Mother Walls AME Zion Church

MotherWalls

What connections does this Bronx church on Home Avenue have to strong African-American women and Central European nationalism? In the late 19th century, immigrants poured into the United States including many from the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Austria-Hungary was a large, diverse empire in which a variety of languages were spoken.  Many Hungarian-language speakers wanted to separate from Austria and form their own country including revolutionary Lajos Kossuth, namesake of Kossuth Avenue near Montefiore Hospital.  Many Hungarians immigrated to the United States, finding employment working in blue-collar jobs.  In 1923, a New York Times reporter wrote “The Magyars add 80,000 to the city’s host. Their settlements are strong from the east side from Harlem down and there is a large number of them below Bronx Park.” One of the places where Hungarians worshiped was the Free Magyar Reform Church, built in 1909. (I have a feeling that its architecture was influenced by Hungarian vernacular design.) Members of the church would celebrate Hungary gaining independence after World War I.

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Eventually, the unique building was sold to the African Methodist Episcopal Zion denomination, which had begun with a church in Lower Manhattan in 1800. I am unsure of the church’s original name, but it was renamed for Dorothy L. Jordan Walls.  Born in 1936, Ms. Walls was secretary for AMEZ Bishop William J. Walls before she married the 74-year old church leader at the age of 25 in 1956.  Unfortunately, Mother Walls had no children.  Her husband passed away in 1975 and she had an untimely death two years later.  Presumably, the church was renamed for her at this time, although an AMEZ summer camp in North Carolina was named for her in 1958. One of Bishop Walls achievements was saving and later restoring the house and farm of Harriet Tubman in Auburn, New York.  The heroine of the Underground Railroad lived in this upstate town and had built a nursing home for African-Americans on site.

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