Hunter Chapel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Zion Church, founded in the 1850s, is the oldest African-American church organized in Tuscaloosa. First known as the Freemen Methodist Society, it was founded by Shandy Wesley Jones, a one-time slave who rose to become an advocate for black literacy and education. Jones won a seat in the Alabama House of Representatives, which he held from 1868 to 1870. In 1866 more than 500 former slaves left First Methodist Episcopal Church, now known as the First United Methodist Church, and aligned themselves with the Freemen Methodist movement.
Hunter Chapel congregants first worshiped in a small rented building just a few yards away from where Bryant-Denny Stadium currently stands on the University of Alabama campus. The church’s first permanent structure was built in 1878 on the grounds it still occupies. The present building was completed in 1881. Renovations occurred in 1910 when bricks were added to the structure’s exterior.
Named for Rev. E.H. Hunter, who served as pastor during the 1880s, Hunter Chapel was often referred to as the “father of black education” in Tuscaloosa because it provided the first formal educational program for children of freed slaves during the Reconstruction Era of the 1870s. Hunter Chapel was the first church to host Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., to speak in Tuscaloosa in June 1955.