For the past year, the members of First AME Church LA, also known as FAME, have been honoring their heritage and celebrating 150 years of serving the Los Angeles community. On Friday, June 30, the congregation will host a black-tie dinner and awards show in Hollywood to commemorate its achievements and the leadership of Pastor J. Edgar Boyd.
Hosted by Pat Harvey, CBS2/KCAL9, and Aundrae Russell, KJLH Radio, seven distinguished LA citizens will be recognized for their contributions to the community.
The honorees are the Rev. Dr. Cecil L. “Chip” Murray, Danny J. Bakewell, Sr., Darrell Brown, Areva Martin Esq., Dr. Jerry Abraham, Clifton Albright Esq., and Wilfred Marshall. The honorary chairpersons are Bernard and Shirley Kinsey, Ambassador Eric Garcetti and Ernesto Morales. Award-winning saxophonist Kirk Whalum will provide the entertainment.
FAME’s rich history began on May 17, 1872, with a meeting of several prominent Los Angeles residents in the home of Bridgett “Biddy” Mason on Spring Street. This group established the first Black church in Los Angeles, Stephens AME Church. Little did they know their efforts would lead to one of the most consequential churches of the present age – First African Methodist Episcopal Church of Los Angeles.
Mason and her family arrived in the San Bernardino area in 1851 from Mississippi as slaves, but eventually gained their freedom in 1856. She used funds saved as a nurse and midwife and purchased many properties throughout downtown Los Angeles. From her home on Spring Street, the church, then known as Stephens AME Church, moved to Azusa Street on land owned by Biddy.
Stephens AME eventually relocated to 801 South Towne Ave and Eighth Street and was officially renamed to First African Methodist Episcopal Church on April 6, 1921, where Reverend Jesse Hamilton served as the pastor.
In the early 1900s, Black Americans migrated to Los Angeles from Texas, Louisiana and Georgia to escape the racial violence and bigotry of the South. FAME Church was a place where African Americans could gather to worship, learn, and organize for social change.
The Great Depression, between 1910 and 1941, hit the city hard, and African Americans were disproportionately affected by the economic downturn. However, FAME Church continued to grow with membership increasing, programs and services expanding, and serving as a frequent meeting place for civil rights leaders.
In the 1960s, L.A.’s racist policies in housing, employment, and education, along with police abuse against African Americans, led to the 1965 Watts Riots. FAME’s senior minister at that time was the Rev. H. Hartford Brookins. He urged parishioners to become more involved, and through their support, Tom Bradley – a member of FAME – became the first black mayor of Los Angeles in 1973.
Pastor Brookins’ spearheaded the construction of the FAME edifice at 2270 S. Harvard Blvd. Paul R. Williams, the first Black member in the American Institute of Architects, designed the building, and in May 1969, Brookins led a procession from 8th and Towne Ave. to its
Arriving from Seattle, Washington, the Rev. Dr. Cecil L. Murray was appointed senior minister at FAME in 1977. Under his leadership, the membership grew to 18,000 and a greater emphasis was put on social welfare. The church established a youth center, a drug rehabilitation program and a job training program, among other initiatives.
During the civil unrest in 1992, FAME served as a sanctuary for many. In the immediate aftermath, Pastor Murray gained funding to establish the FAME Renaissance Center, a seven-million-dollar economic development and small-business incubator program, which encouraged Black business ownership and provided outreach services to the community.
Murray, the longest serving pastor of the church, retired in 2004. In 2012, the Rev. J. Edgar Boyd was assigned as the new senior minister. Under Pastor Boyd’s leadership, FAME has restored 300+ low-income housing units, real estate properties, and many public benefit service programs, including FAME Assistance Corporation. In 2018, he formed the South Los Angeles Community Development Corporation (SLACDEC) with a mission to address social and economic issues impacting a 32-square mile area of South Los Angeles.
First A.M.E. Church continues to play an important role in the city’s social, political, and cultural life. It has gained a reputation for being more than just a place for worshipping and praising God. It is a powerful force for good in Los Angeles that reaches beyond the Black community. First A.M.E. Church Los Angeles is a source of strength and inspiration and a testament to the power of faith in God.
Visit famechurchla.org for information about tickets, tables, sponsorship, ads in the program journal and product donations or email the Events office at [email protected].