This Inside the Vaults video short tells the story of the African-American congregation of the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church of Atlanta, who petitioned the U.S. Congress for compensation after the Civil War. The church was burned to the ground during the Civil War by Union troops under General William Tecumseh Sherman’s command. Their seven-page petition, in the legislative holdings at the National Archives, is a heartfelt narrative of the church’s history and includes 234 signatures of free blacks and former slaves who were members of the congregation. The claim was presented to Congress on February 14, 1866, but the name of the church that appears in the petition is found nowhere else in the federal claims records. National Archives Senior Archivist Reginald Washington used the National Archives holdings to discover that the church never received compensation and that it still exists today as Big Bethel Church.
Inside the Vaults includes highlights from the National Archives in the Washington, DC, area and from the Presidential libraries and regional archives nationwide. These shorts present behind-the-scenes exclusives and offer surprising stories about the National Archives treasures. See more from Inside the Vaults at