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Original details preserved in Texas' oldest Black church invite memories of the past

Oak wood pews, chairs and panels gleam in the sunlight from the double rows of stained glass windows at the Allen Chapel AME Church. The floor-to-ceiling pipe organ stands in the background.
Allen Chapel AME Church, Fort Worth
The Gothic Revival interior of the Allen Chapel AME Church in Fort Worth, preserved during renovations in the 1980s, evokes memories from a century ago. The church, completed in 1914, is the oldest Black church in Texas.

This episode of the KERA video series "The Shape of Texas" explores the architecture and beauty of the Allen Chapel AME Church in Fort Worth, the oldest African American church in the state.

The Allen Chapel AME Church, completed in 1914, is the oldest African American church in Texas. It sits several blocks east of Sundance Square in historic downtown Fort Worth. Early worshipers had said the church’s rectangular shape reminded them of a blacksmith’s shop, where enslaved people decades earlier had often attended church services.

Renovations in the 1980s preserved many original features of the Gothic Revival style, such as the oak panels and seating for 1,300; pressed metal ceiling tiles; a massive pipe organ; and an array of arched stained-glass windows. The original square bell tower, however, was removed in 2011 after a lightning strike.

William Sidney Pittman, the state’s first Black architect and a son-in-law of Booker T. Washington, designed the two-story structure.

The Allen Chapel AME Church is listed as a Texas Historic Landmark and on the National Register of Historic Places. Pittman designed other structures, two still standing in the Deep Ellum neighborhood of Dallas: the Knights of Pythias Temple, now a boutique hotel, and the St. James AME Church, a designated Dallas landmark near the Latino Cultural Center.

KERA's“The Shape of Texas” video series explores how our built environment holds our history, reflects our diverse cultures and projects our ambitions for the future. From the glittery, kitschy Beer Can House in Houston to the soaring Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, architecture helps tell the story of who we are in Texas.

Find out more about the Allen Chapel AME Church and other works designed by the chapel's architect.

Senior in journalism at TCU, intern with KERA's Art&Seek