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St. Luke's Episcopal Church, which opened in 1879, was the first independent black Episcopal parish church in the city. The church was pastored by Alexander Crummell (1819-1898), one of a handful of scholarly trained black religious leaders in the country during this period. Calvin T.S. Brent, considered to be the city's first black architect, is credited with designing the building, a replica of a stone Gothic Anglican church in Coventry, England.

St. Luke's broke away from St. Mary's Chapel for Colored People, a mission church opened in 1867 by the fashionable white St. John's Church on Lafayette Square in partnership with the Church of the Epiphany, 1317 G Street, NW. St. Mary's Chapel was located in Foggy Bottom at 728 23rd Street, NW. Crummell was recruited to be its pastor in 1873. Soon thereafter he began working to attract elite churchgoers and to replace the humble structure with a solid stone church. During his tenure, St. Mary's was accepted as an official church of the Protestant Episcopal Church.

The founding members of St. Luke's separated from the St. Mary's congregation and in 1876 purchased three lots on 15th Street at Sampson (now Church Street), NW. The first service was held in the new church on Thanksgiving Day 1879.

Alexander Crummell (1819-1898) was a scholar, educator, and writer. He was born in New York to Charity Hicks, free-born, and Boston Crummell, a self-emancipated oysterman who often spoke of his childhood in West Africa. He received an A.B. degree in theology in 1853 from Queens College in England, an unusual achievement for the time. He was an ordained minister of the Episcopal church and spent nearly 20 years in Liberia as a missionary, educator, and public moralist. Crummell returned to the United States in 1872 and was recruited to become rector of St. Mary's Chapel that year. Crummell would serve as pastor of St. Luke's Church from its founding until his retirement in 1894. He led his congregation to separate from affiliation with the white Protestant Episcopal Church. In 1897 he was one of the founders of the American Negro Academy. He was a major influence on the thinking of W.E.B. Du Bois and members of the Garveyite movement. St. Luke's was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976 and on the DC Inventory of Historic Sites in 1979.

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