OVERVIEW OF STUDY
“All education has two basic parts—the teaching of basic skills and information and the transmission of social values” (Sherer 1977)
In the history of American slavery, there were two instrumental functions of educating African Americans: controlling the transmission of values and the transmission of skills. This form of education served to shackle and subjugate the slave in a way that the Emancipation Proclamation could not remedy. Formal education has long been held as a key ingredient to modern human success. Likewise, the lack of formal education has been used to explain why individuals and groups are relegated to lower stations in life. Persons from both sides of the slavery debate, slavers and abolitionists alike, thought that the possession of formal education could drastically affect the American landscape for themselves and for African Americans. In essence, whether education was used for subjugation or elevation, it was perceived by many as a powerful instrument of social transformation.
The concepts of American chattel slavery and formal education for African Americans were diametrically opposed. When asked what he thought of immediate and unconditional Emancipation, Daniel Payne, a former Bishop of the AME Church, replied that he opposed it because “slaves ought to be educated before emancipation, that they might know how to enjoy freedom”(Payne 50). However, after having his position challenged, Payne conceded that education and slavery were antagonistic and could not exist together and that “the one must crush out the other”(Payne 50). According to John E. Fleming, in The Lengthening Shadow of Slavery, the institution of slavery thrived by keeping those enslaved in a state of ignorance. For, as he claims, knowledge was the one factor that could have destroyed it. Specifically, Fleming states that “a labyrinth of philosophical arguments, based upon the alleged inferiority of black people, was used to justify their enslavement, and a highly developed legal system was used to deny them an education”(Fleming 1). The lack of formal education, then, in conjunction with the established political and economic systems, assisted in the subordination of slaves. This lack allowed slavery to be both justified and perpetuated. On both sides of the American slavery issue, many religionists, abolitionists, and educators believed that the exposure of the oppressed to formal education might directly thwart the generational project of American slavery and thereby allow the slaves to be uplifted from a state of wretchedness and degradation.
Purpose of the Study
The purpose of this dissertation is to explore the motif of redemption in the educational philosophy espoused by the founders and leaders of the African Methodist Episcopal Church during the nineteenth century. An investigation of this redemption theme will provide a stronger and more comprehensive foundation for understanding the quest for education by African Americans, particularly as it relates to the greater struggle for redemption of the complete person. While many scholars have understood education as a vital tool for “uplift” in the black community, few have pointed out its necessity in terms of “redemption”. In fact, the concept of “redemption” and what it means for African Americans has received little attention. Specifically, this study will include an analysis of the concept of “redemption” in 19th century African American thought, as well as an articulation of the role of formal education in African Americans achieving redemption. The study will also demonstrate how the educational philosophy of the AME Church during the nineteenth century possessed the necessary ingredients for redemption to occur. Toward this end, this study will examine not only the AME Church’s educational philosophy, but inter-related exercises that informed and complimented the redemption project. Such factors included: (1) the context and resistance of American slavery; (2) the emergence of the Black Church, generally; (3) the spiritual strivings and cosmology of the AME Church; (4) the class position and economic resources of the Church; and (5) the support and education of women inside and outside of its ministry. In its final analysis, this study will provide a framework for revisiting and debating the contemporary goals of education for African Americans, especially in historically African American educational environments.
The following questions concerning “uplift,” “redemption,” and the educational philosophy of the African Methodist Episcopal Church will be examined in this study:
(1) What does “redemption” mean for African Americans?
(2) Was there a quest for redemption by the founders and leaders of the African Methodist Episcopal Church?
(3) What was the relationship, if any, between the quest for redemption and the educational philosophy of the African Methodist Episcopal Church during the nineteenth century?
(4) How was the educational philosophy of the African Methodist Episcopal Church related to class and gender roles within the denomination?
By answering these questions, I will uncover the motif of redemption espoused by the founders and leaders of the African Methodist Church during the nineteenth century.
Both primary and secondary source materials will be used for the study and a content analysis will be utilized for each source document to determine its veracity and authenticity. Within this framework, university archives and records will be surveyed, which include letters, minutes of various AME meetings and conferences, AME historical journals and newspapers, memorandums, and autobiographies. More specifically, I will utilize the AME newspaper, The Recorder, the AME journal, The Review, the minutes of the AME Annual Conferences, the autobiographies of Richard Allen, Daniel Payne, and Jarena Lee, as well as any other useful and relevant documents. This study, falling in the category of intellectual history will be both descriptive and analytic in presentation.
Review of the Literature
Uplift and Redemption: Toward an understanding of concepts as they relate to education
The history of education for African Americans, particularly higher education prior to and during the nineteenth century, has been undeniably linked to the group’s quest for uplift and redemption. In fact, many scholars and historians (including Washington, DuBois, Gaines and Wheeler) have, with almost religious fervor, regarded education—-whether as moral, classical, or industrial—-as the key to uplift. In Uplifting the Race: Black Leadership, Politics, and Culture in the Twentieth Century, Kevin Gaines suggests that the term “uplift” has held mixed meanings for African Americans since the late nineteenth century and throughout the era of segregation. One understanding of uplift, according to Gaines, speaks of a “personal or collective spiritual—and potentially social—transcendence of worldly oppression and misery”(1). It more particularly describes a group struggle for freedom and social advancement. Gaines intimates that it is this sense of uplift as a liberation theology that flourished after Emancipation and during the democratic reforms of Reconstruction. He suggests that in the antebellum period, uplift, rising, elevation, and advancement described the passage of Blacks from slavery to freedom, stressed the importance of group elevation, based Black’s claims for suffrage and leadership on natural-rights arguments, and recognized the vitality of education as the key to the “uplift” quest. Rooted in another connotation of “uplift” was a vision of racial solidarity uniting Black elites with the masses. Gaines suggests(2)that “for many black elites, uplift came to mean an emphasis on self-help, racial solidarity, temperance, thrift, chastity, social purity, patriarchal authority, and the accumulation of wealth.” He continues that, amidst legal and extralegal repression, many black elites sought status, moral authority, and recognition of their humanity by distinguishing themselves “as bourgeois agents of civilization from the presumably undeveloped black majority.” Hence, the phrase “uplifting the race”.
In Uplifting the Race: The Black Minister in the New South 1865-1902, Edward Wheeler determines that the former American slaves desired to achieve societal equality but were inhibited by several factors: (1) freedmen had little or no conception of what freedom really meant; (2) slavery had not prepared the ex-slave to assume the responsibilities of freedom; and (3) white Americans failed to accept the possibility that the freedman was or could be equal. Subsequently, for the race to survive, it was necessary for African Americans to “accept the obligations that accompanied freedom, throw off the liabilities inherited from slavery, and show white America that black people were indeed capable of surviving, prospering, and achieving great things as free people”(xiii). “Uplift,” therefore, was descriptive of the process by which freedman would overcome oppression and thereby achieve the goal of equality.
Wheeler further concluded that the concept of uplift advocated self-help and self-improvement. He also held that because the Black Church, as an extension of the Black family, was one of few post-Civil War institutions that African Americans could claim as their own, it was not surprising that the Black Church spearheaded the drive for uplifting the race. Wheeler maintained that in many cases the Black minister was in a unique position to be a leading advocate of uplift since the church was the center of the free person’s community. In a content analysis in nineteenth century documents, Wheeler finds “uplift” to be a common concept in England and America during that period. He affirmed that while the meanings were broad, the word frequently referred to moral elevation, the improvement of physical conditions, intellectual enlightenment, and spiritual elevation.
Like Gaines, Wheeler construed that education was an agency to uplift. He quoted Edward Carter who, in Biographical Sketches of Our Pulpit, stated “the pulpit, fireside and schoolroom are the levers that must lift up our down-trodden race…”(Wheeler xiii). Carter further alluded to the concept of “uplift” in his book, The Black Side, where he quoted Henry McNeil Turner, former bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church:
Let us admit that the Negro was a degraded being during the days of our enthrallment and forced dehumanized condition…. Were not the whites, to whom we belonged, equally degraded, and did they not close the doors of every avenue that looked toward our elevation? …While we may not entirely forget the past, we may remember it only as an incentive to achieve grander results in the progressive hereafter(Carter 4).
Here Turner advocates the utilization of slavery’s history as motivation to lofty pursuits by African Americans. Instead of continually musing over the irretrievable ravages of slavery, much of Turner’s work as a bishop was to argue for an educated clergy and laity who were sensitive to the historical struggles of African Americans.
In Twentieth Century Negro Literature, Daniel Culp revealed that one of the objectives of his book was to “point out, to the aspiring Negro youth, those men and women who, by their own scholarship, by their integrity of character, and by their earnest efforts in the work of uplifting their own race, have made themselves illustrious”(Culp 5-6). Again, the theme of education for the purpose of uplift rings evident as Culp(5-6) included in his book essays such as “Did the American Negro prove, in the nineteenth century, that he is intellectually equal to the white man?”, “To what extent is the Negro pulpit uplifting the race?”, “What is the Negro teacher doing in the matter of uplifting his race?”, and “What role is the educated Negro woman to play in the uplifting of her race?”
Related to and often confused with the concept of “uplift” was the idea of “redemption”. Since both “uplift” and “redemption” are significant within the context of education, a differentiation of terms is valuable. Briefly, I contend that uplift describes a process by which one is elevated to a higher socioeconomic status, resulting in greater access to societal goods, resources, and privileges. Redemption, on the other hand, which literally means to “buy back,” is primarily spiritual in orientation, although it simultaneously manifests in social contexts. The distinction is necessary in the context of this dissertation because I understand the latter to be a precursor to the former. I claim that redemption as a social goal is measurable in relation to the effectiveness of the tangible instrument selected to accomplish the redemptive activity. In the case of African Americans, my position is that their instrument of redemption in 19th Century America was formal education.
In Redemption in Black Theology, Olin P. Moyd argues that redemption for African Americans is quite different from the prevailing view of redemption in Euro-American Christian thought. He opines that “Christians have borrowed the term ‘redemption’ from the Hebrews” and it is therefore important to “go back to the writings of the Hebrews and examine the meaning and usage of the term by the Hebrew witnesses themselves”(Moyd 36). He continues that considerable attention should be given to the Jewish interpretation of the term, since redemption in Black thought is more analogous to the Hebrew socio-theological position than has been heretofore granted by Euro-American Christian theologians.
In both Hebrew and African American thought, there historically existed no necessary dichotomy between spiritual and social redemption. In fact, the quest for liberation from societal evils and oppression was quite often framed as a religious endeavor, even instrumentally so among the irreligious. Contemporary Biblical Studies offers the perspective that Hebrew witnesses and theologians have always understood redemption to be both terrestrial and extra-terrestrial. Furthermore, it is asserted that the idea of redemption constituted a means of salvation from physical bondage and social oppression, as well as salvation from sin and guilt. Similarly, the New Catholic Encyclopedia includes that the deliverance of the Jewish nation from political and social domination was an important element of redemption. Lastly, Donald Leslie, in Encyclopaedia Judaica, defines redemption as “salvation from the states or circumstances that destroy the value of human existence or human existence itself”(1).
It is my hypothesis that while the theme of uplift has been perpetually linked to the quest for education by African Americans, the educational philosophy of the African Methodist Episcopal Church embraces a motif that stretches beyond uplift—the motif of redemption. This educational philosophy, which embraces and exudes redemption, is articulated both directly and indirectly by the founders and leaders, men and women of the AME Church. It is reflected in its educational accomplishments, its institutions, its publications, its economic support, its missions, and its goals.
The Educational Philosophy of the African Methodist Episcopal Church
To more fully understand the struggle for educational access by Blacks in general and by the African Methodist Episcopal Church in particular during the nineteenth century, it is meaningful to revisit excerpts of the educational history for Africans in America prior to this era.
In The Development of Higher Education for Blacks During the Late Nineteenth Century, Joseph Turner McMillan states that the cultural perceptions of blacks as well as their customs and laws, reflected a “pendulum” of attitudes concerning education for African Americans. This “pendulum,” says McMillan, during the centuries from 1620 to 1861, swung back and forth between “periods of tacit acceptance and hostile rejection, between eras of liberal attitudes and decades of repressive laws”(McMillan, 11). He argues that since the arrival of slaves in America, the question of the educability of slaves in America, as well as the purpose and nature of the training to be received, were issues that juxtaposed the issues of slavery, scientific theories of black inferiority, and race relations in America.
Although educational opportunities for Africans in America were limited prior to the Civil War, the impetus for the provision of some form of education dates back to as early as 1629, shortly after the commencement of the American slave trade(Woodson 1919, Bullock 1969). These restricted educational opportunities were neither available to all the slaves nor firmly established as an acceptable part of society, especially in the South. They were, in essence, privileges gained principally by household servants still under the slave regime or by the free Blacks who had escaped it. In general, early concern for the education of Africans was either practical or evangelical. Practically speaking, some slave owners recognized the increased economic advantages of possessing a few slaves who could master artisan skills, machinery, and the rudiments of plantation supervision. Evangelically speaking, missionaries and clergymen often exhibited a desire and drive to “Christianize” the slaves and, therefore, teach them to read the Bible.
The Education of the Negro Prior to 1861 by Carter G. Woodson is perhaps the earliest major work produced on education for African Americans in the United States. In this book, Woodson noted that many slave owners contended that “slaves could not be enlightened without developing in them a longing for liberty” and should subsequently be kept uneducated since “the more brutish the bondmen the more pliant they become for purposes of exploitation”(1-2). In this history, Woodson chronicles both religious groups who advocated the literacy of Africans during the eighteenth century for the purposes of religious training as well as those who considered education to be a “right of man.” Woodson also evidences that the question regarding classical versus industrial education was not novel to the nineteenth century, but was a concern in the eighteenth century as well. For example, in 1794 the American Convention of Abolition Societies recommended that “Negroes be instructed in those mechanic arts which will keep them most constantly employed and, of course, which will less subject them to idleness and debauchery, and thus prepare them for becoming good citizens of the United States”(Woodson 2). The Convention further urged that colored people should give special care in assuring that their children “not only work at useful trades but also to till the soil”(Woodson 2). These early abolitionists believed that learning a trade was the only way by which freedmen could learn to support themselves and thereby be uplifted. Conversely, there were those who thought classical education to be the road to uplift for African Americans. In 1830, delegates to the Convention for the Improvement of the Free People of Color hoped to establish a Manual Labor College at New Haven so that Africans could acquire the:
…classical knowledge which promotes genius and caused man to soar up to those high intellectual enjoyments and acquirements…and drowns in oblivion’s cup their moral degradation(Woodson 260).
In this historical account of education for African Americans, Carter Woodson confirms the relationship between education and “redemption” when he states that the development of schools and churches made more necessary “a higher education to develop in them the power to work out their own salvation”(256).
Beginning with the founders of the denomination, the African Methodist Episcopal Church has espoused an educational philosophy rooted in the foundational premise that education gives one greater access to spiritual knowledge and viability. Thus, if one were trained to be successful, viable, and flourishing in the natural realm, it would mean not only great strides in the secular sense, but it would ultimately allow one to better grasp the spiritual and moral lessons and implications of the Bible as well. In essence, one’s spirituality should compel one to behave with a certain moral and intellectual fervor in society.
In researching the educational philosophy of the AME Church during the nineteenth century, two sources were particularly helpful: (1) a dissertation by Joseph T. McMillan, The Development of Higher Education for Blacks During the Late Nineteenth Century and (2) The Christian Recorder, AME Church, 1854-1902 by Gilbert Anthony Williams. McMillan examined the AME educational philosophy through its journal, The AME Review, while Williams examined articles in the AME newspaper, The Christian Recorder. McMillan’s discussion concerning the AME church’s educational philosophy was mainly limited to varying arguments surrounding the DuBois/Washington debates on classical versus industrial education. In his dissertation, McMillan asserts that the AME educational philosophy “incorporated the theories and practices of both liberal education and industrial education, and complemented them with an emphasis on moral and religious training”(53). He continues that the denomination held a belief in colleges of liberal arts for Black leadership and schools of industrial education for the Black masses.
