Excavating the history of a Black church in Hastings burned down in early 1900s


HASTINGS, Minn. — It’s a part of Hastings history that is just now being talked about: A Black church that was burned down in the early 1900s.

Brown Chapels African Methodist Episcopal Church was established in 1891. It was where black people worshiped for 15 years, until someone set it on fire.

Reg Chapman spoke with a descendant of one of the founders of the church, who talks about resurrecting the past for reconciliation.

It’s a story not spoken about, but remembered, by the descendants of the people who experienced it.

Dozens of Black people called Hastings home in the late 1800s. They worshiped with their White neighbors at the Methodist Church on Vermillion Street, but didn’t always feel welcome.

“There is record of a racial epithet being thrown during a baptism at the Methodist church here. It was written in the paper that experience has shown us that we need a place of our own to worship,” said James A Curry.

Curry’s great grandparents were part of that group who set out to find that perfect place to worship.

A 24- by 36-foot white frame church at the corner of Fifth and Sibley streets was purchased for $500.

“In 1882, the church opened its doors and prospered for 15 years,” Curry said.

Days after celebrating its 15th anniversary someone entered the back of the Brown Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church, poured kerosene inside and set it on fire.

“With the silence of the community that followed, no investigation, and those two things I’m sure sent the message that Hastings had turned a corner,” Curry said.

After the church burned there was a mass exodus of Black people in Hastings.

“There was even an article in 1954 that said the last colored man in town had died, and from the research I’ve done they were not able to reach their 1900 peak of 40 something Blacks until the 90s so that’s 40 years roughly of an all-white town,” said Curry.

A group of artists are part of the effort to share this story, breaking generations of silence.

“We’ve formed a mission to sort of excavate this history and share it with the community,” Curry said.

Building Remembrance for Reconciliation, or BR4R, was formed to commemorate this history.

“Just because it happens to be an act of hate doesn’t mean I’m wanting to unearth and shame folks. I want to commemorate that which has been invisible,” Curry said.

Breaking the Silence Remembering at Browns Chapel AME will take place Oct. 23. It will include tours of Hastings landmarks, guest speakers and more. For more information on the event, click here. 



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