Story #3: On this spot in 1898 The Abyssinian Meeting House tragically lost a third of its members in a shipwreck.
During the research phase of Portland Brick, Ayumi and I took a walking tour of Portland’s Freedom Trail with artist Daniel Minter. During the walk Daniel shared the story of the SS Portland. He explained that many African American Portlanders were on the SS Portland when it when down. He explained how huge the impact of this loss was for the African American community based in the India Street Neighborhood. The neighborhood had a large African American community because of the jobs that were accessible at that time. It became a community hub through The Abyssinian Meeting House.
The Abyssinian Meeting House was constructed by free blacks who came together to seek opportunity and refuge. The Meeting House became the cultural center of the community. Meetings, church services, concerts, a segregated public school, dinners and entertainment made the Abyssinian the center of political and social life which united the community throughout the 19th century. Its members and preachers included former enslaved people, leaders of the Underground Railroad movement and outspoken advocates for the abolition of slavery in the United States. The Meeting House closed in 1917 and was remodeled in 1924 as tenement apartments. Eventually the City of Portland seized the building for unpaid taxes. The building sat vacant and deteriorating, nearly forgotten, until community leaders founded the Committee to Restore the Abyssinian and purchased the building in 1998 from the City. –The Abyssinian Meeting House Facebook Page
Portland Brick honors the lives lost and the impact this loss had on the culture and leadership in the neighborhood. In meeting with board members of The Abyssinian Meeting House we learned that often white people have told or appropriated its history. Our aim as outsiders is to not replicate this pattern. It is only a partial success. If you have questions about the stories of The Abyssian Meeting House and want to learn more please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org