McMillan states that the AME church’s educational philosophy has been articulated by many of the denomination’s leaders and historians, and was reflected in its publications, institutions, educational accomplishments, and services to the Black community, nation, and world. The philosophy is also reflected in the lives of its founders, alumni of its schools, members, and its educational legacy in generations that followed. He surmised that building upon the principles of intellectual discipline, industry, and thrift, the educational philosophy of the AME church encompassed broad evangelical concerns such as (1) the training of clergy for the AME churches; (2) the founding of schools and colleges for the Black community; (3) the “redemption” of Africa through missionary outreach; and (4) the education of women during the era of the struggle for women’s suffrage.
Gilbert Anthony Williams, on the other hand, examined the denomination’s educational philosophy in a much broader sphere. He concluded that, in practice, the philosophy focused on four areas of concern: an educated ministry, a liberal arts curriculum, the common school, and Sunday school education. Williams notes the AME Church’s general disdain for Washingtonian principles of education for Blacks. He states that AME ministers rarely expressed enthusiasm for him or for his ideas. According to Williams, the debates between AME leaders and Booker T. Washington began over which educational philosophy–liberal arts or industrial training–held the most promise for the newly freed slaves, but eventually became a struggle for Black political leadership in the South and ultimately the nation. In an effort to express the sentiments held by AME leaders concerning Washington and his ideals, Williams quotes Bishop T. M. D. Ward who denounced Booker T. Washington as follows:
The paid sycophant, like Booker T. Washington, may conspire with our enemies to” blacken and tarnish the fair name and fame of our Afro-American pulpit, but when he and his money have perished, the colored ministry of the land will write their names so deep and plain on the annals of the age that no traducer, whether white or black, will find a chisel sharp enough to cut them out(Williams 68).
Unlike McMillan, Williams concluded that during the nineteenth century, the AME church emphasized classical/liberal studies, with only a secondary emphasis on industrial training. Both men would agree, however, that one thing is certain–the AME Church’s commitment to education for African Americans. In 1876, at the Philadelphia Annual Conference, AME leaders drafted and passed the following resolution that reflected its educational focus:
Resolved: That as the subject of education is one of high importance to the colored population of the country, it shall be the duty of every minister who has charge of a circuit or station to make use of every effort to establish schools wherever convenient, and to insist upon the parents of children to send them to school, and that it shall be the duty of every minister to make yearly returns of the number of schools, the amount (of students) in each, the places where they are located and the branches taught on circuits and stations, and that every preacher who neglects to do so, be subject to the censure of the conference (Recorder, 1867).
While both authors discuss, in varying lengths, the economic support for African American education in general and AME educational institutions in particular, they fail to connect it to the overall educational philosophy of the denomination. Perhaps Williams most closely relates the financial resources of the church, its support of educational institutions, and the overall educational philosophy when he speaks that “the church had carefully charted a philosophical course that positioned its institutions away from the influence of paternalistic Northern philanthropy, missionary societies, and others”(59). The financial means by which the AME church supported and maintained its educational institutions of higher learning is inextricably linked to the educational philosophy articulated by its leaders.
Another element tied to the nineteenth century educational philosophy of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, which has been, examined elsewhere, although in isolation from the philosophy of education, is the role of women in the educational and ministerial affairs of the denomination. Joseph McMillan admits that the educational philosophy was expanded to include the education of women, yet he spends but one paragraph discussing AME women in relation to the said educational philosophy. He reports “the AME Church affirmed the education of women; and many women graduated from the AME Church’s schools and colleges who made significant contributions to Christian education and missionary efforts within the church and wider black community”(McMillan 74). He includes an 1895 quote by James E. Carter that “the higher education of Negro boys, without the equal education of Negro girls, will amount to but small advantage to the race and versa ditto”(74). McMillan concludes, however, that nineteenth century AME women were perceived in traditional roles and their education was relatively prescribed to prepare them as cultured homemakers, pastor’s wives, teachers, or missionaries.
As it concerns women in the denomination, I believe it important to the educational philosophy that Daniel Payne asked, “what is a home without a mother?” and “what is a mother without a cultivated intellect?”(Wills 143). It is equally crucial that Jarena Lee, the “first female preacher”(1849) was a well-traveled minister of the AME Church and allowed entry into pulpits by Richard Allen and other denominational leaders. More will be said in relation to Jarena Lee as a manifestation of the AME educational philosophy as she represents a progressive articulation of liberation from unjust subjugation. In fact, whether organizing a sewing circle to repair the tattered clothing of AME itinerant preachers, participating in the female band of Rocky Mountain Evangelists, or educating their siblings on the domestic front, the multi-faceted roles of women were vitally linked to the overall educational philosophy articulated by the AME Church (Wills 1955).
Researchers and Historiographers have given attention to the historical educational philosophy of the AME Church especially emphasizing the denomination’s insistence on an educated ministry and the acquisition of classical liberal training for its laity, little to no effort has been made to connect and incorporate the economic status of the church and the role of women in the denomination to the overall educational philosophy of the church. It is my hypothesis, however, that in the interconnectedness of the aforementioned factors emerges the quintessential motivating theme of ‘redemption’. This theme propels one toward a fuller understanding of the educational philosophy of the church and, subsequently, implications for contemporary research pertaining to education for African Americans. It is with this mindset that subsequent chapters of the dissertation will be developed.
EXODUS, SLAVERY, AND REDEMPTION
The history of the world is a history of oppression, revolution, and liberation. From North America to Asia to Greenland, oppressed people all over the world have fought to preserve their ability to be autonomous, to earn commensurate wages for labor, and to participate in natural human flourishing. In these accounts, one may note that opposition and oppression created the need for struggle. Struggle gave rise to revolution. Revolution paved the way to liberation. Liberation often entailed an exodus. And it is my sentiment that liberation and exodus were necessary ingredients for Black redemption. It is here, at the point of redemption, upon which our focus resides. While the particular concentration of this project is on the motif of redemption in the nineteenth century educational philosophy of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the more general concern of this chapter is the meaning of redemption for African Americans. In this section I trace the term “redemption” as it originates in early Judaic thought and its conceptual inheritance for African-Americans through biblical texts.
THE BONDAGE & EXODUS
In the West, the three main religious traditions are Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. While each of these faiths has its own unique expressions, there is a common chord that binds the three together. That chord is the Pentateuch, commonly known as the Torah. The Torah in Judaism and Christianity comprises the first five books of their respective bibles. Those books are chronologically Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy; which contain a vivid account of a cosmology locating the children of the patriarch Abraham at the center of history. Islam, too, finds its genealogy there because its major prophet, Mohammed, and Arabic adherents are held as the descendants of Abraham’s oldest son, Ishmael. All three of these faiths agree that long before there were any Muslims, Jews, or Christians, the common ancestor of their respective belief systems was Abraham. This agreement has not historically amounted to much cooperation among the groups and its meaning for each has often been used to fuel religious wars among them.
In the Americas and Europe, Christianity as the religion of choice has seen its dark days of turmoil and warring factions. From the Protestants and Catholics in Ireland to the Inquisitions and Salem Witch trials, the faith descendants of Abraham in the West have fought to purify, authenticate, and proselytize those who did not share their worldview. Particularly in the case of Africans brought to America during the trans-Atlantic slave trade, Africans were forced to participate in a chattel slavery system that saw them as non-persons and were denied the ability to hold rights. Furthermore, these persons were coerced into relinquishing and/or modifying their indigenous religious and spiritual customs for an American version of Christianity that approved enslaving non-whites as a consequence of divine right and manifest destiny. Many of these Africans, born and assimilated into the American ethos, only knew America as home and Christianity as solace. Abhorred by the treatment they received at the hands of their cruel oppressors, many of these new African-Americans were comforted and encouraged by the figure of Christ as a redeemer and liberator of the souls of humanity. They also resonated with the fact that he was born into a social situation where his people where under the colonial rule of the Roman Empire. Yet their existential dilemma was much more traumatic than this scenario could account for. It did not account for the kind of brutality and dehumanization that chattel slavery could conjure. With the bible as one of the only historical and religious tools at their disposal, African-Americans found consolation and reassurance in its Psalms, wisdom in its Proverbs, and perspective in its Genesis. However, they were inspired and renewed with hope when they encountered its Exodus.
The tale of the book of Exodus begins in the book of Genesis with the patriarch Abraham. (Muslims and Jews, respectively, give very different versions of this story. However, since the canonical Christian bible is predicated upon the Jewish version, this is the one recounted here.) Abraham had two sons, Ishmael and Isaac. Isaac, said to be the son of promise, was given the birthright and all the rights to his father’s goods and inheritance. Isaac, too, had two sons, Esau and Jacob. As in his case, Isaac passed the birthright to his younger son Jacob, whose name was later changed to Israel. Jacob, or Israel, had twelve sons who fathered what are known as the twelve tribes of Israel. These twelve tribes, having moved to Egypt because of a famine, were eventually enslaved there for a period of four hundred years. Some of the brutalities suffered by them while in Egypt were beatings, inhumane work demands, and attempted genocide. At the end of this time, these Israelites were given a deliverer in the person of Moses. Moses, raised as an Egyptian and eventually affirming his Hebrew heritage, is selected by God to lead the Jews out of Egypt into the land that God had promised them through Abraham. After ten plagues were brought upon Egypt, the Pharaoh is providentially forced to grant the Israelites their freedom and to let them depart.
Likewise, African-Americans were viciously transplanted from their homes on slave galleys to be sold and bartered for as property. In many instances they were denied the right of marriage, child-rearing, home-ownership, wealth, honor, societal respect, and the group of ‘inalienable rights’ penned in the Preamble to the Constitution. If the first slave ship is dated as docking in Jamestown in 1619, the time interval from then until 1865 would mark a ‘formal’ period of American chattel slavery that lasted 247 years (Burkett 106). There were repeated moral and religious appeals by abolitionists who tried to urge slaveholders to abandon the institution altogether. Yet, American slavery endured until it was intertwined with the issue of states’ rights, which precipitated the Civil War.
The similarities between the two stories are striking, to say the least. This is especially true when the people reading the account of the Hebrew exodus have an interpretive framework that is laden with abiding oppression and constant derision. African-Americans could find resources to believe in the possibility of liberation because of their connection with the Hebrew Scriptures. There could be no decisive separation between the sacred and the secular because the narrative embodied both at once. It has been commonplace for many scholars to merely focus on the Exodus as ‘deliverance from the fact of physical slavery.’ Because of this, a large part of the interpretive value of the Exodus narrative for newly-freed African-Americans has been missed by them. For beyond the tangible exit from the geographical boundaries of Egypt, there was a psychological, sociological, and material process that had to take place for the Hebrews. That process would equip them with a sense of identity, purpose, and the tools to accomplish the goals they set for themselves to flourish in a post-exilic context. A survey of the historical-theological understanding of redemption in the West unveils its foundation here in the Hebrew experience and tradition.
Donald D. Leslie, in Encyclopaedia Judaica, defines redemption as “salvation from the states or circumstances that destroy the value of human existence or human existence itself” (Leslie 1). According to Leslie, the related terms “redeem,” “redeemer,” and “redemption” appear some 130 times in the Hebrew Bible and are all derived from two Hebrew roots, pdh padah and g’l go’el. Leslie contends that these terms, although sometimes used to describe divine activity, were derived from daily human circumstances. Similarly, the Christian theologian, H. Wheeler Robinson found these terms, “redeem,” “redeemer,” and “redemption” occurring in the English Old Testament (American Version) 132 times and nearly always derived from the Hebrew roots, padah and go’el (Robinson 220). Padah, the more general of the terms belongs to the dominion of commercial law and refers to the payment of an equivalent for what is to be released or secured. Unlike go’el, padah indicates nothing about the relation of the agent to the object of redemption which, in the Hebrew Bible, is always either a person or another living being.
The usage of padah, in cultic activity is no different from that of a normal commercial transaction. In both cases, a person or an animal is released in return for money or other suitable replacement. One reference for the padah is Exodus 13:13. It reads:
And every firstling of an ass thou shalt redeem with a lamb; and if thou wilt not redeem it, then thou shalt break his neck: and all the firstborn of man among thy children shalt thou redeem (Exodus 13:13).
Other Biblical references (Leslie 9) include Exodus 34:20; Leviticus 27:27; and I Samuel 14:14.
Go’el, the more restricted of the terms, is connected with family law and reflects the Israelites’ conception of the importance of preserving clan solidarity. The go’el or redeemer is the next of kin who acts to maintain the vitality of his extended family group and to prevent breaches from occurring. Subsequently, the go’el is expected to acquire the alienated properties of his kinsman:
If thy brother be waxen poor, and hath sold away some of his possession, and if any of his kin come to redeem it, then shall he redeem that which his brother sold (Leviticus 25:25).
The go’el is further expected to purchase the property when it is in danger of being lost to strangers, as well as to support the widow of his next of kin if she is dependent on the estate for her livelihood. Moreover, as in Leviticus 25:47 and Numbers 35:17-19 of the Bible, he also redeems a clansman who has been diminished to slavery by poverty and avenges his blood when it has been shed.
When pertaining to divine activity, a slight paradigm shift occurs in the usage of both terms. In this case, padah acquires the general meaning of “deliverer” and does not involve the notion of the payment of an equivalent since God is considered the Lord of the universe and everything belongs to Him (Leslie 2). God’s objective is not to retain the right of possession, but to liberate people from despair, oppression, and afflictions. In the book of Deuteronomy, the writer uses padah to characterize God’s acts during the time of the Exodus as redemptive. Similarly, later writers use padah to describe Israel’s eschatological redemption, as well as, on one occasion (Psalms 130:8), its deliverance from sins.
Although we find Jesus as the point of departure in many theological and philosophical discussions on ‘redemption’, within the context of Christianity the terminology was borrowed from the Hebrews. While the prevailing view of redemption promoted by most Western Christian theologians is one that focuses on the eternal consequences of sin and guilt, the Jewish interpretation of the term as chronicled in the Old Testament (Moyd 5) was much less ethereal. This redemption was one from the physical bondage and social oppression experienced in this world. According to Olin P. Moyd, in Redemption in Black Theology, Christian theologians, preachers, and custodians of the faith have all participated in the development of “the cult of a single interpretation of the many dimensions of redemption” (40). He mentions that while persons often get the impression that redemption has only to do with salvation from the eternal consequences of sin, major Christian theologians have acknowledged the many dimensions of redemption. Moyd proclaims that until the recent ushering in of Black theology and liberation theology, very few treatises have been forthcoming on the this-worldly liberation aspect of redemption.
Again, redemption literally means “to buy back”. Accordingly, the one who redeems uses acquired or personal resources to secure a thing controlled by another. The imagery of the term suggests that a thing that was once possessed has been dispossessed and the current endeavor is to reclaim that thing. It also suggests that an exchange is involved in the redemptive act. The redeemer is not one who simply ravages the goods of another without providing due compensation. Redemption then is an honorable and recognized transaction performed between a purchaser and one who is the holder of a thing valued. The two parties agree that the exchange is for commensurate goods; even if it does not readily appear that they are comparable. This is evidenced by the mundane example of a coupon that entitles its bearer to a free food item from a restaurant. On the surface, it might not be apparent what the merchant receives by giving away free food through the coupon offer. But if the matter is considered a bit, the merchant’s interest is certainly satisfied. It is that through providing the free food item, the merchant gets advertisement, probable additional sales of the restaurant’s products, and endless possibilities for future patronage by satisfied customers and their sphere of influence. This is to say that when the coupon is redeemed, in its proper sense, it is a mutual and consenting exchange between two parties.
