The African Meeting House is the oldest black church building still standing in the United States. Before 1805, although Black Bostonians could attend white churches, they generally faced discrimination. They were assigned seats only in the galleries and were not given the privilege of voting. A man named Thomas Paul, a Black preacher from New Hampshire, led worship meetings for some Black people at Faneuil Hall. Mr. Thomas Paul, with twenty members or so, officially formed the First African Baptist Church on August 8, 1805. The very same year, land was purchased for a building in the West End and the African Meeting House, as it was commonly called, was completed the next year. The building was dedicated on December 6, 1806, and the public was invited. However, the seats on the floor were reserved for all those “benevolently disposed to the Africans,” and the Black members sat in the gallery of their new meeting house.
The African Meeting House was constructed almost entirely with Black laborman. These men were excellent craftsmen. The material they made the walls and stairs from withstood a fire that later destroyed the roof which fell in and the walls and stairs I’m told didn’t fall. Therefore, the laborers were very skilled craftsmen. Funds for the project were raised in both the white and black communities. Cato Gardner, a native of Africa, was responsible for raising more than $1500 toward the $7,700 cost to complete the Meeting House; a commemorative plaque above the front door reads: “to Cato Gardner, first promoter of this building.”
The meeting house was remodeled by the Black congregation in the 1850s. At the end of the 19th century, when the Black community began to migrate from the West End to the South End and to Roxbury, the building was sold to a Jewish congregation and remained a synagogue until it was purchased by the Museum of Afro-American History.