Wayman AME is one of Bloomington’s oldest congregations, established on October 10, 1846. The first pastor of the “African Church” was Bloomington’s Reverend P.H. Ward, who served during its first decade. On January 16, 1847, a lot at 804 N. Center was purchased by Moses Bird, Joseph Hobson, and J.W. Hill. The first church was built in 1848 for $300. In 1858 Hayes and Evans contractors completed the wooden structure which served for over a century. The church possibly was an Underground Railroad stop, assisting escaping enslaved people. It also served as a school for African American children. For the first 20 years, the church was the only local African American church, conscious of its social role.
In January 1860, Ward reported raising $100 from white citizens to open the school and the local African American population raising enough for fuel and other expenses. A structure behind the church was used as the classroom.
The Board of Education hired Emily B. Howard in August 1860 to teach the 25 students. She had lived in Burma (now Myanmar) with her Baptist
missionary parents. Maryanne Aray, who was African American, taught at the school from 1861 to 1863. She had attended Oberlin College in Ohio.
The school closed in 1874 when Bloomington Public Schools were desegregated by Sarah Raymond.
Reverend A.T. Hall succeeded Ward in 1860. During the U.S. Civil War, twenty local men were feted on May 23, 1863, leaving for Massachusetts the
next day for military service. A recruiting drive was held at Wayman on November 16, 1863, resulting in four local volunteers for the First Illinois Colored Volunteer regiment.
From Bloomington, Reverend C.S. Smith established the AME Sunday School Union in 1882, which published Sunday School literature for national distribution. He left Bloomington for Nashville, Tennessee, where he established the press and later served over the Chicago area and in South
Africa. He was later elected a bishop.
The Center Street building was renovated in 1910. Wayman has a long history of community involvement. For many years “Negro History Week,” a
precursor of Black History Month, was recognized at the church. On February 9, 1980, an international dinner was held with food from Hawaii,
Canada, Mexico, and Africa on the menu.
In 1992, the McLean County Historical Society led an archeological dig behind the church. The church moved from Center Street to the former St. John’s Lutheran Church at 803 W. Olive Street in the 1990s.