Cross Street A.M.E. Zion Church has a rich and complex history. Founded in the 1820s, Middletown’s oldest African-American church has played important roles in the history of its town; of its neighbor institution, Wesleyan University; of African Americans in New England; of the social movements of 19th- and 20th-century America. This exhibition honors the legacy of Cross Street Church and explores its early years in the historical context of Connecticut before the Civil War. We then jump nearly a hundred years to look at the church during the heyday of the Civil Rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s. The exhibition closes with a brief view of Cross Street Church today as it celebrates over 175 years since its founding and makes plans for its future in a new building.
Researching the history of Cross Street Church poses many challenges. Relatively few original sources survive. Many contemporary sources provide a predominantly white perspective. Secondary sources sometimes offer conflicting accounts. Even such an important date as that of Cross Street Church’s founding, which is reported in some sources as 1823 and in others as 1828, is uncertain. Nevertheless, there is nothing ambiguous about the importance of Cross Street Church in Middletown’s history. Jehiel Beman, the church’s pastor from 1831 to 1838, and his family were dedicated activists who were important figures not only in their church, but in their town, and in the abolition movement, the underground railroad, the temperance movement, and the quest for education and voting rights for people of color. The proud early history of Cross Street A.M.E. Zion Church during the time of struggle has served as a model for new generations as the church celebrates its jubilee and its vision for the future.
This exhibition has been a collaborative effort from its beginning. Cross Street A.M.E. Zion Church Pastor Reverend Moses Harvill and Wesleyan University President Douglas Bennet decided to honor the 178th anniversary of the church by mounting an exhibition at Wesleyan’s Olin Library. Wesleyan University Archivist and Head of Special Collections Suzy Taraba worked with Rev. Harvill to expand, focus, and research the initial idea. Cross Street Church parishioner Kwame Ocansey joined the exhibition team, worked with other parishioners to uncover materials related to the church’s history, and contributed the catalog essay, “What’s in a Name?”. Addie Battle, widow of Rev. George Battle, and Sallye V. Davage, widow of Rev. William Davage, loaned materials for the exhibition, as did Dione Longley of the Middlesex County Historical Society. Suzy Taraba prepared the text of the exhibition and catalog. Assistant University Archivist Jeffrey Makala created the web version of the exhibition. Steven Jacaruso of Wesleyan’s Office of Communications designed the catalog and banners.
This online version of the exhibition contains all the documents and text used in the Olin Library exhibition. Clicking on any image will open a larger, more detailed copy.