In the case of the African-Americans, there was no coupon with which they could buy their freedom in exchange for loyalty and allegiance. I do not even attempt to claim that their emancipation or exodus experience constitutes their entire redemption. Rather, I would like to treat another aspect of the African-American social experience in this study as an exercise in redemption that, I claim, is still functional in the present era. While partially metaphysical, African-American redemption was largely empirical and social in nature. An increase in the level of African-American participation in redemption is measurable since no conception or value of a good acquired could be assessed without being comparable, contrastable, and measurable. I argue that formal education was the chief apparatus of African-American redemption. Yet, before pressing this point further, I believe that it is important to give a more vivid account of American slavery. This will give the reader a better idea of the obstacles that African-Americans faced. I will do this by describing the institution as well as presenting arguments given for and against the institution of American slavery.
American slavery was one of the most volatile periods within American history. It was a time period when the country was orchestrating and finalizing its break with mother England. It was also a time when America was fashioning its own identity as a nation. To perform both of these tasks, America relied heavily on African slaves and slave labor. This time period was pivotal because America found itself in the midst of a bold duality. The duality was the advocacy and promotion of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as it concerned its inhabitants of European descent, contrasted by the subjugation and denial of agency inflicted upon its inhabitants of African descent. Arguments were given for and against the institution of slavery from all sectors of American society. From aristocrat to slave to peasant farmer to free born black to clergy, the issue of slavery’s legitimacy was thoroughly debated and disputed. Even though it is widely held by some that slavery was not the sole cause of the Civil War, it was a chief factor in the Southern and Union decision to engage in the bloody battle (Robinson 66). Each side, of course, felt somewhat justified in their pursuits and enjoyed the support of apologists who defended their respective positions. My interest here is in looking at what these American apologists had to say about the defensibility of slavery. I begin with a brief discussion of domestic slavery in early America, followed by popular abolitionist arguments against slavery, then conclude with arguments favored of slavery.
BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF DOMESTIC AMERICAN SLAVERY
Some historians claim that slavery was a purely economic institution, and by extension, the domestic slave trade was motivated by economic incentives. Migrating planters soon adopted the custom of carrying with them in their travels extra slaves for no purpose other than to sell when they reached their destination—often at better prices than they would have received back home. The reasons prompting the sale of a slave on the domestic market (Elkins 110-128) were; (1) the planter himself was migrating and brought additional slaves along as transferable assets; (2) the slave being sold was considered of objectionable moral character; and/or (3) a planter was financially unable to avoid selling some of his human assets.
Sales were principally conducted between private individuals or with the assistance of a local auctioneer as a middleman. The third option was to sell or purchase slaves from slave drivers. This was the least favored option of planters wishing to sell their human property because slave drivers had a bad reputation among slave owners as being cheats (Ibid 128). Slave drivers were believed to grossly mistreat their human cargo, often beating them to break their spirits and subjecting them to grueling traveling conditions and meager rations, all in an effort to minimize cost and thereby maximize profit. The conditions faced by slaves involved in the domestic slave trade varied in accordance with the buyers and sellers. Slaves traveling with their masters were relegated to the quarters designated for human cargo. They were fed a subsistence ration while traveling and were not groomed or bathed until they reached their destination. Those enslaved persons whose misfortune it was to be owned by slave dealers were often boarded in local jails, or boarding houses owned by the trading company, which were scarcely ever better than the local jails. In an autobiography of one slave’s life, we are furnished with a transaction in St. Louis where the marital relations between a slave and his wife were severed by the bidding of an auctioneer’s block:
A man and his wife, both slaves, were brought from the country to the city for sale. They were taken to the room of Austin and Salvage, auctioneers. Several slave-speculators, who are always to be found at auctions where slaves are to be sold, were present. The man was first put up and sold to the highest bidder. The wife was next ordered to ascend the platform. I was present. She slowly obeyed the order. The auctioneer commenced, and soon several hundred dollars were bid. My eyes were intensely fixed on the woman, whose cheeks were wet with tears. But a conversation between the slave and his new master attracted my attention. I drew near to listen. The slave was begging his new master to purchase his wife. Said he, “Master, if you will only buy Fanny, I know you will get the worth of your money. She is a good cook, a good washer, and her last mistress liked her very much. If you will only buy her now how happy I shall be.” The new master replied that he did not want her, but if she sold cheap he would purchase her. I watched the countenance of the man while the different persons were bidding on his wife. When his new master bid on his wife you could see the smile upon his countenance, and the tears stop; but as soon as another would bid, you could see the countenance change and the tears start afresh (Finkelman 224).
The great majority of plantations had only one or two slave families laboring on them. On these plantations it was not uncommon to find the master and his sons laboring along side their bondsmen. Those planters who were fortunate enough to own one or two-dozen slaves would likely oversee the work of their chattel themselves. Plantations composed of more than a few dozen slaves were characterized by a much greater disparity in living and labor conditions than those mentioned earlier. Masters were completely removed from interacting directly with the field hands in any way. Chief among the master’s concerns was the care of any and all ill slaves, especially the care of pregnant women. Overseers were often cautioned not to treat slaves with undue severity. Human property was a valuable asset and it was always treated as such, in every way possible. Great efforts were taken to insure that slaves continued to grow in number, in overall worth, and in productivity. The daily activities of pregnant women (Ibid 260-265) were provided in considerable detail from pregnancy until a year after birth in most cases; details ranging from the amount of work to be done by an expecting mother, to the care a sickly mother–to-be was to receive, to a daily schedule for nursing her offspring.
Narrative accounts of slavery by slaves themselves give unique insight on the conditions surrounding the enterprise of American chattel. Of course the narratives infuriated white southerners, who read about the many ways their “contented slaves” realized that they were entitled to freedom, especially under the prevailing American notions of the liberty. Frederick Douglass remembered his early curiosity about the word “abolition”:
I often found myself regretting my own existence, and wishing myself dead; and but for the hope of being free, I have no doubt but that I should have killed myself, or done something for which I should have been killed…. Every little while, I could hear something about the abolitionists….If a slave ran away and succeeded in getting clear, or if a slave killed his master, set fire to a barn, or did any thing very wrong in the mind of a slaveholder, it was spoken of as the fruit of abolition. Hearing the word in this connection very often, I set about learning what it meant (Johnson, Charles, and Smith 372).
Abolition, for Douglass, represented a revolt against the inhumane servitude in which he found himself. This is attributable to the fact that dark skin color was treated by Whites as a mark that warranted enslavement. To do away with this state of being was the initial step in any redemptive process. There is no redemption for the African American slave without physical liberation. This Douglass knew well. Douglass continues to probe the psychology of slavery and enslavement and offers the following insight:
It was not the black man’s color which makes him the object of brutal treatment. While we are servants we are never offensive to the whites…. We are then a persecuted people; not because we are colored, but because…that color has been coupled in the public mind with the degradation of slavery and servitude. In these conditions we are thought to be in our place, and to aspire to anything above them…is to commit the provoking sin of impudence (Ibid 373).
In 1838, Charles Olcott published Two Lectures on the Subject of Slavery and Abolition, in which he argued that slavery was unjustifiable and should be abolished. Beginning his lectures, Olcott (5) says:
THE object of the First of these Lectures is to prove, that Slavery is as great a crime against the Law of God, as murder, or any other crime; and that it is, also, a great crime against Common Law. The object of the Second Lecture is to prove, that the immediate abolition of Slavery, is not only a just and righteous measure, but is at all times, and under all circumstances, perfectly safe and greatly beneficial to all persons or parties concerned or interested therein, and that it is the only kind of safe Abolition.
Many appeals against slavery were religious in nature, claiming to be in accordance with divine revelation or scripture. I will visit religious abolitionists’ appeals shortly, but presently, I would like to focus on the object of Olcott’s First Lecture that considers slavery to be a great crime against Common Law. By the term ‘Common Law’, Olcott means the legal and generally observed tenets that governed the American nation. Holding that the whole system of Common Law is founded on a series of maxims or moral rules, he suggests that any treatment of another person must be morally justifiable in order to meet the standards of Common Law. Holding that slavery indeed violated certain moral principles, Olcott looked to the language of the Common Law to articulate these infringements. Three of his main indictments against slavery were that it was perpetuated by: assault and battery; kidnapping; and robbery.
On the first charge, Olcott (30) says the following:
Slavery is not a crime against the common law, by that name; any more than Tyranny is. It is called in that law ‘Assault and Battery and False Imprisonment,’ and is severely punishable by that law, according to the aggravated degree of the offense, by fine and imprisonment.
The cruelty and physical abuse that slaves endured under the American system was unduly brutal and, in Olcott’s account, unjustified; especially the shackling of African-Americans. These are violations because of the claim that if such crimes were committed against free persons under the jurisdiction of the Common Law, the assailant would be severely punished as far as the Law allows. Nevertheless, in the case of African-Americans, no such protection was enforced. Regarding the second charge, was that slavery was a form of kidnapping, Olcott (30) exclaims:
Kidnapping is by the general consent of society, considered as one of the most atrocious crimes against the right of white people; as the Morgan affair and other cases prove. But in reference to the rights of the coloured people, it is considered by the public sentiment of this corrupt country, hardly any offence at all!
If kidnapping is to be loosely defined as coercively transporting persons from one locality to another, then much of what occured during American slavery to obtain its laborers was kidnapping. Children and adults were taken from their homes and stripped of their former identities to be bondservants in strange terrain. The third charge was that slavery was robbery. Quoting Olcott (30):
Slavery is also the highest species of Robbery: and is as much worse as common robbery, as all the natural rights put together, are more valuable than personal goods and chattels. Common Robbery is defined to be, ‘the taking of goods and chattels from the person of another, by putting him in fear’. Slavery takes from slaves all their natural rights, by the same means; and is therefore real robbery of the highest kind. It takes from its victims all their Security, Liberty, Property and other Rights together, by putting and keeping the slaves in fear.
In this last case, Olcott conveys the sentiment that African-Americans were not only denied liberties, but they were socially robbed of the entirety of their rights through slavery.
Frederick Douglass, spokesperson for the anti-slavery movement in America and a former slave, gave an address in Rochester, New York on the 5th of July, 1852, where he argued that the American practice of slavery was indefensible. In his address, Douglass responded to the view that blacks were enslaved because they were not human. He says:
But, I submit, where all is plain there is nothing to be argued. What point in the anti-slavery creed would you have me to argue? On what branch of the subject do the people of this country need light? Must I undertake to prove the slave is a man? That point is conceded already. Nobody doubts it…They acknowledge it when they punish disobedience on the part of the slave…It is admitted in the fact that Southern statue books are covered with enactments forbidding, under severe fines and penalties, the teaching of the slave to read or write. When you can point to any such laws in reference to the beasts of the field, then I may consent to argue the manhood of the slave. When the dogs in your streets, the fowls of the air, when the cattle on your hills, when the fish of the sea, and the reptiles that crawl, shall be unable to distinguish the slave from a brute, then will I argue with you that the slave is a man (Douglass 207-208).
Douglass held that the denial of black humanity as a reason for slavery was flimsy and contradictory, in the latter case, the punishment of slaves for not displaying traits they supposedly did not possess. For example, how could persons be imprisoned for acting immorally when it was deemed impossible for them to behave morally? Douglass thought that either Americans were irrationally imposing restrictions on persons incapable of complying or were arguing for the justification of slavery, using reasons that they themselves did not believe to be true. Douglass advanced the latter conclusion and contended that American slavery, based on the criterion of race, was indefensible.
According to much Christian thought, slavery was an egregious sin. William Hosmer, writing in 1853, expressed this sentiment in Slavery and the Church. In this thoughtful text, Hosmer says:
Having affirmed, and, as we believe, demonstrated that “slavery is a sin, a great sin, and a sin under all circumstances,” it would be somewhat worse than idle to affect any difficulty in determining the duty of the Church towards it…The duty of the Church is precisely the same towards all the varied catalogue of crimes—renunciation and exclusion are the only lawful treatment that can possibly be accorded to them (Hosmer 123).
The general consensus of those Christians who understood slavery as sinful understood it as a violation of the principles and spirit of biblical scripture. Admitting that some passages were definitely ambiguous in relation to the legitimacy of slavery as a lasting institution, such persons regarded the message of Jesus as emancipatory and liberating. The very idea of slavery went against this message. Thus, a large segment of the Church stood in staunch opposition to the practice of slavery.
It is interesting to note that pro-slavery arguments were not only prevalent in 19th Century America but that many persons found them highly persuasive. From merchants to intellectuals, to peasants to priests to slaves themselves, there was no group that did not have its representation in the pro-slavery position. Many of the arguments were economic and political in nature. However, some of the more influential ones were moral and religious.
The first standard argument was that slavery was held by many Americans to be “historically progressive” (Genovese 71). This meant that slavery was fortunate because it taught and civilized Africans by advancing the slave’s prior understanding and conclusions about the world. Eugene Genovese (70) discussed the basic skeleton of this argument in The Political Economy of Slavery:
The Negro slave worked badly, according to some leading historians, not because he was a slave but because he was a Negro. This argument has two forms: (1) the Negro has certain unfortunate biological traits, such as migratory instinct or an easy going indolence, and (2) the Negro came from a lower culture in Africa and had to be disciplined to labor. The first argument does not require refutation here; the negative findings of genetics and anthropology are conclusive and well known. The second argument raises serious economic and social questions.
Here, the argument Genovese recounts defends American slavery on the grounds that slavery was a historically progressive institution that assembled the Black working population in a more productive pattern than they had previously known or understood. The system of slavery is portrayed as bringing Blacks civilization, discipline, and industry. Thus, slavery should not be seen as evil at all but rather, viewed as a positive social good and benevolence. The gifts that American society graciously extended were ingenuity and progress to a stagnant African populous. This argument maintains that any economic and social progress that American Blacks showed during and after slavery should be credited to the tutelage of American slavery. Therefore, American society considers itself the educator of the African in life skills, which is all that is required for servitude. This education included no literacy and no arithmetic, merely indoctrination and dehumanization.
Another popular argument was the legal argument. That argument suggested that slavery was a legitimate enterprise in America because it was sanctioned and protected by law. Samuel How, a pastor and scholar in the Reformed Dutch Church, argued in this fashion before the General Synod of the Dutch Reformed Church in 1855. Below is an excerpt from his speech:
It is not true that our countrymen who now hold slaves are guilty of ‘piratical conduct’ in ‘seizing’ upon them. ‘The crime of piracy, or robbery and depredation upon the high seas,’ says Blackstone, ‘is an offense against the universal law of society; a pirate being, according to Sir Edward Coke, hostis humani generis,’ an enemy of the human race…We suppose that what is meant, is that their holding them is as criminal as if they had done this, and that they are ‘men-stealers,’ who deserve to be punished as if they were pirates…But this is not true. Nor can it be proved even by implication, under the pretext that their fathers were men-stealers, and that they by inheriting them have given their assent to what their fathers did. The slave trade, abominable as it was, was yet a legal traffic until the beginning of the present (19th) century (How 86-87).
How’s stance is that the governmental authorization of American slavery sanctioned it as a social and moral practice for American citizens. Since the law is seen by many persons as exemplifying moral principles, if an action accords with a law, many assume the intended morality of that action. Slaveholders are not pirates who defy societal mandates and mores; instead, they are model, law-abiding citizens who are justified by American law.
