Bethel AME (Franklin)

Johnson County Indiana did not have a significant African American population until the Civil War. Before 1860, the county census recorded less than twenty Black residents. However, the rapid organization of Franklin’s AME church following the Civil War is indicative of the County’s strong Black roots. Like most African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Churches, Bethel has consistently served as a bulwark for Franklin’s African American community. Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, Bethel AME provided African Americans a medium to discuss politics, educate themselves, and worship without the threat of racial violence which gripped many of Indiana’s Black communities.

Franklin AME was organized in 1867 by Pastor W.S. Lankford from the Indianapolis congregation. However, Franklin is also recorded as having around four congregants from 1840-45. Despite this, the majority of Franklin’s Black residents came after the Civil War, necessitating the creation of an AME Church. This 1867 church sat on the corner of Uitz Street and Madison Avenue. The house of worship and parsonage were both completed by 1868. The congregants gathered there until 1911 when a new church was built just one lot away. Mary Fossett, the wife of Franklin AME preacher John Fosset, a Civil War Veteran, nailed the first church lath on the new building. The parsonage was remodeled in 1915 and the church’s basement was complete by 1920.

By 1942, Franklin AME had been under around eight Bishops and forty-two Pastors, and the congregation was around 115. Notable pastors include H.C. Moorman, a former slave, and Semuel Stokes, a veteran of the Civil War. The congregation’s own John Montgomery was the first Black man elected to Franklin’s City Council, a seat he served from 1976-80. Franklin AME, also known as ‘Little Bethel’, gave the Quality-of-Life Award to Franklin’s Martha Wales, who was the first Black person to run a city department. Much of Bethel Franklin’s history has been recorded by congregant Sylvester Crowe.

Franklin AME is a simple two-story tower with a square cupola projecting outward. A large apse protrudes from the south end of the church, resembling a bay window. The interior is primarily pine and plaster, with the typical sanctuary of a methodist congregation: I.E. simplistic interior with limited iconography or fanfare. The parsonage is located to the east of the church, much of its exterior is original to the 1868 construction, while the interior has been modified. Franklin AME has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 2015.