—Sixth and Herr Streets —
Because of the second State Capitol extension, Bethel AME Church purchased the Ridge Avenue Methodist Church building in 1953. (Sixth Street was formerly named Ridge Avenue). The Colored Wesleyan Burial Ground was located on Herr Street about fifty yards below the Ridge Avenue Methodist Church from 1853 - 1877, when it moved to Penbrook and renamed Lincoln Cemetery.
In 1953 the Bethel AME congregation, under the pastorage of Reverend James W. Mason, marched from the old church located at Briggs and Ash Streets to the Sixth and Herr Streets site. The former Ridge Avenue Church parsonage, located at Sixth and Boas Streets, was home of Bethel Trustees Marie and Charles Curtis.
From 1953 through 1995, many important changes occurred in Harrisburg. Public elementary schools were desegregated through the efforts of Dr. Joseph Randall of Bethel. Reverend Theodore S. Clements was a leader in the fight for Civil Rights. The population of the city dropped from a high of 90,000 to less than 50,000.
The Bethel AME Church was destroyed by fire in November, 1995.
Dr. Joseph Randall, as president of the Elks' Civil Liberties League, lead a five-year battle for the desegregation of schools in Harrisburg. The movement was begun by the Non-Partisan Civic League, which later became
part of the Elks' group. The group addressed the Harrisburg School Board and requested that the separation of students based on race be ended.
The school board issued this order: "It shall be unlawful for any school director, superintendent or teacher to make divisions whatever on account of, or by reason of, the race or color of any pupil or scholar who may be in attendance upon, or seeking admission to, any public school maintained wholly or in part under the school laws of the commonwealth."
Dr. Randall commented, "I am glad we won. Who wouldn't be after a fight of five long years. At times our political parasites made the road rocky, but thank God we made it."
Heading for Commonwealth Avenue? Rushing to work, school, a meeting, shopping, or engagement? Few who cross Forester Street traveling through the Capitol complex realize that they are on the Bethel Heritage Trail.
You're standing at the Northern gateway to the trail. An incredible list of leaders emerged from Bethel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) congregation that once gathered here at 6th and Herr Streets. They lived through tumultuous times for Central Pennsylvania.
Bethel AME's commitment and endurance has contributed to the character of Harrisburg's community and the quality of
life for the descendants of African American citizens who gathered in their halls since 1834.
Bethel's 6th and Herr Street church was a crossroads of community. Indeed, the church's sanctuary, Sunday school, auditorium, meeting halls, and parish house hosted an impressive number of important social, fraternal and civil rights events until fire brought it down in 1995.
Bethel anchored the block that was once a vital Black business corridor. The Curtis Funeral Home, Jackson Hotel, and Jackson Barber Shop were all part of the tapestry that made up the Bethel Village.
From this vantage point, you can travel back in time. Your footsteps along Commonwealth Avenue to Aberdeen Street will guide you past four landmarks all standing on Bethel's past—the Bethel Heritage Trail.
► You are here, where where the 6th and Herr Street church once stood. (4)
The Judicial Center on Commonwealth Avenue is where the Briggs Street church once stood. (3)
Also on Commonwealth Avenue, the Capitol fountain was once the site of State Street church and the Forum building is near where the Short Street church once stood. (2)
The Amtrak station (Aberdeen Street), was near the site of the
Meadow Lane church where Bethel was founded in 1834. (1)
North 6th Street
A. 1000—Curtis Funeral Home
B. 1002—Jackson Barber shop
C. 1004—Jackson House restaurant
D. 1006—Jackson Rooming house
E. 1008—House of Rowland-Reed Beauty Culture School
Far right—1032 Bethel AME Church