Bethel A.M.E. Church, Norwalk, Connecticut
The late 1800’s brought about many changes for Black people in America with the ending of slavery and the beginning of life as a free people. A study of this time period reveals that although the shackles were removed, and the Emancipation Proclamation had been signed, they were still faced with both overt and subtle instances of prejudice and bias at the hands of mainstream America. They were not permitted to share in the mainstream of social life; therefore they developed their own social life. In the area of religion, they sought to practice their faith in white churches, but there too they suffered the same undesired treatment that had become so much a part of the social psychology of that time. The blacks attending white churches were sensitive to these actions and could not reconcile such practices to the teachings of the Bible. As a result of their frustrations, black churches began emerging all over America, and Bethel Norwalk was a part of that emergence.
In 1874, a group of “colored people” who had been worshipping in the white churches in Norwalk met at the home of Mrs. Augusta Ann Price, an organizer and leader of Bethel. The first ministers to pastor this congregation were the Reverends Turner, Gumbs, Hogan, McCoy and LaMar. Upon joining the African Methodist Episcopal denomination, the following ministers were assigned to Bethel: The Reverends E. L. Blake; Eugene Leaper; James M. Stepteau; J. S. Overton; B. Robinson; George Bowser; J. A. Portlock; W. C. Walters; J. G. Drake; Felix W. Bagby, Sr.; S. P. Perry; James F. Leath; Joseph F. Whalen, Sr.; Herbert L. Eddy; Elliott J. Mayfield; Richard A. Stenhouse; Albert D. Tyson, Jr., Donald L. Tucker; Marcellus A. Norris; and our current Pastor—Dr. Richard Wesley Clarke. With dedicated and committed members, Bethel has continued as a worshipping congregation for 140 years.