Against backdrop of Black History Month, KCK church shares rich history with community

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- A KCK church is part of the oldest black denomination in the United States. For Black History Month -- church members and the pastor wanted to share some of that background with our community.

"The two oldest African American churches in Wyandotte County is First AME, which is this one, and First Baptist, which is at 5th and Nebraska," said Chester Owens Jr., a church member. "They were both founded in 1859."

Owens has been member at First African Methodist Episcopal Church for 70 years. He says the church was where many African Americans assembled.

"This was one of the few places where they could go without being harassed," Owens advised.

Owens, a history buff, says he knows a lot about African American history in Wyandotte County.

"These two churches are older than the city of Kansas City, Kansas," Owens said.

Owens says the two churches worshiped together, kept growing, and eventually became separate churches. He says First AME's current building was built by the members in the 1900's when they got off work.

"Many of them had been former slaves, or descendants of former slaves. Standing at the top, they`re some of the men who actually physically built this church, they did everything by hand," he explained.

The church's pastor, Barry Settle, says it`s important to talk about the history and the contributions African Americans have made to society.

"Our communities are suffering, because our communities believe, somewhat, that there is no hope, and so to instill and teach the history of our community gives the people of the community hope," said Settle. "Hope for life, hope to survive, hope to become anything they can become."

Owens says in 1923 the national convention for NAACP was held at the church.

"At that time, African Americans could not meet in hotels, so it was held here," said Owens.

Owens says the church had some famous members --including Edward Dwight Jr., from KCK, who was the first African American to be trained as an astronaut.

"He belonged to the Boy Scout troop here," Owens said.

The church is celebrating 157 years, and Settle says now is a good time to remind the community of it's unique history.

"The church is still here in spite of all of the things that the communities are going through," said Settle.

The church also just recognized and celebrated its founder. The congregation will be holding many more events in April for its 157th anniversary.