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Story of Bethel A.M.E. Church building engraved in Indianapolis' early history

The church's steeple was a welcoming beacon of light to passengers on the Underground Railroad.

INDIANAPOLIS — If you go looking for Black history in downtown Indianapolis, you don't have to go far. For me, it was a short trip down the Indianapolis Canal Walk to a somewhat hidden gem that has been a part of my commute almost every day. 

The Bethel A.M.E. Church is a historic African Methodist Episcopal church on Vermont Street. Its front doors sit adjacent to the canal, which was built around the same time as the church. Organized in 1836, the story of Bethel A.M.E. is certainly engraved in the early history of Indianapolis. 

It's famously known as the church home of the trailblazing entrepreneur, Madam C.J. Walker. But well before that, its steeple was a welcoming beacon of light to passengers on the Underground Railroad. The congregation housed freedom-seekers traveling to and through Indianapolis, fleeing slavery. 

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So, how did I miss this? Well, as tour guide Sampson Levingston pointed out, it's a bit difficult to spot if you're driving by. 

You'd typically pass the church as you travel on nearby North West Street. However, the church is now surrounded on almost all sides, by a Hampton Inn and Homewood Suites hotel. 

The congregation itself has since relocated decades ago. However, Bethel A.M.E. Church's exterior is now preserved and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

This was just one stop on WTHR's Black history tour of Indianapolis. Tour guide Sampson Levingston led our anchor team around the city to teach them about the many historic sites that played integral roles in Indianapolis' Black community. Follow along through the month of February to learn about them. Click here to see the other tour stops.

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