What is now known as the Sharp Street Memorial United Methodist Church, in West Baltimore’s Upton neighborhood, has its roots in South Baltimore at 112-116 Sharp Street. The mother church of African American Methodism in Maryland, this congregation formed in the late 18th century. After tiring of segregated worship within the Lovely Lane Methodist Church on German (now Redwood) Street, free black parishioners formed the Colored Methodist Society in 1787. In 1802, the group built a church at this location, between Lombard and Pratt Streets in south Baltimore.
Methodism had a strong presence in early 19th century Baltimore. In 1815, one out of every 14 Baltimoreans was a Methodist. The city was home to 11 denominations, including three Methodist churches. Approximately 43,000 African Americans practiced Methodism across the nation at this time. The church’s official stance against slavery, as well as its simplicity and informality, no doubt appealed to both free and enslaved Baltimoreans.
The meeting house on Sharp Street met more than just the spiritual needs of parishioners. Under the leadership of minister Daniel Coker, the church served as a meeting place for both free and enslaved African Americans to worship, learn, and gather together. In the era before public education for all, the church operated a large school for African American children in the city. The “African Academy” became the first “colored” public school in post-emancipation Baltimore. Abolitionism and colonization were frequent topics among the congregation, with 13 members setting sail for Liberia in 1822. Acclaimed abolitionist Frederick Douglass worshipped here in the 1830s.
The congregation has been in the vanguard of advocating for African American civil rights and education throughout its two century long history. Meetings of the Centenary Biblical Institute, which became Morgan State University, took place at Sharp Street between 1867 and 1872. Rev. James Peck established Baltimore’s first black cemetery, Mount Auburn (also known as “The City of the Dead for Colored People”), in 1872. The church opened a home for the aged in Lafayette Square in 1870. Many congregants moved out of south Baltimore over the course of the 19th century, and Sharp Street relocated to its present location in 1898.