Bethel Jeff (Jeffersonville)

Clark County consistently had one of the largest Black populations in Indiana, the majority of which settled in Jeffersonville or Clarksville. Black congregations became a staple of Jeffersonville’s communities, including the First Colored Baptist in 1861 and Wesleyan Methodists around 1876. Jeffersonville’s African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church has been less documented, despite being older than the other two congregations. Jeffersonville AME demonstrates the issues with documenting early Black settlement’s in Indiana, while also emphasizing the 21st-century mission of AME congregations.

Jeffersonville AME was organized in Claysburg by 1842, where the Black ‘Claysburg settlement’ was founded around the same time. Bethel Jeffersonville is on the ‘Paul Quinn Circuit,’ named after Bishop William Paul Quinn one of Indiana’s AME founders. The circuit included Charleston and New Albany. Jeffersonville is recorded as having around 52 congregants from 1840-45. The original frame building was burned, as was another built near Warder Park. A fourth building was retained on West Court Avenue until the 1969 move to 200 West Park Place. Bethel Jeffersonville suffered from two unfortunate floods in 1883 and 1937, resulting in the destruction of most church records. Due to this, many of the stories of Clark County’s oldest Black congregation are lost.

Despite its tumultuous history, Bethel Jeffersonville has retained the AME spirit for advancement. Rev. Dr. Sheiler Stokes initiated the Augustus F. Hawkins literacy center in 2009 and sponsored the USDA Summer Feeding Program in 2010. The Prime Minister of Niger, his delegation, and the U.S. Ambassador were hosted in 2014. The most recent Bethel building was sold in 2020, with the congregation sponsoring the new ‘Maple Leaf Academy’, an early childhood development center. Bethel AME Jeffersonville has not been listed on the National Register of Historic Places.