One of Decatur’s oldest African-American congregations, Wayman Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church was established in 1877. At that time, T.W. Coffee was assigned to the Decatur mission and there were six members. The church is named for Bishop Alexander Walker Wayman who, as the seventh person to hold that title in the A.M.E. church, ordained early pastor W.H. Mixon as a deacon and elder.
The congregation started meeting at the current site on Church Street in 1905, and construction of the church building was completed two years later under the leadership of Rev. R.A. Mahoney. Partly designed by renowned black architect W.A. Rayfield, who also designed First Missionary Baptist Church, the building is listed on the Alabama Register of Landmarks and Heritage. The Alabama Historical Association unveiled a historic marker on the property on July 30, 2017.
A number of homes that once stood on this block of Church Street were demolished in the early 1980s as part of the Vine Street Redevelopment Project. The gallery below shows the north side of the block as it looked in the late 1970s. The first two homes occupied the now-vacant lots directly east of Wayman Chapel, which is shown in the third image. The sixth and final image shows the Shop-Ezy, which stood at the west end of the block, on the corner of Church and McCartney Street.
The eight neighboring houses below occupied the south side of this block, opposite Wayman Chapel. The old King’s Memorial building is visible in the background of the first two images.
Over the Memorial Day weekend of 1979, “an exuberant crowd of about seventy” gathered at Wayman Chapel for a fateful march commemorating the one-year anniversary of Tommy Lee Hines’s arrest. Hines, an intellectually disabled resident of Old Town, had been convicted by an all-white jury in Cullman and sentenced to 30 years in prison, a punishment described by the presiding judge as “the longest sentence for rape that he had handed down in his six-year career.”
Led by SCLC president Dr. Joseph Lowery, the crowd left Wayman Chapel and marched down Bank Street toward City Hall. When they reached what was then the Purina Warehouse near the intersection of Lee and Davis, the marchers encountered an unruly crowd of “Klansmen and other white supremacists” armed with “big sticks, axe handles and batons.” A dummy identified by a hand-written note as “Tommy Hines” dangled from a homemade gallows in the back of one Klansman’s pickup truck, and as the marchers approached, “a sea of whites moved in tightly to block the way.” Suddenly, gun shots rang out, narrowly missing Dr. Lowery’s wife, who had followed the procession in the family car. When the smoke cleared, three protesters had been injured, as had local Klan leader David Kelso.
Back at Wayman Chapel, Dr. Lowery addressed the shaken protesters. “What you have witnessed here today,” he told the crowd, “is a complete breakdown of law and order.”
“The Ku Klux Klan will not put fear in our hearts. They will put faith in our hearts. God will roll back the KKK, and He will roll back the racist attitudes of the state of Alabama.”
—Dr. Joseph Lowery
Hines’s conviction would eventually be overturned on appeal with help from SCLC, but the “racist attitudes” described by Dr. Lowery persisted, as Peggy Towns documents in her book Scapegoat: The Tommy Lee Hines Story. Marchers, city maintenance worker Curtis Robinson and Ku Klux Klan members were arrested and charged with shootings, while Klansmen and their white allies looted and torched black-owned business throughout Old Town.
As they left Wayman Chapel and walked east from the intersection of Madison and Church Street, the Memorial Day marchers of 1979 would have passed the five neighboring houses below on their right.
At the end of this block, on the southeast corner of Grove and Church Street, the marchers would have passed Wynn Service Station. To see the store as it would have appeared to the marchers, tap the image below, grab the arrow on the left-hand side and drag rightward.
Continue east on Church Street, then turn left on Sycamore Street and click the button below to visit the next tour stop.