The Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, the national church of the African Methodist Episcopal denomination, was completed in 1886. It was formed by the merger of two congregations that broke away from the Ebenezer Methodist Episcopal Church in response to white racism. Israel Bethel AME Church was organized in 1821, and Union Bethel AME Church of Georgetown was organized in 1838. The two churches came together in 1870 and named their new congregation Metropolitan AME in 1872. In 1886 the current building, designed by architect Samuel T. Morsell, was completed.
Similar to other religious institutions, Metropolitan AME was more than simply a place of worship; it was also a community center that hosted concerts, graduation ceremonies, and society meetings. The American Negro Academy, for example, held two of its formal sessions here in 1905 and 1911.
A more inclusive learned society, the Bethel Literary and Historical Association, held weekly meetings, at first in nearby Bethel Hall until it was razed, and then at Metropolitan AME, through 1913. Founded in 1881 by Daniel Payne, the Bethel Literary regularly attracted hundreds of people for presentations by some of the brightest speakers of the day followed by discussions.
As the "National Cathedral of African Methodism," Metropolitan AME Church has been the site of important national events. Frederick Douglass's funeral took place here, attended by thousands of mourners. Martin Luther King, Jr., Jesse Jackson, Winnie Mandela, and President Bill Clinton have spoken here.
The church was placed on the DC Inventory of Historic Sites and the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.