Right across from Chase Field, home of the Arizona Diamondbacks in Downtown Phoenix, Ariz. is a brick building, rich in history.
Tanner Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church was built long before the Diamondbacks were even a franchise.
Tanner Chapel A.M.E. is the oldest historical African American church in Arizona and was an organization before Arizona was even a state.
“We started as a church, a mission church in 1886,” said Dr. Rev. Benjamin Thomas Sr., who currently serves as the church’s pastor.
There are seven A.M.E. churches in the Valley. A.M.E. as an a denomination has been around for more than 200 years.
Rev. Thomas says it’s an honor to lead a church with so much history.
“The magic is real. When I come in, I get excited about being in the worship center. I look forward to it every week,” he said.
Rev. Thomas is also proud of how involved the church has been in the community throughout the years.
“We pride ourselves on being a change agent here in Arizona. Being part of a social activist community,” he added.
Perhaps that is the reason Tanner Chapel A.M.E. was the church Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. opted to speak at during the Civil Rights Movement.
Cronkite News tracked down the original audio recording of the speech Dr. King gave at the church.
In the speech, Dr. King can be heard saying “it’s a privilege to be in the city of Phoenix and the state of Arizona,” and that “we face the fact that racial injustice is a national problem.”
Rev. Thomas believes the speech is just as applicable today as was in the 1960s.
“Everything is so relevant, that speech is not outdated by any means,” added Rev. Thomas.
He also says that Dr. King’s speeches and sermons continue to move him.
“He preached non-violence. And through his preaching, a profound difference was made in the spirit of a movement that was created by him and that was to love your enemies as you love yourself,” said Rev. Thomas.
Other notable names have also spent time inside Tanner Chapel’s walls.
Rosa Parks and Rev. Jesse Jackson have also worshiped there.
The Honorable Calvin Goode was a longtime member, and current City of Phoenix Police Chief, Jeri Williams is a current member.
“We’ve been honored to have very distinguished members of our church fellowship. But of course, all of our members are distinguished,” Rev. Thomas added.
The church’s members also played a pivotal role when a portion of the church was destroyed in a fire, displacing its members for eight months.
“The church never lost its faith. It never lost its joy,” said Rev. Thomas.
Leading a church with so much history is an honor to Rev. Thomas and has an idea of the personal legacy he would like to leave behind.
“To encourage people that nothing is impossible to God. That you trust and never doubt, the will surely bring you out,” Rev. Thomas said.