Tanner Chapel AME Church, November 2011. Photos by Tierra Ellis.
20 South Eighth Street Phoenix, AZ 85034
Tanner Chapel is the oldest African American Church in Phoenix, AZ (Galloway). An assembly of slaves founded Tanner Chapel African American Methodist Episcopal Church in 1787 in Philadelphia. Its first name was the Free African Society. At this time Richard Allen of the St. George Methodist Episcopal Church escorted out slaves and free persons in Philadelphia in resistance of segregation. In 1816 the name changed again to the Methodist Episcopal Church from the Free African Society. The major points the church became known for were freedom fighting, self-help, and mutual aid.
Charles Ward, Sister Ward, N.D. Valentine, and Reverend H. Valentine, all proposed for the establishment of the Christian mission fostering “family life”, established Tanner Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Phoenix in 1886. According to Courthouse records, an African Methodist Episcopal Mission is what the property was owned by in 1886 (Galloway). Second Street and East Jefferson Street was the location of the first property and also where another section of the property was added in 1899, which also led to the new name of Tanner Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church. It was named after Bishop Benjamin T. Tanner. Bishop Tanner was the 19th century Bishop. By permission of an Admiral Dahlgren, he was also the individual who organized the first freedmen school geared towards the United States navy yard (McMickle). Tanner was born in 1835 and died in 1923. The Women’s Missionary Society was named after Bishop Tanner’s wife, Sarah Tanner.
The original location on second street and Jefferson is now occupied by the U.S Airways Center. However, there is no connection to the U.S Airways Center and Tanner Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church. The church is now located on eighth street and Jefferson. The old property was sold several years after the property was purchased. The Bishop was Reverend A.H Hamilton at the time of the rebuilding of the new church. Reverend Hamilton is known as the inspiration for the rebuilding of the new church that was completed in 1929. Today, Reverend Dr. Benjamin N. Thomas Sr. leads Tanner Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church.
The Tanner Chapel is a staple in the Phoenix, Arizona and African Methodist Episcopal Church communities. The African Methodist Episcopal Church Denomination was born out of segregation and is free to all people to attend. Tanner is the oldest black congregation in Phoenix, Arizona with records dating back to 1886. Tanner Chapel’s present structure was built in 1929, and is currently under the pastoral leadership of Reverend Dr. Benjamin N. Thomas Sr.
Today Tanner continues to serve as a cultural beacon in the Phoenix, Arizona Community. Many of Phoenix’s most powerful African American figures attend Tanner Chapel. The church is often the centerpiece of most black communities and Tanner Chapel is no exception. Tanner Chapel is located Downtown Phoenix near the Southside where most of Phoenix’s Black residents reside. It is a short commute for many of its patrons. Tanner is located in the shadows of Chase Field which towers across the street. This serves as a testament that Tanner has stood the test of time in a city that continues to grow around it.
- Tierra Ellis
Tanner chapel African Methodist Episcopal church history. (2009, October 19). Retrieved from
Kwan, Samantha. "Navigating Public Spaces: Gender, Race, and Body Privilege in Everyday Life." Feminist Formations. 22.2 (2010): vii-xi. Print.
McMickle, Marvin. "Benjamin T. Tanner, 19th Century A.M.E Bishop." African American Registry: A non-profit education organization. Judson Press, 2002. Web. 28 Nov 2011.
Galloway, Floyd. "Tanner Chapel Receives Historic Designation." Arizona Informant [Phoenix] 22 Dec 2010, n. page. Web. 28 Nov. 2011.