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African Americans in Chicago

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Quinn Chapel A.M.E. Church

The church began as a seven-member prayer band in 1844. Within three years, this assemblage's expansion was officially recognized as Quinn Chapel A.M.E. Church by its governing body in the East. The first congregants of Quinn Chapel were mainly former slaves and persons with certificates of freedom who shared a vested interest in independent black worship. Already a part of the abolitionist movement, after the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850 the church became an important station on the Underground Railroad, a secret network of travel routes and safe houses which were used to guide slaves to free states in the North and to Canada. Four female members of Quinn Chapel, known as the "Big Four," acted as conductors for the Underground Railroad, providing fugitive slaves with food, shelter, and other necessities for their journey or for their settlement in Chicago. During the Civil War, its men served valiantly as Union soldiers. The church's subsequent growth through the years of freedom was phenomenal, with Quinn Chapel often serving as a center for African American activism in Chicago. The Great Chicago Fire of 1871 destroyed the church and its congregants reassembled and held services in a series of temporary locations in the downtown section. In 1891, the church purchased a new site on 24th Street and Wabash Avenue, and in 1892, the current structure was built at 2401 S. Wabash Avenue. Frederick Douglass addressed an audience of 1,500 at the church on the significance of Haiti, which had a presence at the World's Columbian Exposition in 1893. The clergy's linkage to Ohio politics even led to two U.S. presidents speaking on the premises. Quinn Chapel was also instrumental in founding Bethel A.M.E. Church, Elam House for recently arriving young women seeking work, and Provident Hospital. Provident Hospital was the first African American owned hospital in the United States. By the 1900s, its Sunday Men's Forum provided an intellectual environment for inquiring minds. Consistent with tradition, Quinn Chapel remained active in civil rights during the 1960s and befitting its success in fulfilling its historical mission, on September 4, 1979, Quinn Chapel was added to the National Register of Historic Places. Further cementing its place in African American history, on September 2007, Quinn Chapel donated an original pew to the Smithsonian institute national museum of African American History in Washington, D.C.

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