Early in the morning on January 4, 1920, Reverend C.D. Thornton stood in front of Mt. Carmel African Methodist Episcopal Church at the base of Fair Street in southwest Atlanta. He was joined by a group of twenty-four other adults and children, including Mr. H.B. McIver. Together, they marched up Fair Street, from the “Bottoms”, to establish their church. Initially located on Larkin Street, it eventually moved to Fair Street and came to be known as Flipper Temple A.M.E. Church. Reverend Thornton was appointed to Mt. Carmel by Bishop Joseph Simeon Flipper, Thirty-third Bishop of the A.M.E. Church, and Presiding Bishop of the Sixth Episcopal District comprising the State of Georgia. With the insight of a visionary, Reverend Thornton sought out a better location for the Church. With the faithful assistance of his Presiding Elder, Dr. L.A. Townsley, a site was purchased in December 1919 through the Graves Real Estate Company. With the establishment of the Church at its new location, the need to form a number of organizations was necessary to move the Church to greater heights. To that end, Mr. H.B. McIver was named Superintendent of the Sunday School and Mr. John Heard was named Assistant Superintendent. Reverend Thornton appointed Bros. McIver, Heard, Ernest Allen, and Tobe Peters as the first Class Leaders. In addition, the first choir was established. It was announced during the 1922 Annual Conference that Reverend J. G, Brown would assume the pastorate. He continued the organizational pattern begun by Reverend Thornton, by naming the first Stewards and Trustees and organizing the first Stewardess Board and Missionary Society.
Just as the first Sunday of 1920 had been a day of rejoicing, the third Saturday night in March 1925 was one of sadness for the Flipper Temple family. It was on that date that the Church was completely destroyed by fire. Although grieved because of the loss of their church building, the faithful members soon began to worship in the parsonage adjacent to the Church. A setback like the fire posed unexpected challenges for such a small congregation, but with faith and determination, the congregation was soon able to return to the sanctuary for worship services.
Reverend Brown was transferred on the third Sunday of June 1927, and the Reverend J. F. Moses was named new Pastor of Flipper Temple. Church membership increased at a rapid pace under Rev. Moses’ leadership, and it became clear that the existing Church building would soon be inadequate for the growing congregation. Renovations to the structure were made to accommodate the Church’s physical needs. Rev. Moses is credited with reducing the Church’s indebtedness and establishing what was probably its first bank account with First National Bank of Georgia. During his tenure, as many as fifty-three organizations existed in the Church.
During the General Conference of 1928, Bishop Flipper was moved to another Episcopal District and the Right Reverend William Alfred Fountain became the Bishop of Georgia. It was during this period that Flipper Temple became known as the “fastest growing A.M.E, Church in Georgia”. At the Annual Conference of 1932, Rev. Moses was appointed Presiding Elder of the South Atlanta District and the Reverend H.M. Parker was appointed to lead the Church. He organized the Progressive Choir, Junior Steward Board, the Trustee Board, and the Parker Junior Club. He remained Pastor until 1938. It was then that the Reverend T. David Norris was transferred to Flipper Temple from the Macon Conference.
Reverend Norris succeeded in retiring the Church’s debt and burning the mortgage after only eighteen months. A new site was purchased from the Graves Real Estate Company. On the second Sunday in March 1940, Bishop William A. Fountain, members, and friends witnessed the groundbreaking for a new church building. It was with the guidance and leadership of Rev. Norris that the church was able to establish a building fund for the Flipper Temple A.M.E. Church. During the General Conference in Philadelphia in May 1944, Rev. Norris was elected to the editorship of the Christian Recorder. The members of Flipper Temple had long recognized his ability as a writer, and they were elated to know that their pastor would be elevated to the rank of a general officer of the A.M.E. Church.
On the third Sunday in May 1944, Reverend William L. Brown became the pastor of Flipper Temple. A renowned church builder, Rev. Brown accepted the Flipper Temple appointment with the understanding that he was to build a new church. He faced some opposition from within the congregation, but because of his strong and bold leadership, construction on the present church building began. Rev. Brown is credited with increasing Church membership significantly.
Rev. Brown was succeeded in 1951 by the Reverend L.G. Long, who had been transferred to Atlanta from Alabama. He was labeled “Preacher of His Time” due to his spirit-filled pulpit demeanor. He was in great demand as a preacher and travelled extensively throughout the United States. Bishops, Presiding Elders, Pastors, and Lay Members alike were honored to have this Man of God preach the Word during any special event. Flipper Temple continued to grow under his leadership. Reverend Reuben T. Bussey became the pastor in December 1959 after having been transferred to Atlanta from a prominent church in Macon. He came to Flipper Temple with the reputation as “one who always finished the task at hand”. His work at Flipper Temple added to that reputation because he left the Church on sound financial grounds and with a completed edifice. He was assigned to Atlanta’s Big Bethel A.M.E. Church in June 1964 after having overseen the establishment of the Cathedral Choir and the Art Guild. Following eight successful years as pastor in Athens, Georgia, the Reverend Julius C. Williams came to Flipper Temple on the second Sunday in June 1964. He arrived with the mandate to renovate and complete the construction project, and his personal desire to build an educational complex. Not only was he successful in these endeavors, but he also contributed to the Church’s well-being and stabilization in countless other ways, including the installation of the Church’s elevator. It was under Rev. Williams’ leadership that the Bell Choir was established, and Flipper Temple became the first A.M.E. church in Atlanta to use Acolytes during the worship service. His successes are evident to all those who, today, work and worship in the Flipper Temple complex.
