The building formerly located at Fourth and San Antonio Streets was paid for in 1883 as Deeds and Articles of Incorporation are dated September 6, 1883. In California, during that period, deeds were not grated unless the property was free and clear. The Deeds and Articles of Incorporation were signed by Henry Venable, William H. Davis, and George Caples, John Madden, Howard Franklin and the Rev. William H. Mitchell. Mr. Madden had donated the land on which the church was built. The congregation worshipped at Fourth and San Antonio Streets for more than 90 years in a structure that had been shipped from Sacramento by both water and land for the Black citizens of San Jose. During the ninety years the First A.M.E. Zion Church of San Jose had served for Freedom Fighters with the same purposes the Mother Church had served for Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglas in years past.
The local Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (N.A.A.C.P.) and the Congress of Racial Equality (C.O.R.E.) were both organized in the basement of this historic church.
In 1917, the building and lot was willed to the Church by the late Mr. and Mrs. John Madden. Two rooms were added to the building and served as the dining room and kitchen. The membership grew along with the Black population in San Jose. Additional space was planned. In 1918 the structure was completed, and the cornerstone was laid on May 12, 1918. (This cornerstone was destroyed in the re-establishing of a new church home)
The church had a mortgage burning ceremony on February 21, 1940. The church celebrated its 75th Anniversary during this period. The pastor at that time was Rev. Albert Williams. The Trustees, while under the leadership of Rev. Harold Sheppard, purchased an apartment complex located at 940 Spring Street. The apartments were refurbished with a mortgage on the church. This mortgage was paid off in 1968 under the pastorate of Rev. Jesse Selby. Mortgage burning services were held on March 16, 1968.
Rev. Archibald Thomas was pastor until 1966. He retired after serving more than 50 years as a minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Connection.
In 1969 the congregation was forced to abandon the historic location at 4th and San Antonio Street as a result of the San Jose Urban Renewal Project. Rev. Selby was the dedicated pastor during this period. The Christian spirit of the larger San Jose community was exemplified in the decision of the United Methodist Church to permit this (displaced) congregation to worship in its small chapel on 5th and Santa Clara Streets. This arrangement lasted from mid-1969 until Easter Sunday, 1972. On Easter Sunday morning of that year the pastor Rev. James A. Davis, the congregation and a host of friends marched down Santa Clara Street to their new home, and present facility; 95 South 20th Street, situated on the corner of 20th and San Fernando Street.
During the three-year period preceding the purchase of the new church home, the officers of the church struggled to finalize the plans for building a new edifice on the property the church purchased at King Road and Ocala Street. The availability of a church building owned by Gospel Temple was brought to the attention of the officers by Mrs. Edna Harris. Negotiations to purchase this building were initiated with $28,000 in the Building Fund and the commitment of $10,000 in financial pledges by members of the Trustee Board and others. This allowed the final mortgage to be acceptable by the bank for the purchase price of $140,000. Those individuals who signed the note and gave money included Mrs. Ivy Davis, Mr. Charles Brown, Mr. Charles Rigmaiden, Mr. Aaron Harris, Mr. Forrest Williams, Mr. Walter Threadgill, Mrs. Bertha Ellington, Mr. Oliver Phewchay, Mr. Parker Taylor, and Mrs. Gladys Wade. These members acted in the same spirit as did the founders of First A.M.E. Zion Church. The first services in the new church home were held on Easter Sunday, 1972 with the Reverends James A. Davis and John W. Davis presiding.
On the 13th day of November 1983, another milestone was reached as Rev. Frederick Hubbard, members and friends celebrated the mortgage burning of indebtedness. The Steward Board at this time was Sister Elizabeth H. Leak (Preachers Steward), Sister Meredith Sheriff, and Brother Matthew Vidrine. The Trustees were Forrest Williams, Lonnie Leak, Willard Whitaker, Marion “Chuck” Amaker, and Sister Patricia Macklin.
In 1995, the Young Adult Missionary Society established a library in the memory of Brother Charles Brown, an Honorary Trustee. The library was dedicated by the Presiding Prelate, Bishop Clarence Carr assisted by the Pastor, Rev. Michael Henderson.
Rev. Michael Henderson brought a renewed focus to evangelism, the food ministry, and providing necessities and gifts to the local community. First AME Zion, San Jose displays out pouring of un-selfish love to help in the vineyard of our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ. In 1996, Brother Sam Williams donated a van for the transportation of needy members.
During 2002, the family of Mrs. Mildred Crawford (at her request) arranged for the installation of pews in the upstairs chapel. These pews were refinished by Brothers Lonnie Leak and Nygel Leak. Memorial plaques have been procured and installed. The pews were dedicated by Bishop Carr and assisted by Rev. Michael Henderson.
During 2003 a major renovation of the church parsonage was completed by the Trustees. This project was organized and led by the late Brother James S. Wilmore, with the capable participation from Dr. Forrest Williams, Trustee Chairman; and Brothers Barry Stokes, William “Bill” Melson, Dean Fambro, Terry Hunter, Wayne Taylor, and Rev. Henderson.
During the decade 2004 – 2014, the Church focused on extending our community outreach and partnered with many community groups through our community outreach program, sharing our facilities to accommodate their services to the San Jose community.
Some of the outreach programs included:
Sunday Morning Breakfast for the homeless
Twice-weekly drug rehabilitation meetings
Weekly Bible studies for county social service clients
Academic Tutoring & IT Skills Development
Establishment of the African American Journey Exhibit
Community service-based meetings
In 2017, First Church's deeds of trust were compromised, and a great deal of unrest fell within the congregation. In 2019, a deadly virus called COVID-19 hit the nation and over 500,000 lives were lost, causing our physical church to be closed for over one year. Praise be to God that no one from First Church died from that dread disease. Many people, however, were unable to work and contributions to churches suffered. Recognizing the Church's inability to meet its financial obligations to him, Pastor Rogers gifted the Church funds owed him as a means of helping First Church to start afresh in the new 2021-2022 Conference Year. During the many months of COVID restriction, First Church continued its Sunday worship online via the Church's website.
In May 2019, Rev. Dr. Ronald L. Rogers was called to pastor First Church. With the leadership of our former pastors, the oversight of the late Dr. E. Eugene Parker, Presiding Elder of the Bay Cities District; supervision of Bishop Staccato Powell, continued leadership of Bishop George D. Crenshaw, Presiding Prelate of the Western Episcopal District, and under the watchful eye of Pastor Rogers, First Church continued to sustain. Upon Dr. Rogers' desire to focus on his duties as Presiding Elder of the Bay Cities District and his request not to be re-appointed to the pastorate, Bishop Crenshaw graciously accepted his request and on June 12, 2021, Bishop appointed Rev. Nailah S.D. Hubbard as Pastor of First Church. On that same day, the California Conference and First Church was challenged to move forward with the admonition from Bishop Crenshaw to be "unified, dignified, and sanctified."
May the history of the past continue to sustain us through the promise of the unknown future. Today First Church San Jose continues in the tradition of the Mother Church in the fight for the dignity, emancipation, and rights of all people and is committed to "Making History in the 21st Century."