In 1784, the state of Rhode Island passed an act granting the gradual emancipation of most slaves. As people of color gained their freedom over the ensuing decades, many created their own neighborhood and institutions on or around Meeting Street. Among these was the African Union Meeting House, an interdenominational house of worship and community center located at the corner of Congdon and Meeting Streets. Eventually, as the congregation and divisions grew, members began forming denominational churches. Bethel AME established itself as a separate church at this location from 1866 until 1961. From 1897, it sat across the street from Pembroke Hall, the home of Brown's Women's College.