Brown Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church had its beginnings as a prayer movement in 1866, in the homes of the forefathers of some present day members. This movement was organized into an A.M.E. Church in the basement of the Albert Hotel in Selma.
Brown Chapel A.M.E. Church was admitted into the A.M.E. Connection in 1867. The first frame structure was erected on the present site in 1869 and re-erected in 1908. It is the only building remaining of the work of A.J. Farley, an early 20th Century, Black builder from Dallas County.
During the 1960’s the church became known throughout the world for its role in the Voting Rights Movement, that brought about the “Bloody Sunday” confrontation with state and local law enforcement , and the subsequent march from the church to the state capitol in Montgomery.
Mass meetings were held in black churches during this Movement, to organize, create unity and work toward a common goal which was the right to vote. Alabama Governor George C. Wallace then ordered the courts to issue an injunction to prohibit mass meetings in Black churches. The injunction, issued by Judge Hare stopped the civil rights activities in Selma for a while. However Brown Chapel Pastor P.H. Lewis, with the agreement from Bishop l.H. Bonner, opened the doors of Brown Chapel again. From that time, Brown Chapel became the primary site for mass meetings. In addition, the pastor and congregation provided shelter for many participants in the Movement.
On March 7, 1965, at noon on a sacred communion Sunday, a small group of souls arose from the pews and gathered on the steps of Brown Chapel to begin the march to Montgomery.
Led by now Congressman John Lewis, they marched in protest to the foot of the Edmund Pettus Bridge. They were met on the other side of the bridge and violently stopped by sheriff’s deputies and state troopers. Tear gas, billy clubs and dogs were used against the marchers. Approximately 50 people were injured, including John Lewis. There was one death. That Sunday became known as “Bloody Sunday.” It is now celebrated annually during the National Voting Rights Museum’s Bridge Crossing Jubilee.
On March 21, 1965, after another failed attempt to reach Montgomery, thousands, led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., rallied and prayed at the same bridge under the protection of the Alabama National Guard. More than 300 people marched the 47 miles to Montgomery to show their desire for equal voting rights.
On August 6, 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law the Voting Rights Act.
In 1997 the Selma to Montgomery highway was named by the U.S. Department of Interior and the U.S. Department of Transportation as a National Historic Trail with its beginning at the front steps of Brown Chapel church.
In March 1998, Brown Chapel A.M.E. Church was awarded the distinctive status of a National Historic Landmark for its significant participation in the struggle for equality and justice for all people.
Today Brown Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church continues to position itself on the cutting edge of social change and spiritual enrichment. As one of the most well known citadels in the Christian religion in the world, it is a testimony to the unwavering faith and undeniable spirit that only almighty God can invoke in the souls of committed men and women.