However, the most prevalent argument in favor of slavery was the religious argument. Whether it began with Noah cursing his grandson Canaan, who was said to have been a dark-complexioned man, or simply that the enterprise of slavery is itself ordained and ratified by God, slavery had many Christian apologists. It was often noted that both the Apostles Paul and Peter sometimes spoke in ways that suggested that they saw no contradiction between Christianity and slave-holding. Frederick Ross, writing in Slavery Ordained of God as if he were the Apostle Paul, refuted abolitionist claims of the sinfulness of slavery:
I found slavery in Asia, in Greece, in Rome. I saw it to be one mode of the government ordained of God. I regarded it, in most conditions of fallen mankind, necessarily and irresistibly part of such government, and therefore as natural, as wise, as good, in such conditions, as the other ways men are ruled in the state or the family…I took up slavery, then as such ordained government,–wise, good, yea best, in certain circumstances, until, in the elevating spirit and power of my gospel, the slave is made fit for the liberty and equality of his master, if he can be so lifted up (Ross 182).
Ross projects that Paul would have thought the abolitionists an unruly and ungodly group who did not understand that slavery was ordained by God. As such, any resistance to slavery was seen by many as a forthright resistance to the design and purpose of God. Therefore, all denials of property, wealth, knowledge, education, relationships, and liberty were seen as part of a well-ordered plan for the redemption of those Blacks who were redeemable. Those who opposed slavery were viewed as if they opposed Black inclusion in the civilized and spiritual world. Slavery was the redeeming agent for Blacks in many pro-slavery arguments.
REDEMPTION IN AFRICAN AMERICAN THOUGHT
Before examining the redemptive motif in the educational philosophy of the AME Church, it is important to discover what is meant by redemption, particularly in African American thought. As noted, Moyd gives a historical and theological account of redemption in Hebrew thought, in Christian thought, and in Black thought. As such, Moyd concludes that “redemption for Blacks means, as it does for the Hebrews, prosperity, posterity, and victory over oppression” (Moyd 90). He contends that redemption in Black thought includes both liberation and confederation: liberation as salvation from oppression and confederation as the formation of a community among the people once oppressed.
While I essentially agree that redemption for African Americans embraces liberation and confederation, I find this definition to be incomplete. In order to more fully describe the redemption sought by Blacks, the element of “justice” must be included. I understand justice as having a commensurate balance between what one earned for and what one receives. The lack of justice in America for African Americans until the modern era has been well documented. If not the redressing of past harms, at least fairness and equity in public social spheres is necessary to begin the redemption project. To define redemption in Black thought as simply liberation and confederation is to overlook this vital feature of justice and to conceptually reduce the idea of African American redemption to Black nationalism. However, I argue that the two are distinct in that Black nationalism, while designed to uplift persons of African descent, is largely separatist in its ideology. Those who advocated Black redemption realized the necessity to temporarily pull away from oppressive structures for organization purposes. However, the project of redemption in Black thought is integrationist and seeks to appropriate useful tools of mainstream American society and thereby foster the social elevation of Blacks to a competitive level. To address the social and economic plight of Blacks without justice could never be redemptive. I hold that for African Americans, the quest has always been for liberation and justice. Confederation is necessary to secure these social goods. Within redemption, the desire is not only for liberation and the formation of community; but to expose the erroneous assertions of their oppressors. This latter step makes room for public dignity and societal respect from those both inside and outside of one’s group. Much of this redemptive liberation activity is found in the abolitionist movements and the history of the Black Church. In the next chapter I discuss in detail the role that each played and their connection with Black redemption.
THE HISTORY OF THE BLACK CHURCH AND ITS CONNECTION TO AFRICAN AMERICAN REDEMPTION
Both historically and in modern times, the influence of the Black Church has significantly permeated virtually all aspects of life for Blacks in America. As documented by prominent scholars, the Black Church has stood as a pillar of political, economic, social, and spiritual advancement, as well as an example of leadership, strength, and liberation in the African-American community (Frazier 1964, Lincoln 1969, Wilmore 1984, Lincoln and Mamiya 1990). In fact, the Black Church has been such an integral part of the lives of African Americans that it is difficult, if not impossible, to engage in a thorough historical discussion of the Black family experience in America without frequent mention of the role of the Black Church.
The Black Church’s status in the African-American community is such that even in the midst of general discourse with professional educational practitioners, it has been suggested that one way to “save” the African-American student is via direct and indirect interaction with and intervention by community churches. Analogously, this was the same sentiment held by Richard Allen, founder of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1794.
Allen maintained that the church had a responsibility to promote religious, economic, political, social, and educational growth, which were all part of the total struggle for human dignity and freedom for African Americans. Richard Allen did not consider religion and education to be mutually exclusive. Rather, he viewed education as the general weapon to develop the mind of the African, but especially to advance the welfare of African Americans. It was Allen’s belief that a commitment to God should be first established since education was necessary to help advance the kingdom of God, rather than to simply fulfill one’s own desires and needs. In this chapter I will explore the history of the Black Church; the historical roles of the Black Church in the African American community; and African Americans and education in the 19th Century.
THE BLACK CHURCH
In his discussion of the Black Church, Olin P. Moyd (1979) contends that if we can engage in discussions of the Catholic Church or the Protestant Church, then we can also speak of the Black Church. He asserts that “the masses of Black Churches across this country are bound together in a kind of psychic-spiritual unity which is evident in expressions, style, and mode” (189). Moyd points out that creeds, doctrines, and rituals of Black denominations may not significantly differ from those of their white counterparts, yet, when it comes to expressions, and style, racism and segregation had so shaped Black thought that a psychic-spiritual unity developed within the African American Churches, one which transcended all denominations. Moyd asserts that there is a unity in the Black Church which is constituted both of psychic phenomenon (including social sensation, perception, imagination, memory, thought, judgment, behavior, beliefs, and attitudes which were shaped by the situation of social injustices in America) and spiritual phenomena (including faith in the Redeemer, the historical experiences of redeeming events, and the need for the community response to God through sanctification, Christian ethics, and moral discipline). Moyd asserts:
The Black Church is that group of people—segment of our population—bound together by a kind of psychic-spiritual unity resulting as a consequence and growing out of a long history of segregated Sabbaths. It is a psychic-spiritual unity which is an outgrowth of the Black folk’s cultural development in a segregated social system. Even to this day, Sunday is the most segregated day in America (189).
In its general usage, “the Black Church” includes all those African American Christian individuals who are members of predominately black congregations. However, since there are predominantly black local churches in predominately white denominations such as the United Methodist Church, the Episcopal Church, and the Roman Catholic Church, among others, I limit the operational definition of “the Black Church” for the sake of clarity. For the purposes of this study, the term Black Church is used to refer to all those Black Christian denominations that are administratively independent of predominately White Christian denominations. In this meaning of the black church I follow Frazier (1964), Lincoln (1974), Wilmore (1983), and Lincoln and Mamiya (1990).
History Of The Black Church
In 1963, Nathan Glazier and Daniel Moynihan asserted that “The Negro is only an American, and has no values and culture to guard and protect” (Billingsley 37). Andrew Billingsley, answers this indictment by declaring “This statement could not possibly be true. And yet it represents the prevailing view among liberal intellectuals who study the Negro experience from the outside” (37). Billingsley continues that “the implications of the Glazer-Moynihan view of the Negro experience is far-reaching. To say that a people have no culture is to say that they have no common history which has shaped them and taught them. And to deny the history of a people is to deny their humanity” (37). In Billingsley’s view, from the day that the colonizers unloaded their first Black human cargo on the shores of Jamestown, Virginia, African-American history was in the making. What Glazer and Moynihan overlooked was the fact that deeply imbedded in the history of African Americans is Black religion.
Ruby F. Johnson describes three periods or stages of Black religion based primarily upon the shifts in its emotional expression (Johnson 1945). The first period, “The Inceptional Stage,” extends from the beginning of African American religion to the Civil War. This first period was marked by supernaturalism, simple rudiments of Christianity, and emotionalism. It was also marked by the rise of race consciousness and efforts by Black leaders to secure freedom of worship and freedom to be persons. This first stage was characteristically otherworldly, its emphasis and objectives were directed toward heaven. The second stage of Johnson’s scheme, “The Developmental Stage”, began with the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 and extended to World War I. Steady growth and development, with emphasis shifting from freedom toward civil and social rights and active participation in government and social life, characterized this period. According to Johnson, “heavenly” elements were still central in Black religion, though somewhat diminished by the social and political emphases. The third period, “The Transitional Stage” begins in 1914 and continues to the publishing of her book in 1945. This period saw both a decline of emotionalism and a desire to return to it. There was a religious zeal and transference of attention to social issues.
Several scholars have criticized Johnson’s study as short-sighted and inadequate. Black Theologians, like Moyd and J. Deotis Roberts, critiqued the study:
It was the third stage of development of Negro religion which comprised the main portion of her study and throughout she was preoccupied with the degree and shifts of emotionalism in black religion. This approach is helpful in tracing the shift in emotional expressions in black religion, but it is totally inadequate for an understanding of the theology which undergirded any and all black religious expressions(Moyd 87).
Analagously, J. Deotis Roberts continues this line of critique:
It is obvious that Johnson’s reading of black religious experience is problematic. Her yardstick for measurement is essentially emotional. She associates heightened emotionalism with otherworldliness and she reasons in either-or fashion—either emotionalism or activism. Her perspective is brought ready-made to the examination of black religion. Her presuppositions do not emerge out of a phenomenological encounter with black religious experience itself. If she were examining white religious experience, much of her evaluation would ring true (Roberts 63).
In the African American experience, radicalism and deep piety (which may be intensely emotional) often coexist. Johnston neglects the “rebellion” in slave religion, as she concludes that the black church has only been socially active as it experienced an emotional decline. The problematic nature of Johnston’s thesis may be seen via an examination of the Martin Luther King era which followed her study since the ministry of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. presents a formidable counter-example to Johnson’s thesis in that it was centered in traditional black worship and fellowship, but “fueled the flames of a robust activism” (64).
When the first slaves were brought to the mainland of America, Christianity had not taken root in much of Africa. It is possibly for this reason that some African Americans historically and presently have termed Christianity the “white man’s religion”; perhaps as a reminder of the fact that the Africans had a multiplicity of religious expressions prior to being enslaved. Contrary to early misconceptions and popularly held beliefs concerning the primitiveness of African religions, the peoples from which the slaves were drawn possessed developed systems of religious beliefs and theories concerning their place in nature and in society (Hertzcovich 13). It has further been suggested (Imasogie 283-293) that, far from being obliterated by the cultural shock of enslavement, threads of the African cultural and religious heritage may still be observed in the Black Church today.
During the seventeenth century American Christians made little progress in “christianizing” the slaves for several reasons. For one, it was only natural that the new arrivals were slow to break away from African rituals. Moreover, many refused to listen to the white evangelists because they could not reconcile the condition of their enslavement with the religion of their oppressors. There were also fears from slaves that conversion would still not mean freedom from servitude. In fact, the initial opposition from Whites to Christianizing slaves persisted until laws made it clear that slaves did not become free through the acceptance of the Christian faith and baptism (Frazier 43).
Efforts to Christianize the slave took many forms. Although the Anglican Church was the first to attempt slave conversion, there were still no more than 80,000 African Americans in that denomination even as late as the 1970’s (Banks 1972). The St. Thomas Episcopal Church, founded by an African American, Absolom Jones, in 1794, was not accepted into the White Episcopal parent body until 1865. When it celebrated its 175th anniversary in April, 1969, St. Thomas Episcopal Church was still the largest of the twenty-eight predominately Black Episcopal Churches.
With the exception of only a few free Black Churches in the North (where only a small percentage of the African American population resided), Blacks had virtually no opportunity to organize their own public religious institutions. There were, however, secret camp meetings held at night by the slaves where they could worship God on their own. Although there was little opportunity for widespread religious development in these camp meetings, the secret meetings did provide the opportunity for slaves to formulate secret codes for communication with each other during fieldwork. For example,
Meeting on the old campground,
was a secret code in the form of an old Spiritual to call the community of field slaves to meet for secret worship and for the discussion of their plight of enslavement. It was out of these secret camp meetings that the “invisible” Black Churches of the South were birthed.
According to Banks, there were three distinct modes of Black Church membership during slavery: White Churches with Black membership; Black churches led by Whites; and Black Churches led by African Americans. The first, White Churches with Black membership, was an obvious beginning for Black converts who attended the Churches of their masters. Unfortunately, Blacks were not really welcomed as an expression of sincere Christian brotherhood; rather, their presence in religious services served as on opportunity for masters to watchfully prevent them from using the time for planning insurrections and revolts. In most instances the slaves were relegated to segregated sections of the Churches.
The second type of Black church membership was that of Black congregations led by whites. The rise of cotton production and the rise in the importation of Blacks soon made it impractical to accommodate all of the Blacks in White Churches. It became necessary for Whites to allow Black Churches to form; however, strict Black codes were expressly designed to place restrictions on Blacks and to insure the maximum protection of the White population. These codes were also to maintain discipline among the slaves. One such restriction was that Blacks could not assemble together for religious worship or for any other purpose without permission and presence of white persons. According to the codes, a recognized white minister or two respectable whites had to be present (Franklin 187-190). In 1831, Delaware passed a law making it unlawful for more than twelve Blacks to assemble after midnight unless three respectable white persons were present. The same law prohibited Blacks from calling any meeting for religious worship that had not been previously authorized by a judge or justice of the peace upon the recommendation of five respectable white citizens (Banks 6). It is reported (Ibid.) that in Mississippi in 1831, a law was passed making it illegal for six or more Blacks to meet for educational purposes while meeting for religious purposes required the permission of the master.
These kinds of laws made the second type of Black Church more widespread than the other two types. It is general knowledge that the kind of teaching and preaching which took place in these settings were that servants should obey their masters and ought to be content with their existing social and educational stations. Nevertheless, it was in the simultaneous denial of educational and religious pursuits that some African Americans perceived a connection between these two spheres and sought to acquire both.
The third type of Black Church membership was Black Churches led by Blacks and located in the North. The most noted was Bethel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church founded in 1794 by Bishop Richard Allen. Allen, along with Absolom Jones, was ushered out of the St. George Methodist Episcopal Church in 1787 when they insisted on praying at the altar with White members, rather than being segregated to the balcony for Blacks. Allen’s movement spread to Baltimore, Pittsburgh, and as far South as Charleston, South Carolina. In 1796, two years after Allen’s initiation of the AME Church in Philadelphia, Peter Williams, Sr. had an experience similar to Allen in New York. Williams left the John Street Methodist Church and organized the African Methodist Episcopal Zion (AMEZ) Church in New York. The AMEZ Church also grew into a denomination and spread South (Banks 22-23). These free Black Churches constituted the third group of Black Churches; led by Blacks without white overseers or observers.
There were a few churches of the last type in the South prior to the Civil War. For this reason, in Black Churches led by Blacks, the sermons had to be carefully worded so that the masters would not think that the preachers were inciting the slaves to beliefs in redemption, restitution, and revolution in the here and now. Such restrictions placed on the Churches arrested educational advancement and compounded ignorance since the church was instrumental in educating the slaves. But the record is clear: the Black slave preachers were ingenious in incorporating the redemption message into their sermons. Sermons with reference to Moses and the Exodus were strictly designed to let the slaves know what God had done in history and what they believed God would do again. They preached that God would redeem them out of the hands of Pharaohs and bring them into a community of brotherhood. Generally preaching under these restrictive circumstances, the Black preacher delivered sermons with guardedness, apprehension, and alertness.
Although African Americans were founders and members in churches prior to the Civil War, it was not until the end of the War that Black religion in America actually became organized as an independent institution on a massive scale. During this period the church underwent tremendous growth. In 1869 the population of Blacks in the United States was 4,441,830; by 1800 it had reached 6,580,793, an approximately 68 percent increase. Simultaneously, the Black Christian population increased from about 300,000 to more than 900,00, at least a 200 percent increase (Moyd 37). As such, the Black Church became the very center of social life for African Americans: a means for self-expression, recognition, and shelter from the cruel White world. The Black preacher’s role became evermore as well.
