Staying in Place: Southern Methodists, the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church, and Postwar Battles for Control of Church Property

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Late in the Civil War, northern missionaries from African Methodist denominations flooded into Kentucky and across the upper South, where they sought new members, especially among Black Methodist congregations. But they encountered resistance from an unexpected foe—the law of church property. White Southern Methodists had prided themselves on their "Mission to the Negroes," and white churchmen used litigation to ensure that Black churches remained in the hands of the proslavery church, even after emancipation. This article recovers an otherwise unknown series of Kentucky court decisions on questions of race and church property. Other jurisdictions followed Kentucky's lead, frustrating shifts in allegiance to Black northern denominations. These cases give new context to the formation of the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church (CME) in 1870, which tied Black congregations firmly to the southern church. By taking law into account, the role of sacred space, church property and financial wealth, and the use of state power all emerge as key elements of the story. The legal history of CME's founding and its early growth highlight a reconstituted white supremacy, which imposed a strict requirement that the new denomination avoid all politics and yet could not prevent the emergence of a vibrant and longstanding spiritual community.

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The Journal of the Civil War Era