By Christopher J. Anderson, Methodist Librarian

Many of us have used Google Maps for directions to places we want to visit. Others use the mapping software to discover the history of geographical locations. Recently, I received a Drew Geospatial Information Systems faculty workshop grant to develop an online program that uses Google software to create an interactive map that traces the history and locations of historic African American Methodist churches.

Using ArcMap 10 software, addresses are entered and then geocoded to find their spatial location. Once addresses are mapped, latitude and longitude coordinates are calculated. These coordinates are then entered into an Excel database andmapped across several states that were part of the Delaware Annual Conference of the Methodist Church. The data is then converted to Google map software that identifies the current and/or former location of each church. The software highlights images of the church, digitized published histories, statistical information and links to current churches if still operational.

The project focuses on churches that were part of the Delaware Annual Conference of the Central Jurisdiction of the Methodist Church, the first alignment of African American churches segregated by action of the General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church. The conference was organized in 1864 at John Wesley Church in Philadelphia, and included congregations in Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania
and Virginia.

Screenshot of Mapping Black Methodism
Methodist Librarian Christopher Anderson used Geospatial Information Systems (GIS) technology to create this image as part of a mapping project which locates historically segregated African American Methodist churches.

The later Central Jurisdiction was a racially segregated grouping of African American churches located throughout the United States. The jurisdiction originated in 1939 with the Plan of Union that merged together the Methodist Episcopal Church, Methodist Episcopal Church South, and Methodist Protestant Church. Nineteen annual conferences were eventually formed as a result of the Plan of Union. These segregated conferences existed from 1939 to 1973. The Philadelphia and Wilmington districts, specifically the segregated New Jersey churches of the Delaware Annual Conference, were the initial focus of this GIS project.

This article appeared in Visions, the Library Newsletter, Fall 2011.