This Day in History: 1821-03-14

The African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, or the AME Zion Church or AMEZ, a historically African-American Christian denomination based in the United States, is officially formed in New York City. However, it had operated for a number of years before then. The origins of the church can be traced to the John Street Methodist Church of New York City. Following acts of overt discrimination (such as black parishioners being forced to leave worship), many black Christians left to form their own churches. The first church founded by the AME Zion Church was built in 1800 and was named Zion; one of the founders was William Hamilton, a prominent orator and abolitionist. These early black churches still belonged to the Methodist Episcopal Church denomination, although the congregations were independent. The fledgling Zion church grew, and soon multiple churches developed from the original congregation. In 1820, six of the churches met to ordain James Varick as an elder, and in 1821 he was made the first General Superintendent of the AME Zion Church. A debate raged in the white-dominated Methodist church over accepting black ministers. The debate ended on July 30, 1822, when James Varick was ordained as the first bishop of the AME Zion church, a newly independent denomination.