Morris Brown AME Church was founded in the era following the American Civil War. The congregation came into being because of the rapid growth of Emanuel AME Church, the first church reestablished in Charleston following the Civil War by Bishop Daniel Alexander Payne. The Reverend Richard Harvey Cain, who was then pastor of Emanuel, purchased the property where the church now stands at 13 Morris Street from a Lutheran Congregation in 1867 and became the first pastor of the new congregation.
The Church is named for Morris Brown, the pastor of the first AME congregation established in Charleston in 1818. That congregation was forced “underground” in 1822 when one of its local clergy, Denmark Vesey, was executed for planning an abortive slave rebellion. Brown fled for his life to Philadelphia, and became the second Bishop of the AME Church. The “underground” church continued to meet until it was officially revived by Bishop Payne as Emanuel AME Church in 1865.
The congregation experienced rapid growth under Reverend Cain’s leadership, growing to become a two thousand member church in its first year of existence. Reverend Cain proved to be a leader in religious and civic circles. Cain opened a seminary institute in Liberty Hall, a former meeting place for soldiers located toward the rear of the church property. Cain went on to be a reconstruction era State Senator and U.S. Representative, and was elected the 14th Bishop of the AME Church in 1880. He was also one of the founders of all-black town of Lincolnville, South Carolina.
The Reverend Benjamin F. Porter another former pastor, initiated missionary and repatriation efforts in Africa in the 1870’s through his organization, the Liberian Exodus Association. During his tenure as pastor, Morris Brown was the scene for rallies encouraging immigration to Africa to promote commerce and Christianity. In 1878, Reverend Porter’s organization, in cooperation with black Baptists in the City of Charleston, dispatched a ship to Liberia with over two hundred settlers. By 1890, at least three Liberian congregations had developed as a result of these initiatives. Families rooted in Morris Brown also distinguished themselves in the governmental, judiciary, and religious life of Liberia. During the 1970’s many of their descendants returned to Morris Brown to trace their American roots.
During the turn of the century pastoral tenure of the Reverend Lewis Ruffin Nichols (father of Bishop Decatur Ward Nichols), the membership increased to approximately 3,000. During Dr. Rip Isaiah Lemon’s pastoral tenure, the church was renovated, and a new organ was installed. During the pastoral tenure of the Reverend Jasper C. Quarles, the church was brick veneered. During the pastoral tenure of former Bishop Zedekiah L. Grady, the Z.L. Grady Educational Building was added to the church and the Emanuel-Morris Brown-Ebenezer Apartments were completed on Johns Island. During the pastoral tenure of the Reverend James G. Blake, the church underwent a $2.1 million restoration.
Other former pastors of Morris Brown include the Reverends Moses B. Salter, Theophilus G. Steward, Samuel Washington, J.E. Haynes, Bruce Williams, J.W. McQueen, D.L. Lytes, Sandy Simmons, Greatheart, J.W. Murph, J.L. Benbow, J.W. Witherspoon, L.L. Farmer, Benjamin J. Glover, J.E. Beard, Jonathan J. Baker, Allen W. Parrott, Joseph A. Darby, and Dr. Charles R. Watkins, Jr. On November 12, 2016, the Rev. James Keeton, Jr. was appointed to the pastorate of Morris Brown AME Church at the Seventh Episcopal District Post Planning Convocation and Theological Institute.