Early African American Churches in Madison County

Before the Wilkerson Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church was founded, Methodists in Collinsville traveled to Edwardsville to worship.

A.M.E. minister Rev. Emanuel Wilkerson walked each Saturday from Belleville to Collinsville. He stayed with James and Caroline Singleton in their house on Goethe Avenue. He and the Singletons went to Edwardsville to attend services the next day. Wilkerson walked back to Belleville on Monday and then repeated the journey the following Saturday.

Before long, Rev. Wilkerson began holding services in the Singleton home. The congregation’s first church building, built in 1863 at the corner of South Street and South Clinton Street, had a log foundation. The church moved to its current location on Summit Street in 1922.

Salem Baptist Church in Upper Alton began in 1819 as a group of worshippers congregating on James Stewart’s farm in a part of Madison County that is now Macoupin County. These free people of color later moved slightly south to settle in the Wood Station area of Foster Township. The church reorganized in 1845 under the leadership of Rev. William Duke Andersen. The congregants met on land purchased by G. Washington Arbuckle, the site of the current church. Worship meetings, held under a temporary roof built of tree limbs, lasted for several days.

The congregation, led by James Henry Johnson, built their first frame-and-clapboard church in the mid-1850s. A 24 ft. x 35 ft. brick church building replaced the original structure in 1876. Samuel Bates and his son John made the bricks. The concrete block church building standing today on the 1876 foundation dates to 1912.

Photograph of the original frame-and-clapboard Salem Baptist Church building constructed circa 1855.

Other early African American churches in Madison County include: Allen Chapel A.M.E. Church, Lower Alton A.M.E. Church (renamed Campbell Chapel A.M.E.), Second Baptist Church (renamed Tabernacle Missionary Baptist), and African Baptist Church (renamed Union Baptist) in Alton; Rocky Fork Bethel A.M.E. Church (renamed New Bethel A.M.E.), in Godfrey; Mt. Joy Baptist Church and Wesley Chapel A.M.E. Church in Edwardsville; Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Ridge Prairie (Pin Oak Township); Mt. Nebo Baptist Church in Newport.

Photograph of Campbell Chapel A.M.E. Church construction in 1900.

Photograph of Rocky Fork Bethel A.M.E. Church (later renamed New Bethel A.M.E.) in 1869.


Celebrating 150 Years: Fosterburg, Illinois, August 18 & 19, 2007 Sesquicentennial Celebration. Available at the Madison County Archival Library.

Directory of Illinois African American Resource and Sites. 1995. Manuscript. Available at the Madison County Archival Library.

Johnson, Charlotte. African Americans in Madison County, Illinois. Collection prepared for the staff at the Madison County Historical Museum and Archival Library. 2001. Available at the Madison County Archival Library.

Johnson, Cyrus L. A History of Negro Settlement in Foster Township. Presentation, Honoring Foster Township, Spring Meeting of the Madison County Historical Society, Fosterburg Grade School, Fosterburg, Illinois, May 15, 1960. Available at the Madison County Archival Library.

Mabry, Eddie. The History of Wood River Baptist District Association. St. Louis: John S. Swift, 1996. Available at the Madison County Archival Library.

Schaefer, Mary Louise. “Sisters recall grandfather who helped to free slaves.” Collinsville Herald, August 16, 1979.

The Single Tree: Singleton Reunion, St. Louis, Mo. Aug. 11, 1990. Manuscript. Available at the Madison County Archival Library.

United States census records and other public records.

United States Department of the Interior National Park Service. National Register of Historic Places Registration Form [for Salem Baptist Church, 2001 Seiler Road, Alton, Madison County, Illinois]. Certified November 7, 2013. Accessed December 21, 2018. https://www.nps.gov/nr/feature/places/pdfs/13001004.pdf

Wilkerson Chapel A.M.E. Church, Collinsville, Ill. 1862-1964. Booklet. Available at the Madison County Archival Library.