The smallest of the three black Methodist groups, the CME has close to one million members in the United States and abroad, especially in the Caribbean and Africa.
One of the seven largest African American denominations, the CME Church was originally titled the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church. Organized in Jackson, Tennessee, in 1870, it amicably emerged from the Methodist Episcopal Church, South (MES). When the Civil War began, more than 207,000 blacks were members of the white-controlled MES, but only 70,000 remained in 1870. Many white MES members desired blacks to depart. Likewise, African Americans were unhappy with the prospects of remaining in a church with slavery-era rules of white supremacy intact, but neither did they desire union with the northern-based African Methodist Episcopal or African Methodist Episcopal Zion Churches.
As a condition for the transference of church property to the new organization, the CME agreed with the MES not to permit the use of church facilities for political activities, which would most likely differ profoundly from those of most southern whites. For this reason the CME was often dubbed “the Rebel church,” an unfair characterization since individual CME congregations were politically engaged and the denomination has adopted political positions corresponding to other black churches. The church title was changed from “Colored” to “Christian” in 1954.
The CME supports four colleges and the Charles H. Phillips School of Theology of the Interdenominational Theological Seminary, publishes the Christian Index, and participates in pan-Methodist and interdenominational ecumenical organizations, such as the National Council of Churches. Notable persons associated with the CME include the bishops William H. Miles and Richard H. Vanderhorst (a South Carolina native), the women’s rights advocate Helena B. Cobb, Channing H. Tobias of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the historian John Hope Franklin, and the author Alex Haley.
The smallest of the three black Methodist groups, the CME has close to one million members in the United States and abroad, especially in the Caribbean and Africa. Its polity basically mirrors that of other major American Methodist denominations, featuring an episcopal governance with general, annual, and quarterly conferences, and boards focused on various aspects of church life. It also shares Methodist doctrines, theology, and rituals. The publishing house and headquarters are in Memphis, Tennessee. While a national and international body, the CME is strongest in the South, especially Tennessee, Georgia, Mississippi, and Alabama. The South Carolina Annual Conference, established in 1870, is in the Seventh Episcopal District along with the District of Columbia and eight other states along the Atlantic seaboard.
Lakey, Othal Hawthorne. The History of the CME Church. Rev. ed. Memphis, Tenn.: CME Publishing House, 1996.
Lincoln, C. Eric, and Lawrence H. Mamiya. The Black Church in the African American Experience. Durham: Duke University Press, 1990.