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  Public Employee Press

PEP Dec 2006
Table of Contents
  La Voz

Public Employee Press

AME Zion church honors Lillian Roberts

As the oldest black church in New York celebrated its 210th anniversary in October, it honored DC 37 Executive Director Lillian Roberts and U.S. Congress member Charles Rangel. Both received the Bishop James Varick Freedom Medal on Oct. 22 from the Mother African Methodist Episcopal Zion church.

“It is deeply meaningful to me to receive this high honor from this church, which has been part of the history of Black people for more than two centuries and which has always stood on the front lines for social justice, economic justice and racial justice,” said Roberts.

Mother Zion, also known as the Freedom Church, was founded by freed slaves in 1796 in the City Hall area. Varick, a pioneer for black liberation, education and ecclesiastical freedom, was its first bishop.

The church was an important stop on the Underground Railroad for escaped slaves, who were hidden behind its pulpit in a secret passageway until they could take their next steps on the journey to freedom.

In honoring Roberts, the church praised her “deep concern for the needy and passion for fighting social injustices” and cited Essence magazine’s description of her as “probably the most powerful Black person in American Labor.”

The church’s anniversary brochure told congregants of her beginnings in a South Side Chicago tenement, her work as a nurse’s aide and her leadership in union battles for better working conditions and affordable housing and against costly government waste, privatization of public services, and budget cuts in city programs.

Throughout its long history, the AME Zion church has included among its members many illustrious leaders, including Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, Paul Robeson and Madame C.J. Walker.

Currently, DC 37 Local 1655 President Kevin Smith is an active member and former NYC Laborers Local 924 President James Welsh co-chairs a capital fund drive seeking to raise $7 million to repair and improve the church building.



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