La Jolla Union Mission Church
By: Brooke Raboutou
African Americans have endured countless hardships because of the difference in their skin color. Though their suffering cannot be forgotten, they found ways to ease the pains of slavery and oppression by various means including religion. The Black Christian belief system is a very important part of African American history. “It is a movement that seeks to encapsulate the intentionality of Black people to correlate the substantive qualities of Blackness alongside the attempt to critically evaluate the nature of God’s agency in history, as it pertains to the suffering of Black people.” The practices of Christianity united African Americans. It contributed to their culture, lifted their spirits in times of need and strengthened ties between family and friends. The first African American church in San Diego was the La Jolla Union Mission Church. The establishment of this church played an important role in African American history in San Diego. The La Jolla Union Mission Church later transitioned into the Prince Chapel by the Sea African Methodist Episcopal Church. Although the buildings were remodeled, their core values remained. The African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church was the first independent Protestant denomination founded by Black people in 1816. The AME churches were such an influential part of African American history because they spread Black power and strengthened individuals. “Instead of falling apart, the Black church practically willed itself to exponential growth through political self-determination, community outreach and organizing that made it, alongside historically Black schools, lodges and civic groups, the most important Negro institution America has ever produced. Black churches published newspapers; raised money to build schools and colleges; and helped organize libraries, insurance companies and anti-poverty efforts.” Although this article refers to the presence of Black Churches in general and specifically AME churches, the La Jolla Union Mission Church contributed to the San Diego community in a similar way, offering resources for their members and giving back to the San Diego Community along the way. The first Black churches contributed to Black life because they provided a place where Black people and especially Black youth could find their identity with the guidance of the church.
La Jolla has been, and still is a very prominent part of African American history in San Diego. An African American community started to form in La Jolla as word spread to families and friends that there was a lot of opportunity for jobs. “As in other California cities, Blacks were attracted to La Jolla because of its abundance of jobs in the domestic services.” Many firsts for the San Diego African American community took place in La Jolla. There were many business that emerged in the 1920’s and 1930’s owned by African Americans such as laundry mats, hair salons and replacement of cottages for Black people to live in. The La Jolla Union Mission Church was one of the biggest “firsts” in La Jolla and San Diego in general because it was independent from the white people. This gave many African Americans during this time hope to fight and work harder. The church was a space where they could forget about discrimination for just a brief moment as they were in contact with god and reminded that they were in fact good people not “barbarians” as the white people proclaimed.
The La Jolla Union Mission Church opened in 1926 making history as the first African American church in San Diego. Prior to opening this church on Cuvier Street, African Americans in the community attended the white Presbyterian church, though they did not feel welcomed. Although Black people had been discriminated against many years prior, the early 20th century was a violent time period. The white community was calling for redemption through violence as African Americans fought for civil rights. These times of violence increased the segregation in neighborhoods and churches. The Black community in San Diego was tired of not being able to practice their religion as they wanted, so they opened the La Jolla Union Mission church. “Wanting a church of their own, the Blacks received the sponsorship of the white church to start one.” As Lorenza Taylor-Pace mentions, the Presbyterian church helped fund the La Jolla Union Mission church because they did not want to share their church with Black people, not because they cared about the practices of African Americans.
In 1943, the La Jolla Union Mission Church was transformed into the Prince Chapel by the Sea African Methodist Episcopal Church. This church still stands today as one of the many prominent churches in La Jolla, San Diego. According to Rev. Norris, The Prince Chapel by the Sea church shared the same intentions as the La Jolla Union Mission Church that it originated from, “to do what is right for all people” as they focused on helping people. Both churches aimed to create a place where those who attended could worship freely. Prince Chapel worked to accomplish their vision by focusing on the youth, raising the spirits of the homeless, working with a local women’s shelter and hosting festivals with an emphasis on music. African American churches have had a significant effect on young Black people. The organization of the church creates an influential atmosphere for kids and teenagers and serves as a place for them to be educated. “In this way, the ghetto, -an inner city community plagued by high unemployment, crime and social ills- became an ever more prevalent fact of urban Black life.” Many young African Americans resorted to criminal activities because of their poor living situations and constant need of basic resources. As these first Black churches emerged, the youth were less likely to partake in crime because they focused on their faith and the community of the church. Both the La Jolla Union Mission Church and the Prince Chapel by the Sea church share a common theme of identity. Especially during the early 20th century, many African Americans were struggling with preserving and upholding their identities in a climate where it was demeaned. With the help of the church, individuals could take time to find their voice and lift their spirits as well as the youth were guided in finding their identity and finding better ways to get the resources they needed.
The Union Mission Church was the first African American church in San Diego. The church brought the African American community together as they now had a place to worship freely and away from the discrimination of the white Presbyterian church in the early 20th century. Although the church has been transformed into the Prince Chapel by the Sea African Methodist Church, the values of helping, family and guidance have been far from lost. The African American community in San Diego would not have been the same without the establishment of this church. Overall, it contributed to Black life in San Diego by bringing the African American community together in their fights with slavery, civil rights and basic human freedom.
“About Prince Chapel by the Sea AME.” Accessed April 22, 2019. https://www.princechapelame.org/about-us.
Durán, María José. “La Jolla’s Black Pioneers, Part 1: The Brief Rise of the Town’s African-American Community.” lajollalight.com. Accessed April 22, 2019. https://www.lajollalight.com/news/sd-black-pioneers-part-one-20170131-story.html.
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Hutchison, Linda. “Faith for Families: Prince Chapel by the Sea African Methodist Episcopal Church.” lajollalight.com. Accessed April 22, 2019. https://www.lajollalight.com/sdljl-prince-chapel-by-the-sea-2015feb20-story.html.
Joseph, Peniel E. “Why the Black Church Has Always Mattered.” The Root. Accessed May 6, 2019. https://www.theroot.com/why-the-black-church-has-always-mattered-1790860217. La Jolla California Pioneers and Pioneers Descendents, n.d.
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Pace, Loranza. La Jolla Mission Union. 1926. San Diego.
Reddie, Anthony G. Black Theology, Slavery and Contemporary Christianity: 200 Years and No Apology. Farnham, UNITED KINGDOM: Taylor & Francis Group, 2010. http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/sandiego/detail.action?docID=554573.
 Anthony G. Reddie, Black Theology, Slavery and Contemporary Christianity: 200 Years and No Apology (Farnham, UNITED KINGDOM: Taylor & Francis Group, 2010), http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/sandiego/detail.action?docID=554573.
 María José Durán, “La Jolla’s Black Pioneers, Part 1: The Brief Rise of the Town’s African-American Community,” lajollalight.com, accessed April 22, 2019, https://www.lajollalight.com/news/sd-black-pioneers-part-one-20170131-story.html.
 Peniel E. Joseph, “Why the Black Church Has Always Mattered,” The Root, accessed May 6, 2019, https://www.theroot.com/why-the-black-church-has-always-mattered-1790860217.
 Durán, “La Jolla’s Black Pioneers, Part 1.”
 Linda Hutchison, “Faith for Families: Prince Chapel by the Sea African Methodist Episcopal Church,” lajollalight.com, accessed April 22, 2019, https://www.lajollalight.com/sdljl-prince-chapel-by-the-sea-2015feb20-story.html.
 History com Editors, “Black History in the United States: A Timeline,” HISTORY, accessed May 7, 2019, https://www.history.com/topics/black-history/black-history-milestones.