Two things happened during this period to contribute to the Black Church’s growth. First, the “invisible” Church of the Southern plantations during slavery now became visible, adding to the size and number of independent Baptist and Methodist Black Churches. Second, these Northern Blacks who were born free before the Emancipation Proclamation increased their efforts to break away from what they regarded as an inferior relationship with White Churches.
Following the Civil War was the establishment of independent Black Churches. Black preachers were now no longer silenced since laws of the South no longer proscribed their Churches. A process of reinterpretation of the scriptures took place in which the theme of “redemption” replaced the theme of “servants obey your masters”. As a result of the social, economic, and political events from Reconstruction to the Great Migration, the Black Church was forced into a period of maturation. Immediately following the Civil War, many African Americans held positions of prominence and power, including seven in Congress and twenty in the House of Representatives in the early 1870’s (Banks 33).
During this period the Black Church stood fast. The Black Church was redefining its own interpretation and understanding of scriptures and doctrines as well as refining its understanding of the revelation of God in the movement of Black history. The theme of redemption, which had been central in the prior era, was still the core of the African American belief system. Black Churches were now completely segregated. In fact, “Christianity had divided along the color line even more markedly than ever before” (Quarles 161). There was an organized Black Church for every sixty Black families in America. In some states there is a Black church for every forty families. These Churches owned, on average, $1,000 worth of property each for a total of nearly twenty-six million dollars in assets. At that time there were a million and a half Black Baptists and nearly one million Black Methodists (Quarles 144-45). DuBois asserted that, in the South, “practically every American Negro is a church member. Some to be sure, are not regularly enrolled, and a few do not habitually attend services; but, practically, a proscribed people must have a social center, and that center for this people is the Negro church” (DuBois 143). Using the United States Census of 1890, he reports that there were nearly 24,000 Black Churches in the country, with an enrolled membership of more than two and a half million. In some Southern States, one in every two persons was an enrolled member. However, a large number of the non-enrolled persons also attended Churches and took part in their activities.
The Black Church, then, had reached full autonomy at the close of the 19th Century. For one, it was virtually separated from the White churches. Second, it surrounded and shaped every area of Black life. Third, it was theologically mature in that Blacks had fully developed varied, not monolithic, styles of worship, highly tempered with African overtones. Likewise, adaptations and reinterpretations of doctrines and scriptures by Blacks were fully developed, as were the songs, prayers, testimonies, and the orientation of the sermons. Most importantly, the redemption motif had now become the central factor in Black religion. And it was this theology that the Black masses took North during the Great Migration.
Many Blacks saw the whole movement as redemption in process. They could readily compare what was happening to them with the exodus of the Hebrews. They thought it was the hand of the Almighty God guiding them. However, unlike the Hebrews in the Moses story, upon arriving in the Promised Land, the North, they found that it was not so promising. God did redeem them out of one land of bondage, but He did not bring them into a land “flowing with milk and honey”, not for many Black people anyway. Instead, in the North, many Blacks found themselves under the domination of new Pharaohs, crammed into ghettoes, and given limited opportunities to earn a surviving wage.
The established Black Churches of the North could not absorb the flood of newcomers. Although many Black Baptist and Methodist churches expanded tremendously, there was still a lack of space to accommodate all of the new members. Then, too, the established Black Churches of the North tended to be more ritualistic and formal in worship style than the Black Churches of the South. Thus many newcomers were not at home in these northern churches. This contributed to the origin of new Black sects, cults, and the store-front churches.
The degree of Black Church leadership in the process of redemption varied from one period to another, depending upon the social and economic conditions of the time and the degree of overt hostilities against Blacks. Yet, there was never a time where Black empowerment through education and economics was not a main concern for Black leadership. In this effort to redeem African Americans from economic and education oppression, the “Black Pulpit” was actively involved. Nevertheless, many Blacks were so busy trying to achieve Black bourgeois status that there was not much active protest against the evils of oppression. Two lessons were learned from the bourgeois striving on the part of African Americans: very few African Americans were able to make it through the pressures of white power to achieve it; and that middle class status was not necessarily accompanied by equal treatment from Whites. This illustrates Moyd’s theme that Blacks have had to learn how to survive by shifting to passive protest when active protest became too dangerous.
Joseph Washington summarizes the role of Black religion in seeking Black redemption when he writes:
Born in slavery, weaned in segregation and reared in discrimination, the religion of the Negro folk was chosen to bear roles of both protest and relief. Thus, the uniqueness of black religion is the racial bond which seeks to risk its life for the elusive but ultimate goal of freedom and equality by means of protest and action. It does so through the only avenues to which its members have always been permitted a measure of access, religions convocations in the fields of in houses of worship (33).
Washington argued that Black religion is just a protest religion rooted in secularism and is not a doctrinal variation of Christianity. However, there are others who argue that Washington’s view is “a distorted view focused through the white frame of reference in this country (Moyd 119). They claim that the opposite conclusion should be drawn; that Black religion is authentically Christian religion and that protest and action against oppression is the essence of Christianity. Beginning with Moses, following to the prophets, and on through Jesus and his disciples, redemption, in its many facets, including protest and action, has been at the center of the Judeo-Christian religion. It is this theme of protest and action that was transformed by the Black Church into a mandate to facilitate the redemption of African Americans through the acquisition of formal education. It is well documented that many Baptist and Presbyterian Church circles assisted in this effort. Yet in the next chapter, I will discuss how this was done in the 19th Century particularly through the educational philosophy and methods of the African Methodist Episcopal Church.
THE GENERAL CONTRIBUTION OF BLACK WOMEN TO AFRICAN AMERICAN REDEMPTION IN THE 19TH CENTURY
When the AME Church was founded in 1816, there was no official place for women in any of its three structural units—the ministry, the conferences, nor the laity. For women this structure would not change for the first fifty-two years of church life (Dodson, p.2). At the time no one questioned the gender exclusivity. However, during the latter third of the century as a result of determination and a work behind-the-scenes ethic, the positions of stewardess, female evangelist, and deaconess as well as two women’s missionary societies were established. These changes were not a result of cooperative churchmen eager to include women in the hierarchy. Rather it took unrelenting effort by women like Mary A. Prout, Jarena Lee, Zilpha Elaw, Pricilla Baltimore, Amanda Berry Smith, and Sara Duncan. There were numerous battles and many losses during the nineteenth century. Yet these times paved the way for the first woman, Vashti McKenzie, to be elected a bishop of the AME Church in August 2000. Still, beyond the organized church, Black women fought battles to legitimate their womanhood and humanity while contributing to the African American redemption project in the larger society. What follows is a discussion of this phenomenon in the 19th Century.
In her book, Toward a Tenderer Humanity and Nobler Womandhood, Anne Meis Knupfer points out that throughout history, particularly as it pertains to African American Women’s Clubs in turn-of-the-century Chicago, African American women have been “involved not only in kindergarten and mothering, but also in suffrage, anti-lynching laws, literary contests, political debates, embroidery, sewing, municipal reform, philosophy, youth activities, child welfare, care for the elderly, drama study, safe lodging for working women, health care, orphanages, home life, and rotating economic credit (Knupfer, 10). Similarly, Linda Marie Perkins, in her working paper, Black feminism and “race uplift,” 1890-1900, reports that during the latter part of the nineteenth century, the primary concerns of black women in America were education and employment opportunities, suffrage, the defense of black female morality, and the condemnation of lynching. She espouses that the philosophy of black female leaders was that they received their education for the elevation of the race. According to Perkins, “they black women believed in the moral superiority of women, that the degraded state of the black race was a result of the degraded state of its women, and that only through the actions of black women would their lot improve” (Perkins, 1981, abstract). She asserts that for this reason, black women either formed organizations such as the National Association of Colored Women or worked independently on behalf of their race; often condemning the actions, attitudes, and lack of support of white women. African American women may have felt unaccompanied on this redemption journey as even noteworthy suffragists such as Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton purportedly placed color above principle in an attempt to gain the support of their southern white counterparts (Perkins, 1981).
In giving an assessment of the nineteenth and early twentieth century philosophy of race “uplift” for African Americans, Wilson Jeremiah Moses, in The golden age of black nationalism, 1850-1925 (Moses, 1978; Perkins 1980), describes the philosophy as being synonymous with “racial chauvinism” and “black nationalism.” He argues that blacks of the “uplift” school of thought were merely seeking integration through separatist means. Moreover, in his chapter on the role of black women and “uplift” during the late nineteenth century, Moses concludes:
“Uplift is the key word, for the middle-class Afro-American woman, like her white counterpart, viewed the masses as victims of cultural and social retardation. She had little sense of fellowship or identity with the masses. Her attitude was often one of crusading, uplifting zeal. The masses were to be prepared for the responsibilities of citizenship; they were to be Anglo-Americanized, it was hoped; they would be assimilated into mainstream American life (Moses, 131).”
Perkins, however, criticizes Moses’ “scorching indictment” for which she believes he “offers no documentation”. Perkins asserts that one need only explore more thoroughly the historical role of Black women within the “uplift” movement to conclude differently. For example, as the number of Black women grew in the North, they began to form separate mutual aid societies. By 1827, in Philadelphia alone, approximately two-thirds of the 10,600 Black residents of that city were female. Consequently, organizations such as the Sisterly Union, the Dorcas Society, the African Female Union, and the United Daughters of Wilberforce became the means by which many African American women received support during illness or difficult times (Needles, 1848; Perkins, 1980). Furthermore, by 1838, of the 7600 African American members of mutual aid groups in Philadelphia, two-thirds were female. They alone raised $13,000 for their economic survival that year in Philadelphia (Perkins, 4).
Regardless of economic status, free black women and men sought to aid their slave kin in the South. Poor black women—as did the men—often worked for years to purchase their relatives and friends that they too might join a redemption journey. White abolitionist Theodore Weld observed the following in his visit to Ohio in 1830:
“There are scores of black women here who work day and night taking in washing or in domestic service so as to acquire the means to purchase relatives still in bondage. One paid $800 for her husband; another $400 for her mother; still another $500 for her daughter. It takes years of unceasing toil for such purchases to be consummated, but it is in this way, I learned that mothers, daughters, fathers, husbands, and sons were reunited (Barns and Dumond, 1934; Perkins, 6).”
Even the noted nineteenth-century African American educator and community worker, Fannie Jackson Coppin was purchased for $125 by her aunt, Sarah Orr, who earned only $6 a month as a domestic and acquired enough money to redeem Fannie (Perkins, 1987).
African American women, while often in the background, \did much more to aid in the overall redemption project. Harriet Tubman, known to her people as “Moses,” return to the South nineteen times after her own escape from bondage to lead some 300 slaves out of bondage as well. Devoting her entire life to her race, Ms. Tubman serves as a nurse, spy and scout for the Union Army during the Civil War. “Without losing a man or receiving a scratch,” Harriet Tubman led a troop of 300 soldiers into South Carolina in 1863. As a result,, millions of dollars in property was destroyed and nearly 800 people were rescued (Bradford, 1974).
The accomplishments of African American women in the nineteenth century do not end with Harriet Tubman. Anna Murray, for instance, greatly aided the freedom of Frederick Douglass by giving him the savings from her domes
tic employment to escape. A week after his escape to New York in 1838, Ms. Murray became Douglass’ first wife.
By the 1830’s, Africans American women and men were strong advocates for self-help and “uplift” of the race. In one of her working papers, Linda Marie Perkins (1980) presents accounts of three African American women who contributed to the overall “uplift” scheme. One example, Marry Ann Shadd Cary, born free in Delaware in 1823, became a teacher of black youth after attending a Quaker school during her own youth. In 1854, she along with several of her male counterparts, established a weekly newspaper entitled The Providential Freeman. Selected as its motto was: “Self-Reliance is the True Road to Independence (Perkins, 1980).”
Another African American woman advocating racial “uplift” was Sarah Parker Redmond, a free born black female of Salem, Massachusetts. In 1856, Sarah began traveling and lecturing with her brother, Charles, against the evils of slavery. By 1859, Sarah Parker Redmond had journeyed to Scotland, England, and Ireland to arouse British sympathies and solicit help for the abolition project in America. During her lectures on behalf of all slaves, Sarah made a plea for female slaves in particular whom she felt fared worse than the male slave. Post Civil War, Sarah continued lecturing and allowed themes of elevation and freedom to dominate her discourse.
African American abolitionist lecturer, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper received her inspiration via the death of a free black man attempting to escape as he was being resold into slavery due to the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850. Harper, born free in Maryland in 1825, was orphaned by the age of three and reared by educated relatives in Baltimore. At thirteen years of age, Harper earned her own living as a domestic until she later began teaching school in Ohio and Pennsylvania. Becoming deeply immerged in the concept of “uplift”, Harper eventually became a lecturer of the anti-slavery movement. The title of her first lecture was “The Elevation and Education of our People.” In addition to her lectures, Harper was a noted agent of the Underground Railroad throughout pre-Civil War times. Frances Harper continued her quests during the Reconstruction period where she traveled throughout the South lecturing free of charge to African American women.
Although the aforementioned women are only a few examples of the multiplicity of roles played by African American women in the nineteenth century before the Civil War, historians of slavery note that “what had usually been viewed as a debilitating female supremacy was in fact a closer approximation to a healthy sexual equality than was possible for whites and perhaps for many postbellum blacks (Genovese, 1978, 50).” Similarly, in Deep Like the Rivers: Education in the Slave Quarter Community, 1831-1865, Thomas Webber (1978) states, “One is struck by the absence of the familiar theme of male superiority and by the lack of evidence to support the view that the quarters was a female-dominated society.” In fact, ” although traditional sex roles as cooking for females and hunting fo\\\\\
r men were prevalent, it was not uncommon to find slave narratives depicting men sewing caring for children, or cooking. By the same token, women were frequently found as preachers, doctors, conjurors, storytellers, champion cotton pickers and respected leaders in the slave community (Perkins, 1980, 14).”
Just as it was for African American men, obtaining a formal education was just as difficult (if not more so) for African American women prior to the Civil War. Hence, the 1829 founding of St. Frances Academy for Colored Girls in Baltimore, a boarding school, was an important event for the race. This institution, established by a group of French educated black nuns who had migrated from Santo Domingo to Baltimore became coed by 1865 and was known simply as the St. Frances Academy. Elizabeth Lange, the First Superior of the Oblate Order and head of the school, had operated a free school for poor black children in her home prior to the opening of St. Frances. At the time, St. Frances Academy was the only institution available to African American females offering courses above the primary level.
In 1852, the Institute for Colored Youth in Philadelphia, established by the Society of Friends was introduced to African American women and men and stood as the first coed classical high school for African Americans. Still another institution attended by African American women was the Normal School for Colored Girls. It was founded by a white female, Myrtilla Miner in the District of Columbia and produced some of the first formally trained African American female teachers in the North prior to Emancipation (Perkins, 1980).
It is easy to surmise that education for African Americans were much more accessible in the North than the south prior to the Civil War. However, several clandestine schools operated in the South as well during this period, some of which were operated by black women. For example, Julian Froumountaine, a black woman from Santo Domingo openly conducted a free school for African Americans as early as 1819 and then secretly after the 1830’s when education for blacks in the South became illegal. Miss DeaVeaux, another black woman, opened an underground school in 1838 and operated it for over twenty-five years without the knowledge of local whites. In Natchez, Mississippi, Milla Granson, who became literate via her slave master’s children, taught hundreds of slaves to read and write in what was known as Milla’s “midnight” school because the classes were held after midnight. Many black women were sparked to become educators of their race after the Civil War as a result of being educationally deprived in the previous years (Perkins, 1980).
