Clayborn Temple (Clayborn Temple A.M.E. Church; previously listed on the National Register as Second Presbyterian Church)

Status: Preserved; renovation in progress

Address: 294 Hernando Street (formerly 280 Hernando Street), Memphis

Built: 1891-92

Architectural Style: Romanesque Revival

Original Function/Purpose: Church

The original listing of Second Presbyterian Church (also known as Clayborn Temple) on the National Register occurred Sept. 4, 1979. The current updated listing of the property under the primary name of Clayborn Temple took place on July 24, 2017.

History: The congregation of Second Presbyterian Church called upon Frederick Kees and Franklin B. Long to design their church, while Memphian Edward C. Jones served as supervising architect. This property was sold in 1949 to the African Methodist Episcopal Church and was renamed Clayborn Temple to honor A.M.E. Bishop John Henry Clayborn. It was originally listed on the NR in 1979 for, among other reasons, local significance as a rare example of Romanesque Revival architecture. The recent updated listing both replaces and adds to the previous one in documenting “the national importance of the building for its close association with the 1968 Memphis Sanitation Strike, a pivotal role in the Civil Rights Movement.” Clayborn opened its doors to strikers and was where the iconic “I AM A MAN” signs were printed and distributed to demonstrating marchers (upper photo). Its sanctuary was no refuge on March 28, 1968, when marchers were chased into the already tear-gas-filled church by police. Two months after the strike began, sanitation workers gathered at Clayborn to accept the city’s offer to recognize their union. As time passed, the church fell into disrepair and closed in 2002. It was purchased in 2015 by nonprofit group Neighborhood Preservation Inc. which plans to return the church to religious, educational and community uses (lower photo). In 2017 the National Trust for Historic Preservation named Clayborn Temple a “National Treasure.” Its preservation will be assisted by a grant of $400K from the National Park Service in 2018, followed by a further $500K grant to restore the sanctuary. Also in 2018 the church was awarded a $42,000 grant by the National Park Service via the Tennessee Historical Commission to help restore its bell tower, and the City of Memphis unveiled its I Am A Man Plaza beside the church. In 2019 the designer of the plaza, Cliff Garten Studio, received a Merit Award from the Tennessee Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects. Clayborn Temple has been named to the new multi-state U.S. Civil Rights trail, along with the Lorraine Motel and Mason Temple, and it will be a stop on the planned Memphis Heritage Trail of civil rights sites. In early 2019 it was announced that a building permit was being sought amounting to $1.5 million, to begin work on the building’s exterior. Clayborn would close during the work, but it was hoped it could reopen early in 2020.

City Council District: 6

Super District: 8

County Commission District: 8

DON NEWMAN