Mattie E Coleman (1869-1943)
September 3, 1918, the Connectional Women’s Missionary Society was formerly organized at Capers Chapel. Dr. Mattie E. Coleman, a member of Capers, was elected the Society’s first Connectional President.

 
 
Sallie Hill Sawyer & Bethlehem Center Sallie Hill Sawyer, a member of Capers Memorial, planted the seed to establish Bethlehem Center.

Sallie Hill Sawyer & Bethlehem Center
Sallie Hill Sawyer, a member of Capers Memorial, planted the seed to establish Bethlehem Center.

  
Calvin McKissack and his father, Moses McKissack of McKissack and McKissack Architects.

Calvin McKissack and his father, Moses McKissack of McKissack and McKissack Architects, the oldest African-American architect firm in the Unites States, members of Capers Memorial and builders of its present location.

  
While the pastor of Capers Memorial (1954-1959), in 1953 Bishop Johnson was the first African-American student admitted to Vanderbilt where he earned two degrees: the bachelor of Divinity in 1954 and the Ph.D. in 1958. The Bishop Johnson Black Cultural Center on Vanderbilt’s campus was dedicated in 1984 in memory of him. He was elected bishop of the CME Church in 1966.

While the pastor of Capers Memorial (1954-1959), in 1953 Bishop Johnson was the first African-American student admitted to Vanderbilt where he earned two degrees: the bachelor of Divinity in 1954 and the Ph.D. in 1958. The Bishop Johnson Black Cultural Center on Vanderbilt’s campus was dedicated in 1984 in memory of him. He was elected bishop of the CME Church in 1966.

  
The Civil Rights Boycott During the late 1950s and early 1960s, community meetings were held at various churches to further the Civil Rights Movement. It was at a meeting held at Capers Memorial that the boycott (to avoid purchasing from any stores in downtown Nashville because of the stores’ mistreatment of Blacks) was lifted.

The Civil Rights Boycott During the late 1950s and early 1960s, community meetings were held at various churches to further the Civil Rights Movement. It was at a meeting held at Capers Memorial that the boycott (to avoid purchasing from any stores in downtown Nashville because of the stores’ mistreatment of Blacks) was lifted.

 
Historical Marker Capers Memorial was placed on the National Registry of Historical Places in 1985. The Historical Marker was erected and dedicated in 1997.

Historical Marker Capers Memorial was placed on the National Registry of Historical Places in 1985. The Historical Marker was erected and dedicated in 1997.