Spokane has long had a black population, though it started out quite small. Coal mining jobs drew large numbers of African Americans to Washington State in the 1880s, though often when they found work as scabs hired to break strikes. A large number of them came to Spokane Falls from Roslyn Washington after the mines there closed in the late 1890s. Railroad jobs were another draw for African Americans to the Spokane Falls area. From 1880 to 1890, Washington's black population increased from 180 to more than 1600, with more than 200 residing in Spokane County.
Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, originally known as St. Pauls AME Church, was first organized in 1890 by Reverend A.C. Augustus, who had been sent up from the California diocese. It was only the second traditionally black church established in Washington State, the first being Calvary Baptist Church which had been started only shortly before, also in Spokane. Bethel AME first gathered in the home of Mrs. D.F.C Washington on South Steven Street. The first pastor was Reverend G.W. White.
Churches often acted as the nucleus of the black community, and Bethel AME Church was no exception. In addition to being a spiritual center, it also served as a political and social focal point, hosting plays, contests, dinners and gatherings. Education was held in high regard, so the church also hosted musical and literary programs. Consequently, many of the pioneering black leaders of Spokane emerged from Bethel AME.
Bethel AME purchased its first lot in 1901 at the corner of Third Avenue and Browne Street and erected a small frame building. A site at Fifth Ave and Pine Street was purchased several years later and the Third and Browne church building was moved to the new location, to be replaced in 1920 by a brick structure at the cost of $17,000. Bethel AME's congregation continued to grow, so the old church at Fifth and Pine was torn down in 1971 and a new one was built at Newark and Laura (now Richard Allen Court), the current location. Bethel AME Church continues to play a large role in promoting social justice and education, as well as helping individuals move from dependency to self-sufficiency with the Emmanuel Family Life Center.