12th District History

A Brief HISTORY OF
THE 12TH EPISCOPAL DISTRICT
OF THE AFRICAN METHODIST EPISCOPAL CHURCH

Reverend Dennis C. Dickerson, Ph.D. | Retired Historiographer/Editor, A.M.E. CHURCH REVIEW

Arkansas and Oklahoma presently constitute the 12th Episcopal District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Between 1868 and the present, however, these two areas have been at times in separate Episcopal Districts and differently numbered. The current configuration of this jurisdiction has been the 12th, without major variation, only since 1936. Additionally, Arkansas and Oklahoma has contributed to A.M.E. connectional leadership and to the denomination’s liberationist legacy.

Bishop James A. Shorter, elected and consecrated in 1868, immediately started his assignment in the American South by organizing several southern annual conferences including Tennessee, Mississippi, and Arkansas. In Little Rock the Arkansas Annual Conference was established on November 19, 1868 and was placed in Bishop John M. Brown’s 6th Episcopal District at the 1872 General Conference in Nashville, Tennessee. Other early annual conferences included the West Arkansas Annual Conference began at Arkadelphia, Arkansas on November 25, 1885 with Bishop Thomas Myers Decatur Ward presiding. Also, Bishop William B. Derrick organized the East Arkansas Annual Conference at Marianna, Arkansas on November 22, 1899. Two annual conferences were organized years before Oklahoma became a state in 1907. Hence, Bishop Ward started the Indian Mission Annual Conference in 1879 in Yellow Springs in the Choctaw Nation and Bishop Wesley J. Gaines organized the Oklahoma Annual Conference on October 25, 1896 at Perry in the Oklahoma Territory. According to the U. S. Census of 1890 A.M.E. churches in Arkansas numbered 333 and 27,956 members. The Indian Territory included 22 churches and 489 members.

In both Oklahoma and Arkansas commitments developed to the education of African Americans and Native Americans. Sission Mission School started in 1884 in Muskogee, Oklahoma. Similarly, in 1916 the Northeast Oklahoma Annual Conference bought a former United States government institute, the Tullahasse Colored Boarding School, an effort that Bishop James M. Conner enthusiastically supported. These early institutions merged and became the Flipper-Davis Junior College in Tullahasse. In 1932 there were five buildings where theology, junior college courses, elementary, junior high, and high school curricula, home economics, and music were taught. Although Flipper-Davis eventually closed, Shorter College in North Little Rock, Arkansas continued as a flagship educational institution in the 12th Episcopal District. Founded in 1886 originally became a degree granting school with B.A., B.S., and offerings B.D. Jackson Theological Seminary also was affiliated with the school. In 1943, for example, the district rallied to pay off a burdensome $43,000 mortgage with substantial renovation in the physical plant. Several distinguished educators served in the presidency including Dr. John H. Lewis, elected in 1943 and Reverend Samuel S. Morris, Jr., elected in 1946, both trained at Yale Divinity School. Though the seminary was maintained, Shorter eventually restricted its offerings to the junior college level and later to vocational and other continuing education curricula.Leading lay leaders have emerged out of the 12th Episcopal District. Professor J. L. Jones, a native of Union County, Arkansas and Shorter graduate in 1907, taught at the school intermittently in the first two decades of the 20th century, and accepted positions in the administration and trustee board. Dr. W. L. Haywood, a physician in Oklahoma City and a leading member of Avery Chapel A.M.E. Church, represented the 12th District at the A.M.E. Church General Conference in the 1950s. Such congregations as Visitor’s Chapel in Hot Springs, Bethel in Little Rock, St. John in Pine Bluff, St. John in Tulsa, and several others boasted pastors of connectional standing and national importance. Reverend Rufus K. Young, for example, served at Bethel, Little Rock and supported his member, Daisy Bates, in her courageous N.A.A.C.P. leadership. She was the guardian and strategist for the “Little Rock Nine” who desegregated the city’s public schools in 1957. Ernest Green, like several others within the group were members of various A.M.E. congregations in Little Rock.

Three Bishops in the African Methodist Episcopal Church were born in Arkansas including Bishop John Henry Clayborn, Bishop George Wayman Blakely, and Bishop Robert V. Webster. Other Bishops, though born elsewhere, were elected to the episcopacy while serving in the 12th Episcopal District. They included Bishop Sherman L. Greene, Sr. and Bishop Odie Lee Sherman, both of whom were presiding elders.

12th District Administrative Headquarters

P.O. Box 147
Little Rock, Arkansas 72203
Office Phone: 501.375.4310

Email: info@12thdistrictame.org

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Shorter College
African Methodist Episcopal Church