In the early 19th century, American Protestantism was generally increasing in its optimism and egalitarian outlook. This is probably why evangelicalism was the language of antebellum resistance, reform, and radicalism in an era of enormous political ferment that, among others, called for women’s rights. Even the AME Church adopted this language and stood in solidarity with most of these aims. Cessation from the Methodist Church and housing many members who were actively working toward the abolition of slavery raised a unique question about the status and role of women in the AME Church. Talk of freedom, autonomy, and equity did not mesh well with the subjugation of women by males in the churches. Particularly the question of education for and by women was central to the AME educational philosophy choice.
This was especially true since African American women were largely responsible for a great deal of the early, formal educational training that Blacks received. Anna Julia Cooper taught at Wilberforce University in Wilberforce Ohio (1884), Paul Lawrence Dunbar High School in Washington, D.C. (1887-1906 & 1910-1930), Lincoln Institute in Jefferson City, Missouri (1906-1910) and became the 2nd President of the Frelinghuysen University(1930-1940)—an evening school for working Black adults who could not otherwise attend college (Seller, 163-164). Maria W. Stewart founded a Sunday school in Washington, D.C. (1871) for 75 students enlisting the help of volunteers from Howard University (Lerner, 84). Sarah Mapps Douglass founded and taught at a private female academy in Philadelphia (1823-1853), directed the girls’ department in the Pennsylvania Institute for Colored Youth(1853), and after the Civil War became the vice chairperson of the Women’s Pennsylvania Branch of the American Freedmen’s Aid Commission (Seller, 205-206). Fannie Jackson Coppin taught at and headed the Pennsylvania Institute for Colored Youth for thirty-seven years (1865-1902) (Perkins, 80). Susie Baker King Taylor taught Black soldiers in the Union army during the Civil War (1865) (Lerner, 99). Lucy Craft Laney founded the Haines Normal and Industrial Institute in Augusta, GA (1886) (Lerner, 122). Charlotte Hawkins Brown founded the Palmer Memorial Institute (1902), a finishing school for Black girls, and served as its President from 1904-1955 (Lerner, 124). Nannie Helen Burroughs founded and served as the President of the National Training School for Women and Girls in Washington, D.C. (1907-1961) (Johnson, 96). Mary McCleod Bethune taught at the Haines Institute in Augusta, GA and founded the Daytona Literary and Industrial Institute for the training of Negro girls in 1904; which later became Bethune-Cookman College (Sellers, 48-50). Even though the Black Church was integral to the success of many of these institutions, the AME Church’s educational philosophy was represented and embodied by the work of Fanny Jackson Coppin.
As noted earlier, Fanny Jackson Coppin was born a slave in 1837 in Washington, D.C. Her Aunt, Sarah Orr, purchased Fanny’s freedom by her early teenage years. Fanny’s aunt earned only six dollars a month but saved until she had the necessary $125 for Fanny’s redemption. Fanny was sent to reside in New Bedford, Massachusetts and later to Newport, Rhode Island where her relatives believed she would have a greater opportunity to be educated. Fanny, surrounded by mutual aid societies and other self-help organizations, decided to dedicate her life to teaching others of her group after first obtaining her own education. While working as a domestic in Newport, Fanny’s employers allowed her to hire a tutor for one hour, three days per week. Fanny also attended the segregated schools of Newport and by 1859 had completed the normal course at the Rhode Island State Normal School. She excelled as a student and was denied the chance to attend Harvard because the institution did not admit women. Instead, she chose Oberlin College who had an identical curriculum as Harvard in 1861. Fanny was awarded a scholarship by Bishop Daniel Payne of the AME Church as well as received assistance from her Aunt Sarah. Reminiscing of her days at Oberlin, Fanny recalls that when she rose for recitation, she felt the weight of the entire African race on her shoulders; it seemed that in those moments, Fanny herself stood as a representative for the whole of the race. Nevertheless, even in the midst of the challenge, Fanny distinguished herself as an outstanding student and went on to establish a free evening school to teach the freedmen during the Civil War years. While serving as Principal of that school, The Institute for Colored Youth in Philadelphia, she met Levi Coppin, a minister at Mother Bethel AME Church, and was married during the Christmas of 1881. He was subsequently transferred to Bethel AME Church in Baltimore. “While it was the expectation that Fanny Jackson Coppin would resign her position at the institute and move to Baltimore at the end of 1881-1882 school year, she remained at the institute until 1902” (Seller, 172). In 1900, Levi was elected bishop of the 14th Episcopal District of the AME Church, which was in South Africa. During her year there, although in poor health, Fanny spent her time working with the Wilberforce Institute in Capetown, South Africa as well as developing missions among the women. When she died in Philadelphia in 1913, Coppin State College in Baltimore, MD was named in her honor.
Coppin’s educational work was further buttressed by the social and religious strivings of Sarah Hatcher Duncan; also within the structure of the AME Church. Duncan has been described as “the personification of the goal nineteenth-century African Methodist women had set for themselves and struggled to achieve”(Dodson, 111). She was held to be a mature African American ‘race woman’. Dodson explains the concept in the following manner:
A “race woman” was a nineteenth-century ideal that captured the behavior, attitudes, and objectives of adult African American women who had achieved true womanhood. In the abstract as well as the particular, the race woman, or woman for the race, epitomized the role black women prescribed for themselves as they grew out of the mind-set of slavery and created social institutions and organizations to help improve the conditions of the African American community. The goals of race women emphasized a collective uplifting through individual achievement(Dodson 111-112).
This concept of a race woman is extremely important in a redemptive schema because one tenant of the enterprise was the promotion of personal dignity and self-respect through personal efforts. This undermines much of the patriarchal notion that a woman’s worth could be judged only in relation to their contribution to males or male-guided projects. While asserting independence, the race woman acknowledges the partnership between men and women to transform the world for the betterment of humanity; but specifically for their downtrodden race. This ideology reflects early ‘womanist’ ideology, a phrase coined in the twentieth century by Alice Walker.
Sara J. Hatcher was born on October 5, 1869, in Cahaba, Alabama. Her father was an ex-slave who worked as a grocer. Her mother died thirteen months after giving birth to Sarah. Consequently, Sara was raised as the foster child of Mrs. Sara J. Morgan. She attended public school in Cahaba and went on to study at the Presbyterian Knox Academy in Selma, Alabama. In 1889, Sarah married Robert Duncan and served as the principal of the Spring Street School as well as a missionary for the North Alabama conference of the AME Church. Her commitment was both to education and the eradication of sexism in the AME Church.
In 1893 she returned home to care for her aging father. In this year, she and other southern AME women met with Bishop Henry McNeil Turner in South Bend, Indiana to discuss the formation of a second Women’s Missionary Society that moreso focused on the specific needs of the South. This was because southern AME women felt “excluded from positions of authority in the older, northern-controlled Women’s Parent Mite Missionary Society”(Dodson, 114). The council of Bishops, having agreed to the formation of the second missionary society, appointed a northern woman, Mrs. Lillian Thurman, as its first general superintendent. After six months, Mrs. Thurman resigned and Sara Duncan was appointed acting general superintendent in her stead in the fall of 1897.
In the fall of 1898, Sara Duncan gave her first report to the general secretary of the AME Council of Presiding Elders. She realized that, only two years after the Plessy vs. Ferguson decision, the AME women’s battle was two-fold: (1) an educated black community and (2) the eradication of sexism within the AME church. She tackled these tasks by maintaining solidarity with the church on collective issues, nevertheless, speaking out for women in forums that would command attention. The report she gave in 1898 concludes in the following manner:
And, brethren, if you have any ministers in your district who seem to have so much jealousy against the women concerning their work, tell them that we are not trying to take their pulpits; for my part I have studied the history of the Church since my connection with the same, when only eleven years old. I have studied its laws seventeen years and, had I been aspiring for the pulpit, could have taken an examination for elder’s orders ten years ago (Duncan, 70).
To supplement these sentiments, Sara published a missionary newspaper, Missionary Searchlight, that had an educational and gender emphasis that focused on encouraging women interested in mission. There she wrote that both boys and girls needed to be saved from social ills, that women must be forthright in their self-expression, and that women must be uninhibited in using all of their gifts to redeem the race.
These are just a few of the contributions that African American women made to the redemption project of African Americans in the 19th century. It is clear that there was a strong current in the AME church toward redemption of the total person from some of the afore-mentioned material. In the last chapter, I will explore the history of the AME and its 19th century considerations to present a basic overview of its educational philosophy.
THE EDUCATIONAL PHILOSOPHY & METHODS OF THE AFRICAN METHODIST EPISCOPAL CHURCH
HISTORY OF THE AME CHURCH
The educational philosophy of the African Methodist Episcopal Church stems from the history of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Furthermore, that Church’s history emerges from the history of the Methodist Episcopal Church in America. Therefore, in an effort to show the roots and shaping forces of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church’s educational philosophy, I will briefly highlight some historical features of white and black Methodism in the 19th Century. After this, I will discuss the founders of the AME Church, their contribution to the AME educational philosophy, the AME dilemma between choosing certain educational approaches, and the main features of the AME educational philosophy.
The Methodist Episcopal Church
In the 19th Century, the Methodist Episcopal Church found itself at the center of public life, wielding unprecedented social and political influence. It understood its mission as one to “permeate, evangelize, and Christianize American life” (Jones 3). This charge, laypersons, clergy, and missionaries alike understood in the most serious way as their ultimate duty in life. Within this mission, the Methodist Episcopal (ME) Church generally saw itself as a protector and preserver of society. To this end, Methodists often engaged in political functions within and without the church for political favors from government officials. Of the political achievements of the ME Church, Donald Jones asserts:
In resisting the secession of parts of the church and beguiling clergymen and members to stay with the northern church, the Methodist Episcopal Church no doubt played the chief role in saving Maryland for the Union and succeeded in retaining many congregations in other border states for the Union cause (36).
Even though the politics of Methodism would continue to be important beyond the Civil War, their previous operation in American society was incongruent with their noted liberal behavior. According to Bernard Semmel (173), the Methodists publicly argued that religion was a reminder that people were equal in the sight of God and had an equal share in the benefits of redemption. They held that Martin Luther had signified the revolt by proclaiming a doctrine that called for the liberation of the layperson from subordination to clerical authority. With this notion in mind, Northern Methodists often allowed blacks to worship and receive membership with them in common church-houses. It was also the practice of many Northern Methodists to hold church schools where blacks were clandestinely taught to read and to write. However, the political witness of the Methodist Episcopal Church was ambivalent in some deeply disturbing ways.
One example of this ambivalence was found in public statements like that of 19th Century Methodist scholar Albert T. Bledsoe in a review of Gobineau’s The Moral and Intellectual Diversity of Race. In this review, Bledsoe comments:
The African is entitled to the protection of the laws as to life and liberty, and the acquisition of property; but he can claim no natural or moral right to equality in those personal matters which are the special and artificial product of the cultivation, social organization, skill, and energy of the white man. Nor can he expect the whites to forget, in a moment, his recent barbarism, and the steps of his progress from it, nor to ignore the fact that the highest point his race has yet arrived at is far below their own (Jones 275).
This sentiment was fully illustrated in 1786, in St. George’s Methodist Church of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Here, Richard Allen gives his recollection of the event:
A number of us usually attended St. George’s Church in Fourth Street; and when the colored people began to get numerous in attending the church, they moved us from the seats we usually sat on, and placed us around the wall, and on Sabbath morning we went to church and the sexton stood at the door, and told us to go in the gallery. He told us to go, and we would see where to sit. We expected to take the seats over the ones we formerly occupied below, not knowing any better. We took those seats. Meeting had begun, and they were nearly done singing and just as we got to those seats, the elder said ‘Let us pray.’ We had not been long upon our knees before I heard considerable scuffling and low talking. I raised my head up and saw one of the trustees, H____ M________, having hold of the Rev. Absalom, pulling him up off his knees and saying, ‘You must get up—you must not kneel here.’ Mr. Jones replied, ‘Wait until the prayer is over.’ Mr. H_____ M_______ said, ‘No, you must get up now, or I will call for aid and force you away.’ Mr. Hones said, ‘Wait until prayer is over, and I will get up and trouble you no more.’ With that he beckoned to one of the other trustees, Mr. L______ S________ to come to his assistance. He came, and went to William White to pull him up. By this time prayer was over, and we all went out of the church in a body, and they were no more plagued with us in the church. This raised great excitement and inquiry among the citizens, in so much that I believe they were ashamed of their conduct. But my dear Lord was with us, and we were filled with fresh vigor to get a house erected to worship God in (Allen 25-26).
This dramatic withdrawal of the African Methodists from St. George’s Church was perhaps the most significant event of Richard Allen’s lifetime. Among many other things, this event was the catalyst that motivated him to found the African Methodist Episcopal Church and marked the beginning of the independent African American church movement that would continue for decades. For this reason, Allen is recognized (Alexander 1985) as the Father of Organized Black Religion.
THE FOUNDERS OF THE AME CHURCH
Richard Allen was born a slave in Philadelphia on February 14, 1760. He was owned by Benjamin Chew who served as Attorney General and Chief Justice of the High Court of Errors and Appeals. Chew was said to have been a kindly master and, according to Allen, treated his slaves well. About 1767 there was a decline in Chew’s law practice and the Allen Family was sold to Stokley Sturgis and his family who owned a plantation in Kent County near Dover, Delaware. Allen lived and worked there until he was twenty years of age. Methodist preachers were very active in his area and, being persuaded by their evangelism and antislavery endeavors, Allen joined the Methodist society with the permission of his master. He taught himself to read and write and soon began to head the meetings.
Shortly thereafter, Allen’s owner proposed that he and his brother could have the opportunity to purchase their freedom for $2000. Allen began to work as day laborer, brick maker, and teamster to accomplish this task. As a wagon driver during the Revolutionary War, he preached at regular stops. After the end of the war he preached in Delaware, West Jersey, and Eastern Pennsylvania. It is probable that he attended the first organizing Conference of American Methodism. By this time, some high officials in the Methodist Church had taken notice of Allen’s abilities and ministerial fervor. Rejecting an offer by Bishop Francis Asbury to travel in the South with him but not mingle with slaves, Allen continued to ride and preach on his own.
In 1786 he returned to Philadelphia where he met Absalom Jones and began to hold prayer meetings for Blacks. The Methodist elder in charge assigned him to preach at the 5 A.M. meeting. Allen thought this timeframe was indicative of the exclusions that Blacks experienced in the Methodist Church, even though the prevailing rhetoric was amiable and inclusionary. He therefore proposed to build a separate place of worship for Blacks which would still be under the jurisdiction of the Methodist parent body. For reasons of control, autonomy, order, and various other concerns on both sides of the issue, Allen’s proposal was widely debated. While a debate over a separate church continued in November, the racial altercation mentioned above where Allen, Absalom Jones, and William White were pulled from their knees during prayer, caused Allen and all the other African American members of the church to leave St George. The Black members of the church walked out united as one body.
With the help of Jones, Allen organized on April 12,1787 the Independent African Society, the first such body in the United States. Allen and Jones were both “overseers” of this organization, calling it a mutual aid society. After its articles of association were adopted on May 17, 1787, the Society encouraged the organization of other free African Societies in New Port, Boston, and New York. In addition to extending mutual aid, they forbade drunkenness, disorderly conduct, and loose marriage ties. Allen and Jones denounced slavery, and the Free African Society of Philadelphia also urged the abolition of slavery.
The Free African Society of Philadelphia issued a plan a plan for “The African Church,” a nondenominational body. With the assistance of Benjamin Rush, the church was organized on July 7, 1791. Toward the end of 1792, the Free African Society of Philadelphia decided to build a church. When the Yellow fever epidemic in 1793 interrupted the construction, Allen and Jones organized the Black community to serve as nurses and undertakers. When the plague ended, Allen and Jones resumed plans to build a church. On July 1794, it became the Bethel Church. Since a majority of the congregation opposed affiliation with the Methodist church because it persecuted Blacks, most voted to affiliate with the Episcopal Church under Jones. Allen then formed the first African Methodist Episcopal congregation which in turn led to the building of Philadelphia’s Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1794, often known as the Mother Bethel Church.
