Thomas Chapel A.M.E. Zion Church was built by freed slaves in 1892.

GospelFest Concert

Thomas Chapel A.M.E. Zion Church was built by freed slaves in 1892.

Presented by Black Mountain’s “Original” Thomas Chapel A.M.E. Zion Church.

The “Original” Thomas Chapel A.M.E. Zion Church will present its third annual GospelFest at 3 p.m. on Saturday, October 26, 2019; the concert will be held at St. James Episcopal Church, 424 State Street, Black Mountain, NC.

The multicultural fundraising concert will feature gospel music from regional choirs, performers, and musicians, including Sharon Miller of Thomas Chapel, The Stoney Knoll C.M.E. Church Ensemble of Mill Spring, NC; Sahara Peace Choir from Asheville, NC; Addie’s Chapel United Methodist Church Choir in Marion, NC; Calvary’s Touch Trio; and other talented voices. Tickets in advance are $10 for adults and $5 for children 12 and under, and $12 and $6 at the door.

More than a century of history

This historic African Methodist Episcopal Church at 300 Cragmont Road in Black Mountain, referred to as the “Little Church on the Hill,” was built by freed slaves in 1892 as the first “Tom’s Chapel.” The current building dates to 1922. Serving as the mother church for the A.M.E. Zion and other dominations in the Valley, it’s been restored to its original splendor.

The original church, adjacent to Black Mountain’s Oak Grove cemetery, stood empty for several years after the congregation moved to a new building on West College Street. Since 2005, work to restore the building has continued. These efforts have resulted in the site’s placement on the National Register of Historic Places by the US Department of the Interior on February 9, 2009. The church has also received two Griffin Awards from the Preservation Society of Asheville & Buncombe County for outstanding projects and individuals that further the goals of historic preservation. The church was officially reopened to the public on September 17, 2011 after the first phase of renovation repairs were completed.

Community-building programming to come

Dionne R. Greenlee-Jones, current President of the Board of the Restoration Corporation and a facilitator for the region’s Building Bridges initiative, is thrilled about the annual fundraising event. “After many years of working to restore this church site, we’re excited that it is finally ready to host educational programs regarding the rich African American history in Black Mountain,” she shared. “We envision this site to become a local gathering place for events, programs, and community meetings, open to everyone, particularly to discuss topics of social justice and the legacy of community. There were many people of different hues who helped facilitate the church’s renovation, and we’re grateful for the continued support.”

This spring, the church, in partnership with Black Mountain Presbyterian Church, hosted a book discussion featuring Bryan Stevenson’s book Just Mercy. Stevenson, an attorney, activist, and best-selling author whose leadership led to the opening of the national memorial honoring victims of lynching, spoke in Asheville in April at an event sponsored by UNCA. Future programs at the “little church” will continue the trend that creatively combines cultural insights through the arts, spiritual gatherings, book discussions, and other events that build community and bring people together.

Concert celebrates history and builds community

GospelFest is held in celebration of the extensive African American history the site signifies, for in the past, the “little church” served not only as a spiritual gathering place, but also as the social heart of the surrounding community. Advance tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for children 12 and under. Tickets sold at the door on the day of the event for adults are $12; $6 for children 12 and under. Tickets may be purchased from board members, or online via Eventbrite (GospelFest 2019 Black Mountain). Proceeds go toward supporting the preservation fund of the church and the nonprofit responsible for the care of the site.

The Platinum Sponsor for GospelFest 2019 is Harwood Home for Funerals. The event is also generously being hosted by St. James Episcopal Church in Black Mountain. For more information, contact board members Dionne R. Greenlee at (919) 638-0088 or Renee Weaver at (828) 301-6701.