Century-old photograph of members of AME Trinity Church sparks interest
NEWARK – A picture can be worth a thousand words, but it can also create a thousand questions, especially if it’s a large, hundred-year-old group photo clearly showing many faces.
This is the case with a 1920 photograph of 82 members of the Trinity African Methodist Episcopal Church standing in front of their soon to be demolished downtown Newark church which has been replaced by a structure now located in 64 E. Church St.
The Newark Public Library released the 3-by-5-foot photo to the community on Thursday, enlarged from an 8-by-10 photo obtained of Rebecca Shackleford Black, whose grandmother, aunts and uncles appear on the picture.
Jack Goodman, a specialist in the history of the library, said 27 people in the photo have been identified so far.
The library displayed the photograph on the second floor of its downtown Newark branch to pay tribute to the local black community and AME Trinity Church, but also as a community project to uncover and preserve local history.
“At one point in 1920, in late spring or early summer, the congregation of AME Church in Newark gathered outside the doors of their building for the photograph,” said Jack Goodman, specialist in the history of the library. “The image bears witness to the congregation in a time of transition.
“The structure behind them, which was a former second Presbyterian church, would soon be demolished and a new building would rise in its place.”
The photo shows longtime member of AME Trinity Church Bette Croom, who died in 2001 at the age of 82, as a baby in a stroller. Croom, who retired after 17 years as a supply specialist at Newark Air Force Base, was a local leader with decades of service in community organizations.
Croom told The Advocate in 1998 that her father nicknamed her “Cyclone” when she was little because she was very busy and active.
It also includes Daniel Guy, who was born free in Ohio in 1851, but spent his youth in a country that would wage a civil war against black slavery. Guy attended Oberlin University, was a long-time teacher and administrator of the Newark Colored School on Hoover Street, and was an administrator of his church. He died in 1942.
“The older members in this photo lived in a United States that tolerated legal slavery,” Goodman said. “Younger people would witness the civil rights movement. This is an opportunity to shine the spotlight on an important group in Newark’s history.
“History is an ongoing process. Our knowledge of the past is being expanded and rewritten to reflect our growing understanding. This project seeks community knowledge to deepen our understanding of history.”
Shackleford Black, who attended the unveiling, said the photo included the mother of Robert Weaver, Licking County’s first black judge. Pictured is Frank Beecher Norman, a master mason who helped build the current church, she said.
“It’s really something to be recognized for their accomplishments,” Shackleford Black said. “These people were hard workers and went through so much.”
Shackleford Black sisters Geneva Black and Kathryn Thomas also attended the event, as did Trinity AME Church pastor Bruce Wynn and Licking County NAACP president Bryanna Stigger.
Stigger said: “In this photo I see beauty and determination. It was really personal for me to learn our history. I went to Newark City schools and never heard this story about myself.
Doug Stout, the Licking County Library Veterans Project Coordinator, saw the photo when Shackleford Black showed him photos of the family’s veterans.
“She had all of her genealogy stuff laid out and I said I can scan this (photo from 1920),” Stout said. “It was in my office when I took it out on my computer and it was great, with everyone and it was so clear that I fell in love with the photo.
Twitter: @ kmallett1958
History of AME Trinity Church
1835: First organization of the Black Christian congregation of Newark, which had no dedicated worship space for decades, using space leased from other organizations.
1861: Construction of the first dedicated worship space, the “Colorful Chapel” on Quatrième and Église streets.
1867: Church purchased 64 E. Church St., the former Presbyterian Church.
1881: The Church had about thirty members.
1897: Congregation formally incorporated into the African Methodist Episcopal Church.
1920: Demolition of the old church and completion of the new church, which still exists today.
October 22, 1920: The cornerstone of the new church is laid, followed by a parade, music and a large rally.
March 27, 1921: Dedication of the new church.