Change Makers: Trinity AME Zion Church home and host to many ‘movers and shakers’
BINGHAMTON (WBNG) -- February is Black History Month and all month long, WBNG will be highlighting change-makers from in and around the Southern Tier.
This week, we are shining the light on not just one Change-Maker, but an institution that has become the home and gathering place of movers and shakers on the local and national scale.
On the corner of Oak and Lydia street in Binghamton sits Trinity AME Zion Church. It was the first black church in Broome County, but the building seen today is the product of very humble beginnings.
“There are records going back to 1826 as the first gathering, but it was more or less like a mission,” said Brenda Cave-James, a church member who has done extensive research on its history.
“It was just a group of people near the water, near the Susquehanna River, and it was described as like a shack or shed assisting people, freedom finders and slave people who had left from the south,” said Cave-James, “Later Joshua Whitney, the great land baron who came and got things started around here, donated some land to the congregation and that was where current day Columbus Park is.”
She said abolitionist Jermain Wesly Loguen, himself a freed slave, served as pastor of the church in Binghamton and others across the Southern Tier as a circuit preacher in the mid 1800′s.
“Our church, in general, has been dubbed the freedom church because we were part of the anti-slavery movement and all the great abolitionists came out of our church, said Cave James, " Frederick Douglass, Jermain Wesly Loguen, Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth and many many more that you don’t hear about.”
Cave-James said in the Southern Tier churches provided much more than spiritual guidance for the Black community.
“We were on the forefront of everything, the black church was the heart of the community, and our church, in particular, there were several black churches in town, but ours is the oldest, and back in the day it was standing room only.”
She said their church has always pushed for progress and many famed African Americans have spoken within their walls. Cave-James said it was thanks to community leader Fred Hazel that W.E.B Dubois spoke in Binghamton about lynching. The church also hosted James Weldon Johnson who penned ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing’ often referred to as the black national anthem. Senator John Lynch, one of the first black senators after reconstruction also came and spoke at their church.
But it wasn’t just national figures, Cave-James said some of the Southern Tier’s most influential black citizens called their church home.
For example, Claude Fawcett was a military veteran who also used his culinary skills for eloquent banquets. He was a well-known photographer in the area, capturing the vibrant life and culture of the community for decades.
His wife, Beccye was the first black employee of the Binghamton Public Library and was an ordained minister at Trinity. She also wrote plays and musicals that were performed at the church and in the community. Cave-James said she was even responsible for bringing Ethel Waters here to perform.
The Church was also home to the first meeting of the local chapter of the NAACP. One of the signers was Cave-James’ Grandfather.
“Many of the movers and shakers in the town were at that meeting and signed on and it was very necessary, it was a necessary organization and still is. Our church was always a safe house for civil rights.”
Cave-James said that spirit has not dissipated after nearly 200 years, continuing to be a beating heart for the community.
“Say someone is running for office for something, or any significant thing that we need to know about or talk about or meet about, our church has been the center of civil rights and progress.”
To view our last Change Maker story on Bud Fowler click here.
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