In the beginning, there was the spirit. Before the bricks and mortar, this burning spirit inspired and sustained the parishioners who worked to build one of Maryland earliest African American churches. Constructed in 1874, by a congregation of free blacks whose roots go back to 1799, Mt. Moriah African Methodist Episcopal Church was names in honor of the place in the Holy Land where Abraham offered up his son Isaac as a sacrifice.
The congregation felt that their good fortune in being able to construct so handsome a house of worship only ten years after the abolition of slavery was due to their obedience to God. The name Mount Moriah would serve as an ever-present reminder of the need for constancy in faith and obedience in the future.
And so it was: the edifice served its congregation for nearly a century as a house of worship, and an educational facility, and as a meeting pace for social & cultural events. But after a century of use the congregation had a decision to make: undergo costly repair or construct a new building.
With a heavy heart, the congregation decided to sell and make a home in a new place with ample parking. The building was sold to Anne Arundel County in 1970 for $123,000 dollars, to make room for courthouse expansion and parking. Demolition was scheduled for September 1972. But the sprit was already at work specifically in May of 1969. That when the General Assembly passed Senate Bill #185, which established the Maryland Commission on African American History and Culture.
The Commission mandate was to research, preserve and disseminate the history and culture of African Americans in Maryland. It prompted the initial goal: to study the possibility of establishing a museum or center on black history and culture. The Commission joined with members of the African American community, the preservation community, and local residents who recognized the need to save historic Mt. Moriah from destruction. And the Commission hired Smithsonian-trained museum Consultant Carroll Green, Jr. to corral all of the supporting factions. With Green, the citizens group rallied to produce Save Mount Moriah Church. They undertook petitions, pickets lines, strategy meetings, and court battles. Many state and local leaders wrote letters and offered appeals to save the building. In April 1972, The Maryland House of Delegates passed a resolution, sponsored by Delegate Aris T. Allen, asking the County to preserve the structure as a museum. In June 1973, the Governor went to Mt. Moriah and publicly stated that the building ought to be saved. Still, the Anne Arundel County Executive, Joseph Alton, Jr., remained firm in his intention to demolish Mt. Moriah. And Alton pro-demolition forces were fortified by a 1973 Carroll County Circuit Court ruling that found that the city historic area zoning rules could not prevent the county from exercising its will in governmental matters.
All seemed lost perhaps to those who didn't live in the spirit. The extraordinary legal and political odyssey resulted in a landmark preservation case in 1974, when the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled that the County was bound by the City's Historic District Ordinance and could not demolish the building without approval from the City's Historic District Commission. The county ultimately leased Mt. Moriah to the State of Maryland in 1977.
During the next five years, the Maryland Commission on African American History and Culture and two amazing groups of volunteers the members of the Banneker-Douglass Museum Foundation, and Friends of Banneker-Douglass Museum raised funds needed to convert the Mt. Moriah Church into the Banneker-Douglass Museum.
On February 24, 1984, the dream of launching a black history museum at Mt. Moriah was realized. Outfitted with new stained-glass windows, a new slate roof, exhibit galleries, offices, and with Carroll Green as director the Banneker-Douglass Museum dedication ceremony was attended by dignitaries from all across Maryland.
At last, the circle was complete and the beloved Old Mt. Moriah AME Church was designated a permanent landmark a proud voice that would go on telling the story of the lives and traditions of African Americans in Maryland, far into the future.