FIRST AFRICAN METHODIST CHURCH
OF
PASSAIC, NJ

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A WORTHY ENTERPRISE

(from a Paterson/Passaic area newspaper dated June 28, 1882*)

Mr. James BLANKS (colored), a lay preacher of New Brunswick, has for a long time interested himself in the spiritual welfare of the colored people of Passaic. He saw their need of a church and Sunday school when he came here, over a year ago on a visit, and he then determined to do all he could to help them get a church. He went to work right away and has continued his labors to the present time with gratifying success.

He has secured a lot on Oak Street, and work has been commenced on the church building, which is being erected by Mr. CRAFT. It is proposed to hold a festival in the edifice on the 4th of July, for the purpose of increasing the funds of the church.

Mr. Blanks deserves the thanks of our citizens for his good work, especially the colored people feel very grateful to him. He proposes to build up a congregation that will do great good in our town. We wish him and his people success in their undertaking.

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LOCKED THE DOORS ON HIM

(from a Paterson/Passaic area newspaper c. Dec.18 1883*)

How Some Colored Methodists in A Jersey Town Got Rid of Their Pastor

Assaulted By The Sexton

Black Sheep in a Double Sense--An Appeal to the Courts

For some time past, there has been trouble between two factions in the First African Methodist Church of Passaic, NJ, and yesterday the trouble culminated in a lawsuit, which was tried before Justice HUDSON, in Paterson. The plaintiffs were Rev. James BLANKS, Charles DUKER, Robert SHEPPARD, Elizabeth JONES, Maggie SMITH, and Isaac JONES. The defendants were Robert C. BULLOCK, Samuel JOHNSON, Samuel TOMSON, and Benjamin WILLIAMS.

The Beginning of the Trouble.

According to the testimony of the plaintiffs and their witnesses, the church was organized by the Methodist African Conference in 1881, and James Blanks was sent as a missionary to Passaic to look after the spiritual welfare of the colored people. He collected subscriptions, and having obtained a lease of a piece of ground, erected a church. Religious services were conducted in it without any trouble until the defendants applied for admission, and were admitted on probation for six months. Before the six months had expired, the probationers wanted to run the church and met with opposition from Rev. Mr. BLANKS and others. The pastor read the law of the African Methodist Church, but the probationers declared that they would not obey the laws, and if the pastor insisted on enforcing them, they would get another clergyman who would not be so strict.

The Pastor Deposed.

Rev. Mr. Blanks was firm, whereupon the defendants declared him deposed from the ministry. Word was sent to him that if he came into the church, except as a parishioner, he would be thrown out. Rev. Mr. Blanks then called on Benjamin WILLIAMS, who had been constituted Sexton by the secessionists, and asked him for the keys, for the purpose of holding divine services in the church on the following Sunday.

"When I asked him for the keys," testified the clergyman, "he grabbed hold of me and punched me in the neck." Mr. Blanks made no further attempt to obtain possession of the church.

Among the witnesses for the plaintiffs was Margaret A. SMITH, a buxom colored woman. When asked whether the defendants were members of the church, she replied that they were the Trustees, but that they had not been admitted to membership because they had never been "convicted," no person could join that church unless he had first been convicted.

Counsel for the defense made a motion for a non-suit, on the grounds that the trouble ought to have been settled by the Methodist Conference or by means of a bill in chancery. The motion was denied.

The Story of the Rebels.

The defendants were placed on the witness stand and did not deny closing the church to the pastor, nor was the assault on him when he asked for the keys denied. It was claimed in their behalf that at a meeting of the congregation they were elected trustees, although they had not been admitted to membership, and that at a subsequent meeting of the congregation, a resolution was passed to dispense with the service of the Rev. Mr. Blanks. The church was kept open for worship, and all colored Methodists in Passaic were invited to attend. The trustees themselves conducted the prayer meetings and found that they got along nicely without a clergyman. Occasionally, the services of a minister of the gospel were obtained by hiring one of the colored clergymen in Paterson to go to Passaic.

To Consider The Damage.

The Justice reserved his decision for one week. He said there was no doubt that the plaintiffs were entitled to recover, for it was certain that Rev. Mr. Blanks has organized the church and that he was the pastor regularly appointed by the authorities of the African Methodist church. The Justice, however, did not know how much damage to award, and it was for the purpose of considering this question that decision was reserved.

(*The above is taken from an article within PCHS’s "Winfield Scott Collection." Scott, a Passaic Attorney, maintained a collection area newspaper articles from about the late 19th century which he organized into a series of five scrapbooks and later donated to PCHS.)

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