Across New London Road from where you stand now is St. John African Methodist Church, formerly one of the AUMP churches. St. John is the oldest church in the New London Road Community and, like its fellow churches, has a rich and long history. The AUMP denomination also grew out of Peter Spencer’s 1813 African Union Church, like Mt. Zion’s UAME. The AUMP church was originally a Methodist Protestant Church, but in the 1960’s switched to an Episcopal structure.
This particular congregation was organized around 1848 and services were held in a log cabin that stood where the current structure is now. The log cabin was replaced in 1867 with the current structure, which was heavily remodeled in the 1960s. In 1890, St. John AUMP was officially incorporated, and finally renamed St. John African Methodist Church in 1996. St. John has always been dedicated to serving its community, providing spiritual education through Bible study and Sunday school, and remembering its members through memorials and tributes. Alvin Hall remembers attending St. John, regardless of his other activities:
“I had to go to church. Like at fourteen or fifteen I was playing ball and seemed to be a pretty good athlete and seemed like the Alco Flashes would request that I play with them, and I could not go play with them until I went to church, so a car from Wilmington would be there at my house, at twelve o’clock when church let out, and I would go get out of church.”
Reverend Steve A Wright, who has been with St. John since 2002, currently leads the church. St. John is active in the community and continues to be well attended, just as in 1848.
The intersection where you are now standing, of New London Road and Cleveland Avenue, is the heart of the community. This spot has seen a lot of history. It has seen houses and businesses and schools come and go. It has seen students walking up the hill to school, and then students attending Newark High after desegregation. It has seen babies born in its houses and its elderly buried in the cemetery on Rose Street. But most of all, this spot has seen the love and friendship of a community, a neighborhood, and an extended family. When asked what she would want future generations to remember about this community, Marva Smith said,
“I like them to remember that this is a area that was a caring… This area is made up of residents who are caring people. Who cared not only for their immediate family but for the community as a whole. The people here were supportive of young people - they encourage them to get as much education as they could. To do well in whatever they are doing. But to never forget their family values that they have learned along the way. Because children today are not taught family values that I grew up with, what my mother grew up with. And they don’t know what they are missing and carry that in their background.”
Arnold Saunders is proud of this community:
“You’d be amazed how what’s now [inaudible.], how educated that we got ourselves during that time. We’ve got schoolteachers. We’ve got principals that come out of Newark. It’s just overwhelming, the talent that came out of that small village in Newark—pro football players, pro baseball players—how we persevered against all odds, and [inaudible.] how they survived with the little that they had.”
But Alvin Hall sums up the community and its history the best, explaining,
“One of the things that nobody knows about is the harmony of the community, how people lived so close together got along so well, and had no fear of the difficulties that you have today of crime, mischief that is done maliciously. That didn’t go on in the black community during that time.”
This ends our tour. This walking tour would not have been possible without the time, patience and generosity of the community members who grew up here, who have leant us their stories, their voices and their pictures. We also would like to thank the Special Collections Library at the University of Delaware, the Newark Historical Society, Dr. Denise Hayman, Dr. Patty Wilson, Dr. Bernard Herman, Katie (Uehling) Holstein and Dr. Margaret Anderson, UD interim deputy provost. We would also like to thank Crystal Hayman Simms, Marva Smith, Vicki Penn, Lindsay Saunders, Sylvester Woolford and Ardella Washington.
Thank you for taking the walking tour of the neighborhood. We hope that you have learned much about the history, love, and friendship that were created along these streets and can take home a newfound respect for the New London Road Community.