In 1878, during the aftermath of the Civil War, one acre of land in Tebbetts, Missouri was deeded to the “Trustees of the Colored Methodist Church” and became the site of Oakley Chapel African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E) Church. While a large number of freed slaves left Callaway County following the war, a significant number remained and built churches that played integral roles in these communities. One example is Oakley Chapel, which during the 1920’s and 30’s was used as a school for Black children who were denied public educational access offered solely by “white schools.” Oakley Chapel was the first of three A.M.E. churches in the county and remains the only one standing. By the mid-twentieth century, the county’s Black population began to decline. As a result, the county’s Black churches either closed or consolidated with Oakley Chapel. Oakley Chapel continued to operate until the 2010s and has been closed since that time – Callaway County’s last active A.M.E. church. Oakley Chapel is a classic example of a vernacular rural church and has been carefully maintained over the years to preserve its pivotal role, not only as a place of worship, but as a significant gathering place and piece of Callaway County’s Black community and history. Tragedy struck in January 2021 when vandals broke into the building by breaking doors and extensively damaged the chapel’s interior. Original stained-glass windows were shattered, handcrafted walnut pews installed in 1949 from Cave A.M.E. Church were splintered, the pulpit and altar rail were destroyed, and the organ was overturned. Scorch marks on the floor remain from attempted arson. While the Tebbetts Community came together to temporarily board up the structure, Oakley Chapel remains vulnerable to deterioration and vandalism. A major concern is the chapel’s isolated location. MFA Oil Company has donated land for possible relocation of the church to a more visible location in town, along Highway 94 near the Katy Trail. Community leaders, residents, and the African Methodist Episcopal Church are exploring how moving the church could preserve its legacy and continue to tell the story of the resilient Black communities in Callaway County. It is hoped that listing Oakley Chapel as a Place in Peril will attract more volunteers and much-needed donors, as well as promote the restoration process and allow the community, historians, religious leaders and others to provide their assistance in preserving the property.
Donations can be made via check to:
Oakley Chapel Preservation
c/o Darlene Singer Smith
3101 Wheaton Avenue
St. Louis, Missouri 63114