Located at the northeast corner of Pippen and Franklin streets in the Historic Eastside neighborhood, Mount Olive African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Church is associated many many nationally significant individuals from Jacksonville’s past. Although the existing historic building recently celebrated its 101-year-old birthday, the congregation was organized.

Completed in 1922, the historic structure was designed by Richard Lewis Brown. Born into slavery in 1854 in Abbeville, SC, Brown may be Jacksonville’s most well known African-American architect and builder. Regarded as the city’s first known African-American architect, Brown was also elected to the Florida House of Representatives in 1881, serving two consecutive terms. In addition to Mount Olive A.M.E., Brown is also credited with building Centennial Hall on the campus of Edward Waters University and Public School No. 8 in the Phoenix neighborhood. Brown resided a few blocks north of Mount Olive. Following his death, the property was donated to the Duval County School Board and is now the present day site of R.L. Brown Gifted and Talented Academy.

Other historically significant names include Joseph Edward Lee, A. Philip Randolph and A.L. Lewis. During the late 19th century, Joseph Edward Lee served as the congregation’s minister. Lee was Jacksonville’s first African American attorney and one of Florida’s most influential men during Reconstruction. A captivating orator, Lee was powerful national political force for five decades, acting at various times as a state legislator, attorney, federal customs collector, and educator.

At the time, Elizabeth Robinson Randolph was a member of the congregation. Randolph was the mother of Asa Philip Randolph. At Mount Olive, a young Asa Philip Randolph studied Lee’s deliberate, quiet speech and diction. In addition, James William Randolph, Randolph’s father, would take his two young sons to visit Lee’s office in downtown Jacksonville occasionally. Regarded as the only Floridian with easy access to President William McKinley and a close friend of President Theodore Roosevelt, Lee was despised by local Jim Crow era public officials but a huge role model to young Black Jaxsons.

The purpose of Randolph’s trips to Lee’s office were to teach his sons that they, too, could attain similar positions of authority in spite of living during Segregation. At the age of 21, A. Philip Randolph left town in hopes of becoming an actor in Harlem. Instead, the foundation established in Jacksonville and at Mount Olive, led to Randolph founding the country’s first Black labor union and organizing Martin Luther king Jr.’s March on Washington in 1963.

Mount Olive A.M.E. Church in 1968. (University of Florida)

Abraham Lincoln (A.L.) Lewis served as the chairman of Mount Olive’s building committee. Born in 1865, Lewis was the son of a blacksmith who moved from Madison, Florida to Jacksonville in 1876. Struggling to overcome poverty, Lewis dropped out of grammar school to gain employment at a lumber mill.

In 1901, Lewis was one of seven founders of the Afro-American Life Insurance Company. Initially serving as the company’s treasurer, Lewis was elected to become the president in 1919. With the company serving as a significant anchor of the rich cultural fabric of Black Jacksonville, Lewis became one of Florida’s earliest Black millionaires. A human rights pioneer, entrepreneur, humanitarian, and philanthropist fighting racial inequities, Lewis also founded Florida’s first Black-owned bottling company, 50-50 Bottling, a Black golf and country club in Northwest Jacksonville, several cemeteries and financially supported several Historic Black Colleges and Universities.

In 1935, along with the Afro-American Life Insurance Company, he established the resort community of American Beach in Nassau County. At its height, American Beach was a nationally known Segregation era beach resort that attracted celebrities such as folklorist Zora Neale Hurston, Cab Calloway, Ray Charles, Joe Louis, Ossie Davis, Hank Aaron and Billy Eckstein.

His influence can be witnessed in the church building’s architecture itself. His face is included in a stained glass window and an exterior drinking fountain was added to the structure in honor of Lewis, following his death in 1947. Today, the A.M.E. is working to raise funds to restore the structure back its original condition.