Reverend Williams entered into Eternal Rest in 1988, and Bishop Ernest L. Hickman came to Flipper Temple to finish his unexpired term. His task, to bring solace to a grieving congregation, was enormous. After beginning the healing process and offering encouragement, Bishop Hickman stepped aside and passed the torch onto Elder L. J. Jones who did much to restore the congregation’s spirit. He was followed in the pastorate by Reverend Benjamin Gay. Reverend Gay, in his kind and gentle manner, and with wisdom and knowledge, added greatly to the development of the Church. He reorganized the choirs and class leaders, and he oversaw the publication of two church directories. He led the congregation in the purchase of real estate for a parking lot, a bus, a new marquee, and office equipment. He posted identifying signs on the education building and led efforts to restore the stained glass windows. Monthly Official Board meetings were established under Rev. Gay ’s leadership, and programs for feeding the hungry were initiated.
Reverend Dr. Thomas L. Bess, Sr. came to Flipper Temple in February 1991 and, with great enthusiasm, continued the legacy begun in 1919. Assuming the pastorate at a time when the congregation was still adjusting to the loss of a beloved leader, Rev. Bess approached the pastorate with sensitivity, understanding, and the ability to lead. Perhaps most significant among his contributions was his influence among the youth of the church. He stressed academic achievement and scholarship as a means for young people to reach their goals in life. Scholarships for those seeking a higher education, regardless of their area of concentration, have now become the norm at Flipper Temple. During his tenure, Rev. Bess oversaw the establishment of the Thomas L. Bess Gospel Choir which was recognized throughout Atlanta as one of the area’s most talented musical aggregations. The group reflects the vitality and commitment that exemplified Rev. Bess’ role in the Church and the community at -large.
When Rev. Bess was called to another charge in the city, Flipper Temple was blessed with the appointment of Reverend Dr. C. Edward Wells, Sr. as pastor in May 1997. He was Flipper Temple’s fourteenth pastor and proved to be a strong and forceful preacher and leader who strove for excellence in all that he did. During his administration, a Saturday Pre-Communion Prayer Breakfast/Love Feast preceding each First Sunday was re-established, and the Class Leaders were reorganized. He initiated the Birth Month Clubs, Community/Neighbor Day, and Friends and Family Day, while working to modernize the Church by orchestrating the renovation of the office complex and installing an updated audio-visual system in the sanctuary.
Once again, and unfortunately, members of the congregation were saddened by the loss of their leader when, on February 18, 2004, Rev. Wells was called to his reward. Greatly missed, Rev. Wells is fondly remembered as one who set the Church on a new course of worship, spirituality, stewardship, and community service. Following Rev. Wells’ untimely death, we were happy to learn that Presiding Elder Charlie Tatmon would serve on an interim basis until a permanent pastor could be named. During this unexpected transitional period, Presiding Elder Tatmon proved to be the calming and reassuring presence that the congregation needed. God’s people always seem to be able to endure weeping for a night knowing that joy will come in the morning. Such was the case when the Reverend Dr. Gregory Vaughn Eason, Sr. entered the Flipper Temple pulpit as pastor and leader of the flock. In less than six months, he was able to breathe new spiritual life into worship, and a sense of Church Family among the congregation. Rev. Eason demonstrated through his powerful sermons, gentle manner, and a clear vision that Flipper Temple was, indeed, a church on the move. In December 2005, Rev. Eason was appointed to pastor Big Bethel A.M.E. Church.
Reverend Augusta H. Hall, Jr. was appointed as the new spiritual leader. He was a dynamic and charismatic preacher, and an enthusiastic leader with a clear vision for leading the church in the twenty-first century. To that end, he spear-headed the purchase of a new fifteen passenger van while working to reduce church indebtedness. A new parking lot was completed, and a renewed effort was launched to reach out to students in the Atlanta University Center. Members of the congregation expressed great pleasure with the degree to which the ministerial staff invigorated the Bible Study Programs.
On June 10, 2016, the Reverend Dr. Gregory Vaughn Eason, Sr. returned once again as Senior Pastor of Flipper Temple A.M.E. Church. Dr. Eason’s vision of the future focuses on, “Radical Hospitality, Passionate Worship, Intentional Faith Development, Risk Taking Mission & Service, Extravagant Generosity, and Focused Evangelism and Temple Care.”
Pastor Eason led Flipper Temple faithfully during the Covid-19 worldwide pandemic, and the paradigm shift to meeting and worshiping virtually. In addition, major improvements were made to the church’s sanctuary and educational building. Things certainly are looking up under the leadership and vision of Dr. Eason.
Rev. Dr. Gregory Vaughn Eason Sr., Senior Pastor
2016 - Current