Finally free, Acworth’s former slaves went to work making themselves a church.
They could chose when to pray and where to socialize.
And since Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church was built in 1882, it has been much more than a place of worship.
“Today the church building stands as a reminder of a time when its historic bell was the ‘voice’ of the community, announcing Sunday morning and holiday services, as well as, serving as the neighborhood fire alarm.”
“Throughout its history, the Bethel AME Church has been an important part of the African-American community and is recognized historically ... as one of Acworth’s finest monuments to the past,” the report reads.
Like other churches built by former slaves, Bethel remains as one of the first big decisions made by free blacks who finally had the chance to make their own choices.
The church is perched atop a hill at School and Bell streets where the city’s black community has been for generations — north of the tracks.
The 1860 census showed there were 3,829 slaves in Cobb and 240 in the 20th District, which included Acworth.
Bethel AME’s congregation formed in 1864, the year after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed.
“Histories reveal a connection between former slaves in the Acworth area and the early church organizers and congregation,” the National Register recommendation reads.
At the time, the Bethel congregation shared a building with Zion Hill Baptist Church, and they’d use the space on alternating Sundays.
Bethel’s trustees bought the land in 1871, and the building was built about a decade later.
In May 2002 when the reviewer for the registry was writing the recommendation, there were 90 church members with about 25 attending services.
There were only 10 people showing up on Sundays when Pastor Leela Waller said started in 2012.
By February 2017, there were 105 people on the rolls and about 45 who showed up to Sunday services, she said.
“The power of history and understanding (that) the free slaves built such a place with little to nothing ... it gives us hope and courage,” she said.
Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church
4826 School St.
Acworth, Ga., 30101