Daniel Coker was also an important early religious leader. Born Isaac Wright in Fredrick County, Maryland, he was a minister, teacher, writer, activist, and colonizationist. The son of a white mother, Susan Coker, who was an indentured servant, and a slave father, Edward Wright, Coker was raised with his white half-brothers who were children from his mother’s first marriage (Smith 214). While still a youth, he escaped to New York and changed his name to Daniel Coker on reaching manhood. By then, he had met Bishop Francis Asbury, who later ordained him to the Methodist ministry as a deacon (Logan, Rayford and Winston 119). After being ordained he returned to Baltimore and, through the efforts of some friends, his freedom was purchased. Coker became widely known for his teaching and preaching, and became increasingly outspoken against the institution of slavery and general treatment accorded Blacks.
From 1802 until 1816 he taught in the African School connected with the Sharp Street Church (Logan et. al. 119). The school was started with 17 students and by 1816 the school grew to as many as 150 when he decided to give up teaching. Then from 1816 until 1820 he acted as manager and teacher of the African Bethel School established in Baltimore by the African Methodist Episcopal Church. He became a leader due to his position as an ordained deacon, his abilities as a preacher, and his educational training.
For a number of years prior to 1816, Coker advocated that Black Methodists should totally withdraw from the white controlled Methodist church organization and establish an independent African American Methodist church. His motivations were because black Methodists in Baltimore experienced difficulties in their relations with the parent white church (Logan et. al. 13). After being unable to get the support of the majority of the members of the Sharp Street Church, he joined Richard Allen to form the African Bethel Church. Along with others who supported the independent church movement, he was invited by Richard Allen to attend the Philadelphia Conference of 1816, which established the African Methodist Episcopal Church as a national organization. Coker was acting as secretary and was nominated and elected on April 9, 1816 as the first bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. The following day he declined the nomination. According to Coker’s Baltimore associate, David Smith, dissension arose because of Coker’s light color. Smith wrote, “Him being nearly white, the people said they could not have an African American Connection with the man being as light as Daniel Coker at its head; therefore Richard Allen was their choice (Logan et. al. 13).
In 1807, efforts by several pastors at St. George to control the congregation moved Allen to gain judicial recognition of Bethel’s independence. A final attempt in 1815 by a St. George pastor to assert authority at Bethel church induced Coker to preach a sermon the following year commending Allen for his successful stand. Under his leadership, the denomination rapidly expanded. African Methodists spread north to New York and New England; south through Maryland, the District of Columbia, and for a time South Carolina; and west to the Ohio Valley and the Northwest Territory. During the antebellum period the denomination included congregations in the Midwest in the 1830s and 1840s (Encyclopedia of African Culture 63).
THE AME’S EDUCATIONAL BEGINNINGS
“We the Subscribers, persons of color of the city of Philadelphia, in the State of Pennsylvania, sensibly impressed with the high importance of education, towards the improvement of our species, in an individual as well as a social capacity; and fully persuaded, that it is to the prominently defective system of instruction, as it now exists among us, that we must in a great measure attribute the contemptible and degraded situation which we occupy in society, and most of the disadvantages under which we suffer; and viewing, with serious concern, the formidable barriers that prejudices, powerful as they are unjust, have reared to impede our progress in the paths of science and of virtue, rendering it almost impossible to obtain for our offspring such instruction as we deem essentially necessary to quality them for the useful walks of society: We therefore are convinced, that it is an unquestionable duty which we owe to ourselves, to our posterity, and to our God, who has endowed us with intellectual powers, to use the best energies of our minds and of our hearts, in devising and adapting the most effectual means to procure for our children a more extensive and useful education than we have heretofore had in our power to effect; and now, confidently relying upon the zealous and unanimous support of our colored brethren, under the protection of divine providence, have resolved to unite and form ourselves into a society, to be known by the name of “The Augustine Education Society of Pennsylvania,” for the establishment and maintenance of a Seminary, in which children of color shall be taught all the useful and scientific branches of education, as far as may be found practicable (Alexander 97-98).
The above quote is cited from a speech given by Prince Saunders in 1818 at Bethel Church in Philadelphia. The formation of such a society was congruent with much of the Allen’s aspirations in education for his denomination and the larger Black society. Richard Allen had valued education for quite some time, probably dating back to his early encounters with the Wesleyan missionaries. Yet, he was relatively unlearned and was not equipped to undertake a substantial comprehensive educational project on his own. He argued that “Christian character depended on Christian education and that if you educated a man, he would be a better Christian” (Alexander 98). According to E. Curtis Alexander:
Allen saw the need for not only using his church for secular purposes, but set an historic precedent for African American religionists in using his church for the first day school, first night school, first adult education classes, and first African Freemasonry Lodge home in Philadelphia (119).
Allen’s use of the Bethel Church in the capacity of an educational institution was revolutionary and paradigmatic for generations to come. This is why the formation of seminaries to teach both religious and secular education to AME ministers was the next progressive step in a budding process of education. There was no greater AME champion of this cause than Bishop Daniel Payne.
Daniel Payne was born in Charleston, South Carolina on February 4, 1811 in a free Black home. He was raised in the Methodist Church where his parents taught him to read and write. After his parents died, Payne went to live with his aunt. This did not stop Payne’s aspirations for he went on to study “Latin, Greek, astronomy, history, and zoology on his own” (Walker 21). Payne opened a school for Blacks in 1829 but was forced to close the doors by local authorities. Payne left Charleston for the north and was ordained a Lutheran minister in 1837. After a few years, he joined the AME Church and was assigned to the Ebenezer AME Church of Baltimore, MD in 1850 (Walker 22). On arrival, he objected to the style of singing and worship that was common to Black Christians in that era. Instead, he believed that their church should have educated ministers and dignified services producing a “high church culture”. His goal was to “lead his people into the mainstream of American life. An educated ministry, he thought, would accomplish this goal by making their congregation ‘intelligent and wise'” (Walker 24). More importantly, Payne believed that “high church culture” and an educated ministry would create avenues for Blacks to achieve middle class status and privileges. For Payne, these achievements were imperative to redeem African Americans because, without social redemption, spiritual redemption lacked substance for Blacks. Therefore, during his tenure, he was the chief AME catalyst for the denomination to aggressively pursue education for its ministry and laity, as well as the ability to formally educate Blacks in general.
Payne’s ideas were not alone in the church and soon found public ratification. Below are excerpts from the reports given from the Baltimore Committee on Education at their 1856 Annual Conference:
We, your committee to whom was referred the great subject of education, ask to submit the following: Education has claimed the attention of all civilized nations for centuries. It was education that distinguished ancient Greece and Rome. History informs us that Africa once produced some of the most learned men that ever lived in their day; and what her sons once were they can be again. All that is wanting is energy upon the part of those who are identified with the interests of the race. It is visible to the view of every rational mind that if ever the African Methodist Church is raised to that high and eminent position which our fathers contemplated in her organization, she must educate her sons. The Discipline by which we are governed cannot be properly understood without education; the rich treasures of the Holy Scriptures cannot be correctly exhibited without it. We therefore beg leave to offer the following preamble and resolutions:
WHEREAS, We, the members of the Baltimore Annual Conference of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, have beheld with delight the great and glorious effects resulting from education among mankind, both in the Church and the State; and
WHEREAS, We are convinced that education is the only thing calculated to elevate us as a people in this country, politically, morally and religiously. Destitute of it, we must inevitably retrograde; with it, we may hope for success. From the present indication we are led to believe that our race shall be elevated. But much depends upon the exertions of the ministers of the Gospel, as they could be the pioneers of the people, leading them from one point of elevation to another. Therefore,
Resolved by the Baltimore Annual Conference in Conference Assembled, 1st. That we regard education as the great luminary to light up the understanding of the human family.
Resolved, 2d. That we recommend to the members of our Church throughout the district that wisdom is the principal thing; therefore, get wisdom.
Resolved, 3d. That the members and delegates to the General Conference be and are hereby instructed to urge upon that body to adopt some measures for the more thorough education of the ministry.
A. W. WAYMAN,
E. T. WILLIAMS,
W. H. WATERS,
Committee (Payne 56-57).
The contents of this document represent the sentiments of the AME education committees from Ohio, Indiana, and Missouri in 1856. The way that the committee report begins is by asserting that all great nations and peoples have shared the common characteristic of having education. Second, it acknowledges that people of African descent have made meaningful contributions to the world because of their education. This point links the historical greatness of Black civilization to its possibilities in the 19th Century American setting. Third, the committee contends that education is necessary to understand the Bible and that the character taught in the Bible cannot be achieved without education. However, one of the most important claims of the committee report is “We are convinced that education is the only thing calculated to elevate us as a people in this country, politically, morally and religiously. Destitute of it, we must inevitably retrograde; with it, we may hope for success.” This statement proclaims that the AME project of redemption hinged on formal education. The language of the quote links the acquisition of education to the fate of African Americans. Throughout their Church, the AME’s considered formal education for their clergy an imperative. Since these persons would lead the forward charge of the Church, they must be competent both theologically and practically. Nevertheless, it was understood that an educated ministry was the first step in a process to redeem African Americans from the legacy and remnants of slavery. The next step was to educate the laity. Even though enlightened leadership is essential for the advancement of any group cause, without the preparation of the people being led, it is more difficult to reach the goal. Therefore, the redemption of African Americans logically meant that a system of education for the general Black population was needed.
EDUCATIONAL PHILOSOPHY DEBATES WITHIN THE CHURCH
As evidenced by the above conference report, the AME Church body took the acquisition of education by African Americans to be of prime importance. Regarding clergy, before Bishop Payne, Bishop Morris Brown and Bishop Edward Waters as well thought that their clergy should be educated in the liberal arts. Much of the laity shared this sentiment, seeing the church as a vehicle for both religious and social advancement. Furthermore, they perceived the clergy as the standard of social and religious value. For ministers to be educated would set the pace for the laity to be educated. Yet, there was a deep division among the denomination as to which educational route the Church should advocate and ultimately take. The two prevailing philosophies were classical liberal arts education and industrial arts education. These perspectives were endorsed in the African American community by W.E.B. DuBois and Booker T. Washington, respectively.
W.E.B. DuBois was trained as a classicist at Harvard University and taught Greek and Latin at Wilberforce University at the turn of the 20th Century. He felt classical, liberal arts education to be superior to industrial arts education in that he claimed it would better equip a group to rise to the top tiers of any social stratum. This would be accomplished in the African American community by training Black teachers in the University setting who would, in turn, go back to the Black grade schools to teach. He reasoned that the improved quality of the teacher would precipitate the improved quality of the student. He predicted, in his The Souls of Black Folk, that this procedure would allow progress that could be socially measurable in the achievements of its adherents.
On the other hand, Booker T. Washington, world-renowned educator, graduate and supporter of Hampton University, as well as founder of the Tuskegee Institute, argued that industrial arts education, coupled with standard liberal arts education, was the way to African American social advancement (Washington 1996). Many mischaracterize Washington as advocating industrial arts education alone as the sole method of Black progress. This mischaracterization makes for polarization, but should be corrected. Washington held that labor had been demonized for Blacks through slavery and that many erroneously stigmatized menial tasks that could produce immediate economic power. He further held that there was not only honor in physical labor, but that it built character and instilled religious and moral virtue. Besides this, Washington thought a classical liberal arts education useless if one could not demand a progressive wage through some trade if teaching posts were unavailable.
Leaders in the AME Church were undecided on which educational method was the best. Bishop Payne strongly believed in the classical liberal arts curriculum and thought that kind of education best prepared African American students for life’s challenges (Williams 4). Others like Bishop Henry McNeil Turner, who held African missionary work in the highest regard, felt the Washingtonian combination the right path for the church to follow because of its usefulness, even though he was an advocate of ‘high’ church and elite clergy.
There were a number of issues at stake for the AME Church and its leaders. First there was the issue of ministerial representation, as ministers were the connection of the denomination to the formal religious world. Another issue was the societal perception of the AME educational choice. That is, they wanted to choose the educational route that American society was most likely to give the highest level of regard. A third issue was the economic class position that their educational choice would afford them. And, a fourth issue of major importance was how their educational choice would inform their stance and decisions on the role of women in the church. The Church’s answer to these four issues, guided by its understanding of the redemption motif, is what I understand to have given birth to the AME philosophy of education.
The main educational philosophy of the Church was under formation before the Civil War and while Black Americans were slaves. Moreover, the AME Church had recently broken away form the Methodist Church, and so was still fighting off religious, ideological, and even physical takeovers by their parent body, the Methodist Church. However, having formed a denomination and wanting to be recognized by the world as legitimate, the leaders desired their clergy to be independently well respected. For not only did the clergy represent the AME Church, but they also were seen as the most socially evolved and well spoken. Thus the AME Church wanted an educational approach that would correspond to and develop that reality.
It is well documented that what separated the AME’s approach to Christianity from other Black approaches was their quest to have a ‘high’ church culture. ‘High’ church culture entailed formalized church services, catering to those aspiring to the middle and upper class. This formal approach was characterized by arranged hymns, ceremonial services, august prayers, and structured sermons. This church tradition was adopted from European Catholic and Protestant expressions of worship and adapted to American expressions. This was done by the AME’s to distance themselves from prevailing stereotypes of Black ignorance, immorality, and lack of culture. There was almost a constant, purposeful shunning of emotionalism and externalization in the worship services. Payne referred to the Negro spirituals and the Christian songs that the slaves sung as ‘cornfield ditties’ and thought them unworthy to represent the genius of Blacks or to count as sufficient praise to God. To accent this religious formalism, Henry McNeil Turner argued that the AME clergy should wear robes instead of simple suits when they preached. Stephen Angell records the sentiments of Turner in the following manner:
Turner took a strong stance on Episcopal dress, stating that the A.M.E. bishops should wear robes. He stated that the prophets Jesus, Martin Luther, John Wesley, George Whitfield, and Thomas Coke had all worn robes. When he was criticized for seeking to appeal to the senses, Turner would not back down: “Any religious form, ceremony or polity, that does not strike the senses favorably, will never command respect or carry conviction to the heart.” Maintaining that robed bishops would help to win converts in the South, he condescendingly declared that “there should be a sufficiency of grandeur to awe the illiterate and ignorant into holy respect” (148).
Even though Daniel Payne opposed clergy wearing robes for more humble garb, Turner’s disposition was not an unusual AME sentiment.
Nevertheless, Turner’s words regarding clergy’s apparel reflected the collective educational desires for the AME clergy. On this point Allen, Payne, Turner, and most of the AME visionaries were united. They believed that oration and accomplishment in classical scholarship would be beneficial for ministers not only to deliver better prepared sermons, but because education made one more moral and a better Christian. AME leadership also thought that a ministry educated in the liberal arts could better communicate across societal and denominational lines, thereby being more capable of leading the group to religious respectability. Industrial arts education, while useful to many of their parishioners, would not cultivate and polish the clergy in presentation the way that a classical liberal arts education would.
Many AME members were either free-born blacks or ex-slaves. They had no desire to be socially degraded nor to progressively decline in social status. While professionalism is prized in any society, there is a privilege that the educated enjoy: an honorable, societal perception. While being a blacksmith or a tailor were honorable professions and often quite lucrative, there was a social stigma associated with these jobs. Furthermore, these duties were often those performed by slaves and so were perceived by many free Blacks as denigrating. Booker T. Washington was successfully pushing industrial arts education as the road to Black advancement. Tuskegee was gaining national and international fame and his students enjoyed acclaim for their skills, knowledge, and industry. His project was to demonstrate that there was dignity and honor in labor, regardless of whether one was educated or not.
