ST. JAMES AFRICAN METHODIST EPISCOPAL (AME) CHURCH evolved from a small prayer meeting in 1894 to become one of the city's leading AFRICAN AMERICAN churches. After attending a revival at ST. JOHN'S AFRICAN METHODIST EPISCOPAL CHURCH in February 1894, Rosa Johnson and her husband, James, organized the small East End Prayer Meeting in their home at 44 Frank Street together with Jerry Warrick, James Linthicome, and Isaac Jackson. On March 1894, Rev. Reverdy C. Ransom, pastor of St. John's, organized the prayer meeting, which had grown to 16 members, into the East End Mission of St. John's AME Church. The congregation worshipped at the Wigwam on Cedar Avenue near Streator (East 110th) Street from April 1894 until the completion of its church building on Hudson Avenue in November 1899. The mission was incorporated as St. James African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1899. For the first twenty five years of its existence, St. James AME was served by a succession of pastors, none of which remained at the church for more than five years. The first pastor of the congregation, Rev. W. W. Ponton, was followed by William Byrd, A. J. Robbins, S. A. Hardison, M. L. Nettles, E. Livingston, J. C. Turner (1900-03), W. T. Maxwell (1904-08), E. Foote (1908-11), Floyd Grant Snelson (1912-17), C. H. Young (1917), and O. W. Childers (1917-19).
In 1925, during the pastorate of Rev. Joseph M. Evans (1919-26), the church acquired the former Trinity Congregational Church on Cedar Avenue for $57,500, a site the church has occupied since January 1926. The membership grew from 94 in 1903 to 516 in 1925 and Sunday School enrollment reached 465. Rev. D. Ormonde B. Walker (1926-37), prominent in civic and political affairs, founded the nationally acclaimed St. James Literary Forum on 27 April 1927 to "furnish a platform for the discussion of public questions by competent men and women." Many of the city's best-known religious, civic, and political figures appeared before the Forum, garnering it regional and national fame. Rev. Joseph Gomez (1937-48) rebuilt St. James AME Church after it suffered $100,000 in damage from a fire on 2 January 1938. The rebuilt church, dedicated on 4 May 1941, was destroyed by another fire on 16 March 1950. Rev. Hubert Nelson Robinson (1948-55) led the next rebuilding; the church was dedicated again on 12 April 1953. Surviving both fires, the current building's gothic front is what remains of the original structure. Rev. Donald G. Jacobs (1955-68) led the church during the tumultuous civil rights movement, involving it in the problems of the inner city and making it a center for civil rights activism. A $180,000 Education Annex was added to the church during Jacobs's tenure. Rev. Alvia A. Shaw (1968-80) led a congregation of about 1,300 members in the mid-1970s and oversaw the acquisition of additional church property. During his long tenure at St. James AME, Rev. Elmo A. Bean (1980-96) liquidated the mortgage, restored the stained glass windows, established the Endowment Fund with a capital of $46,000, and oversaw the church's centennial celebration in 1994. He also instituted the annual Family Unity Day celebration in place of separate Men's and Women's days. Rev. Rodney S. Thomas (1996-2001) succeeded Rev. Bean. He oversaw the completion of capital improvements at the church that included a new computer lab for the tutoring program, a credit union office, an audio/visual room, and a general administrative office. Rev. Gerald A. Cooper (2001-present) initiated a three-year capital campaign to raise $1.5 million for the construction of a multi-purpose community center, the St. James Enrichment Center. A major pulpit renovation and stained glass restoration were also completed.
The church hosted the annual Excellence in the Arts recital featuring the performance of classical and sacred music and spirituals by young talented students pursuing careers in music. The Los Amigas Club of St. James AME sponsored the "Shopper's Paradise" to raise funds for church ministries, bringing vendors from the Greater Cleveland area to sell their wares, such as jewelry, clothing, and arts, to the public. The church has also sponsored the Food Closet Program to distribute groceries to area families in need and the Community Unity Meal Program to provide hot, nutritious meals to those in need on the last Saturday of each month. Every Christmas, the congregation hosts a bazaar.