Whereas this theory may have provided numerous vocational opportunities for its practitioners, it could not provide the status of a liberal arts education. This kind of high education allowed access to places traditionally closed to those born in lower classes. No matter what station a Black person held in American society, without the ‘proper’ education, the possibilities for social elevation were minimal. In spite of the fact that teachers and scholars often had very little economic power, they had a great deal of perceived social influence. This perception was important to the AME Church because a great deal of its collective effort resided in the restoration and accumulation of status. Even though one of the Church symbols was the blacksmith’s anvil, this choice appears to denote the AME ascension from the ranks of slavery, not a choice towards industrial arts education.
ECONOMIC CLASS POSITION
As churchmen dually concerned with the social and spiritual condition of their parishners, the AME clergy had to decide if they would be pro-labor or anti-labor. To be pro-labor would mean that they found dignity and value in manual labor while thinking that it was sufficient to economically boost African Americans into respectable wealth categories without endangering their moral sensibilities. To be anti-labor would mean that they found in manual labor mostly a reminder of slavery and misery from which African Americans needed to distance themselves for redemption purposes; even if it were adequate to facilitate their economic goals. Those clergy that were pro-labor “endorsed labor reform first and foremost because they believed that prevailing social conditions promoted infidelity” to God (Lazerow, 138). One example of this infidelity that worried clergy was excessive toil that caused declines in church attendance and Sabbath observance. One movement’s aim was to reduce the 10 hour work day with the rationale that God never intended people to work each day until utter exhaustion (193). Furthermore, declining attendance meant declining church collections; which is also an economic consideration not to be overlooked.
On the other hand, to be anti-labor would mean that the clergy would have to advocate more white collar professions as the avenue for economic advancement. This would produce middle-class professions for Blacks but would not guarantee middle-class wages. Even though classical and liberal studies would not necessarily develop skills that would help Blacks compete in the free market, these studies would give Blacks an improved social perception that would help in securing future respectability, alliances, and eventually increased revenue. To be anti-labor or pro-liberal studies would also mean that the work of the clergy would be seen as more valuable. As the leaders of a classically educated laity, the AME ministers would enjoy an elevated stature noticeable by all sectors of society. This, in turn, also carried the promise of increased societal wealth for them because of their social worth.
The economic class question is an interesting one because it appears that only one educational choice would have economically led the majority of the AME Church into middle class status: industrial arts education. Booker T. Washington’s industrial arts method was quickly producing Black entrepreneurs and businesspersons (both men and women) who worked in fairly lucrative professions. Occupations ranging from brick masons to brick makers to carpenters to architects characterized some of Tuskegee and Hampton University graduates. Industrial Arts was a gradual way for Blacks to infiltrate the middle class ranks, their progress would be slow and steady. Washington believed in the merits of the free market and thought this to be the only way for Blacks to enjoy social and economic equity with Whites. He thought that entrance into higher economic classes was conditioned upon a group’s ability to produce valuable and high-quality goods and services, recognized as such by society.
On the other hand, classical liberal arts education would have created teachers, scholars, and intellectuals. These persons would have been a small percentage of the total church population. Yet, according to DuBois at the time, this talented tenth would be a vanguard group who paved the way for the rest to ascend upward. This talented tenth was said to exist in every race and is obligated to help the other members advance because of their special endowments and capacities. However, most Black intellectuals of the era never gained firm economic entrance into the American middle class, which was largely White. Furthermore, until many intellectual pursuits were coupled with industrial aims, i.e. engineering, design, marketing, law, and medicine, there was very little crossing of economic boundaries by classically educated individuals. In fact, a great deal of those educated in the classical liberal arts tradition were already upper or middle class via inheritance or familial association and undertook these studies for ‘refinement’ purposes.
However, the Bishops understood that they had to be very careful about their choice because, increasingly, emerging middle class blacks were generally beginning to reject their religious heritage; especially in its other-worldly orientation. Whereas the goal was to be firmly middle-class, it was also to thrive and grow in membership. Nevertheless, because of prohibitions in American society for blacks, the church still served an important and vital social function for the middle class. E. Franklin Frazier offers the thought that:
The important role of religion and the Negro church in the social organization of the American Negroes has been due to the restricted participation of Negroes in American society. And as a consequence the church has left its imprint upon practically every aspect of Negro life. The Negro church has provided the pattern of mutual aid societies and insurance companies. It has provided the pattern of Negro fraternal organizations and Greek letter societies. It has provided the pattern of administration and control of the Negro school as far as they have been under the control of Negroes (Frazier, 85).
With regard to these sentiments, the black church (AME in particular) still exerted considerable influence in black economic and social institutions and was thereby relevant.
Still, as Lawrence Otis Graham relays in his work Our Kind of People, upper class blacks associated themselves in part with the AME church. Yet many were opting for the Episcopal Church because its few members gave the air of exclusivity. The bishops knew that for its wealthiest members to follow suit may have been disastrous. Nevertheless, in order to secure middle class position, the AME church knew that its choice must be palatable to the upper sectors of society.
THE ROLE ; STATUS OF WOMEN IN THE CHURCH
During the early 19th Century, women’s participation in the ministerial and governing affairs of the AME Church were minimal. Very few women in the denomination preached and even fewer acknowledged the call. Jarena Lee, who was the first licensed female minister in the AME Church, received a mixture of support and opposition from the AME clergy. E. Curtis Alexander recalls this phenomenon in relation to Richard Allen and Jarena Lee. Alexander relays that:
During this era, any churchman who would allow a woman to preach was guilty of a sin harboring on the fringes of heresy. In 1803, an Englishwoman, Dorothy Ripley, spoke to the Bethel congregation. Again, in 1817, Jarena Lee not only preached at Bethel but was the first female licensed worker of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. These events certainly attest to the fact that Richard Allen was far ahead of his fellow religionists in recognizing women as exhorters of the Christian gospel (63).
The Bishops then were indeed more fundamentalist and read the Bible as formally forbidding women to hold many clergy posts. However, they were in a practical-moral dilemma because to be abolitionists, many in the Church either omitted or reinterpreted Biblical passages that seemed to condone slavery. But the subjugation of women societally or religiously can be viewed as a form of slavery. The AME leaders, then, would have to justify disenfranchising 75 percent of their membership by disallowing them full participation in Church life, while waging war on slavery and racism. Even though some saw no problem with this, many saw it as a contradiction and wanted to resolve the issue. Notably Bishop Henry McNeil Turner was in favor of women in the ministry. Stephen Angell, writing about Turner’s participation in the AME 1880 Annual Conference says: “In a proposition that would embroil him in controversy a few years later, he suggested that women ministers could do as good a job as men and advocated that women be given more opportunities to preach” (150).
Industrial arts education, while allowing women to enter professions historically denied to them, would not prepare women for ministerial and administrative roles in the Church. Using Fanny Coppin’s, Sara Duncan’s, and similar women’s labors and abilities as models, classical liberal arts education seemed to be the route that would bring women the most immediate professional benefit. This, in turn, would increase the net worth of the AME Church as a whole. Furthermore, those that disagreed with Turner’s sentiments on male-female ministerial equality would have less of an argument if women had the same training.
THE CHOSEN EDUCATIONAL PHILOSOPHY
Considering the issues of ministerial representation, societal perception, economic class, and the status and role of women, the overwhelming AME position favored classical liberal arts education. It appears that industrial arts education would have economically thrust more Blacks into middle class status by providing opportunity for the accumulation of capital. Yet, this educational route would have conflicted with the AME desire for a middle class image and more formal presentation of themselves. In order to truly be redeemed, it was thought that one had to ultimately appear redeemed. It would not have looked very redemptive to return to perform slave duties as livelihoods and vocations. Therefore, any economic gain that industrial arts education would have brought was forsaken for the benefits of classical liberal arts education in the other three areas. Thus, the AME Church formally decided after the 1856 Conference to endorse, promote, and procure for its clergy and members classical liberal arts education.
The AME Educational Philosophy
Many members of the AME Church believed it to be the church’s first educational duty to its members—to prepare them to participate successfully in American society at all levels. Katherine Dvorak asserts that:
Education retained a close relationship with religious hopes in the minds of southern black Christians. Religious leaders often acted as teachers and classes were held in church buildings. Nineteenth-century blacks valued education because black religiosity was biblical. Many blacks’ prime motivation for learning to read was the desire to read the Bible (52).
Yet, the first priority of the church’s educational philosophy was an emphasis on an educated ministry; the Church’s leadership would then be a window into the Church’s social aspirations and also encourage the laity to pursue formal education. “We want a sanctified, holy, educated ministry. Let this statement for hereafter be understood. Such a ministry we must have; without it we must inevitably sink into dark oblivion” (Williams 52). There was widespread criticism, both Whites and Blacks, characterizing Black clergymen as ignorant and uneducated charlatans. Even educated Blacks, like Booker T. Washington, often leveled harsh criticisms at Black clergy and this had to be stopped to ensure the continued success of the Church.
The AME Church wanted to educate its ministers, not only to interpret the Bible, but to be leaders and teachers. A broad liberal arts education enabled AME ministers to learn about the important events in history and to understand their meaning, particularly in light of the slavery experience. Further, the liberal arts education prepared ministers to speak before the public, thereby assisting in the development of preacher-politicians. The educational philosophy of the AME Church encompassed the necessity of preparing its ministers to teach, both in the broad sense of educating the congregation generally and, more specifically, instructing pupils in the church’s Sunday schools and other educational institutions.
The AME educational philosophy is unique in ways and in other ways, a hodge-podge approach of other church traditions. “From Methodist religious philosophy, the AME Church took the concept of social concern and transformed it into a unique social consciousness that promoted racial equality and a focus on educational achievement” (Williams 52). The AME philosophy of education stressed Black self-reliance and autonomy as an expression of social and intellectual possibility. At its 1876 Annual Conference in Philadelphia, AME leaders drafted and passed a resolution that reflected the organization’s educational focus:
Resolved: That as the subject of education is one of high importance to the colored population of the country, it shall be the duty of every minister who has charge of a circuit or station to make use of every effort to establish schools wherever convenient, and to insist upon the parents of children to send them to school, and that it shall be the duty of every minister to make yearly returns of the number of schools, the amount (of students) in each, the places where they are located and the branches taught on circuits and stations, and that every preacher who neglects to do so, be subject to the censure of the conference (Christian Recorder 1876).
Records were maintained of students in each district’s Sunday schools. In addition, AME leaders set aside at least one day each year for the sole purpose of fundraising for the church’s educational enterprises. Endowment Day became the time when ministers called on members to financially support their own institutions of higher learning. African Methodist Episcopal Churches raised $11,000 for educational purposes on Endowment Day in 1885. And according to the “Report of the Committee on Education” at the 1896 General Conference, more than five million dollars was raised for the Church’s educational institutions between the years 1884 and 1896. Of that amount, AME congregations had contributed nearly $390,000 (Payne 31). By 1902 the Endowment Day fundraising efforts had brought in more than $1.2 million for the Church’s educational activities. The Church’s newspaper, The Recorder, did its part as writers used the paper to argue the cause of the fundraising efforts. In addition to Endowment Day the church raised money by: ministers assessing each member an annual fee; each annual conference asking for donations for the educational cause; local educational groups making contributions; some individuals leaving money through wills and insurance policies; and individuals made private donations earmarked for the educational effort (Payne 31). Thus, the AME Church sustained its higher education institutions by raising funds from its own members.
After careful deliberation, the AME Church, through Bishop Payne, purchased Wilberforce University form the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1863 and established a classical liberal arts curriculum. The first classes were in Elementary English; three years later college level courses began (Williams 4). According to the school catalog, its mission was to create the “Christian Scholar” and to mold the student into ‘the total person’. It began with three students and today facilitates around 800 traditional students. Today, the AME Church stands as the founder of several colleges, universities and seminaries in the African American community. These schools include:
Wilberforce University Wilberforce, Ohio
Payne Theological Seminary ” ”
Allen University Columbia, South Carolina
Dickerson Theological Seminary ” ”
Morris Brown College Atlanta, Georgia
Turner Theological Seminary ” ”
Edward Waters College Jacksonville, Florida
B. F. Lee Theological Seminary ” ”
Daniel Payne College Birmingham, Alabama
Rufffin Nichols Theological Seminary ” ”
Shorter College N. Little Rock, Arkansas
Jackson Theological Seminary ” ”
Cambell College Jackson, Mississippi
Lampton Theological Seminary ” ”
Paul Quinn College Waco, Texas
George B. Young Theological Seminary ” ”
Kittrell Th. Seminary Kittrell, North Carolina
Kittrell College ” ”
Payne University Selma, Alabama
Western University Quindaro, Kansas
Slater College Memphis, Tennessee
Turner College Shelbyville, Tennessee
J. P. Campbell College Vicksburg, Mississippi
Monrovia College Ind. Inst. Monrovia, Liberia
Wilberforce Institute Transvaal, South Africa
“Get an education! Learn to read and write! Secure a common education, one that will at least enable you to transact your own business and do your own writing” (Recorder 1865). In much of the 19th century Black editorial literature, there is a decided link between education and freedom. Fannie Coppin’s method of instruction exemplified the redemptive project of the AME Church and she wrote a book of reminiscences to describe some of these methods. In regard to elementary education she writes:
Never let the word “dumb” be used in your class, or anything said disrespectful of parents or guardians who may have helped the child…Many a child called dull, would advance rapidly under a patient, wise, and skillful teacher, and the teacher should be as conscientious in the endeavor to improve himself as he is to improve the child (Coppin, 41).
Here it is evident that she thought that an intricate part of the educational process was never to diminish the self-respect or esteem of the pupil. This reflects the larger context of redemption into which education fits. Coppin, like the founders of the AME Church, saw education as more than an opportunity. Instead, it was a necessary ingredient for an entire nation under their watch-care to be rescued from perpetual servitude. It was their only chance at being redeemed. Therefore, much care had to be taken to protect any intellectual gains. Coppin also writes about her methods of instruction that:
“I am always sorry to hear that such and such a person is going to school to be educated. This is a great mistake. If a person is to get the benefit of what we call education, he must educate himself, under the direction of the teacher (Coppin, 50).
Here again Coppin displays the redemption project in that in order for one to be bought back, he or she must work to earn the right to purchase themselves from the bondage that once held them. This is echoed in Coppin’s insistence that persons educated themselves, viewing the instructor as a facilitator. A community or confederation of co-laborers can then be formed because they are unified by engaging in the same project: liberation. This method recognizes the worth and rewards the degree of the pupil’s labor and is thereby just. These elements are identifiable in the educational approach of Fannie Coppin and the AME Church and thus were successful in fostering redemption through African American education.
In conclusion, the trend of higher education has been to systematically delete traces of particular religious affiliations from the Academy to promote a more tolerant learning environment. This approach has done a great deal toward its goal; however, it may have simultaneously caused a devaluation of religious motivations in the education process in the minds of some. Even though it is contemporarily apparent why certain expressions of religion must be downplayed in Academe, it is not as apparent why more investigation is not being conducted on the educational philosophies of productive religious traditions. The AME philosophy of education, having directly contributed to the founding of twenty-five institutions of higher education, as well as schools at all other levels of instruction, certainly should be counted and studied as highly productive. From slavery to Emancipation, to secure an education was on the pinnacle of achievement to those told that they lacked the capacity to learn. Through Fugitive Slave Laws and Jim Crow laws, the AME Church persevered to actualize the source of their strength: a quest for redemption. This discussion is by no means exhaustive of AME history nor of its educational efforts. Hopefully other scholars will join the few who have gone before in uncovering some of the vast historical resources found in the AME philosophy of education.
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