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Henry M. Turner, Negro Bishop Extraordinary

  • J. Minton Batten (a1)


The Negro church presents an important field of investigation to students of American social history. Many slaves found in Christianity a substitute for primitive African religious beliefs and practices and a source for the satisfaction of their religious longings. The churches offered to the American Negro his first opportunities for participation in organized group life in a new environment. Experience in church organization and activity trained thousands of slaves for the larger fields of effort which were opened to them after emancipation. Approximately one-tenth of the present total membership of the American churches belongs to this race. For more than three centuries the church has served as the most important factor in typing the institutions and ideals of our largest minority racial group.



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1 Official histories of the African Methodist Episcopal Church have been published as follows: Payne, Daniel A., History of the African Methodist Episcopal Church (Nashville, 1891); Jenifer, John T., Centennial Retrospect History of the African Methodist Episcopal Church (Nashville, 1912); and, Smith, Charles Spencer, A History of the African Methodist Episcopal Church (Philadelphia, 1922).

2 Biographies of these Negro Methodist leaders have been published as follows: Wesley, Charles H., Richard Allen, Apostle of Freedom (Washington, D. C., 1935); Coan, J. B., Daniel Alexander Payne, Christian Educator (Philadelphia, 1935); and, Ponton, M. M., Life and Times of Henry M. Turner (Atlanta, 1917).

3 Culp, D. W., Twentieth Century Negro Literature (Naperville, Ill., 1902), 4243.

4 Henry, H. M., The Police Control of the Slave in South Carolina (Emory. Va., 1914), 152ff.

5 Simmons, William J., Men of Mark, (Cleveland, Ohio, 1887), 807810.

6 On the plantation missions of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, see, Harrison, W. P., The Gospel Among the Slaves (Nashville, Tenn., 1893); Fickling, Susan Markey, Slave-Conversion in South Carolina, 1850–1860 (Columbia, S. C., 1924); and, Bruner, Clarence V., The Religious Instruction of the Slaves in the Antebellum South (Typed Ph. D. thesis, George Peabody College for Teachers, Nashville, Tenn., 1933).

7 Harrison, , Gospel Among the Slaves, 379, 380.

8 Ibid., 379. See also, Tanner, Benj. T., An Apology for African Methodism (Baltimore, 1867), 415, 416.

9 Tanner, Benj. T., An Apology for African Methodism, 416.

10 Payne, , History of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, 415.

11 See Wayman, A. W., My Recollections of African M. E. Ministers (Philadelphia. 1881), 7182.

12 Ponton, , Life and Times of Henry M. Turner, 35, 36.

13 Jenifer, , Centennial Retrospect History of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, 392.

14 Haley, J. T.. Thoughts, Doings, and Sayings of the Race (Nashville. Tenn.,. 1896), 37.

15 See Turner, Henry M., Speech on the Eligibility of Colored Members to Seats in the Georgia Legislature … Delivered before that Body, September 3, 1868 (Augusta, Ga., 1868), 116.

16 Simmons, , Men of Mark, 812816; and Avery, I. W., The History of the State of Georgia from 1850 to 1881 (New York, 1881), 375, 396, 405, 412416.

17 Smith, , History of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, 51ff.

18 Clark, Elmer T., The Negro and His Religion (Nashville, Tenu., 1924), 3436.

19 On Turner's activities in Georgia during the reconstruction era, see, Gaines, W. J., African Methodism in the South (Atlanta, 1890), 4106; and, Simmons, , Men of Mark, 812816.

20 Wright, R. R. Jr., Centennial Encyclopaedia of the African Methodist Episcopal Church (Philadelphia, 1916), 293, 294.

21 At the South Carolina Conference of 1867, Turner prepared the report of the Committee on Missions and Education. This report reveals his realization of the pathetic need of the Southern Negroes for trained ministers and increased educational facilities. “Many new fields,” he wrote, “have been opened, and scores of ministers have put on the missionary harness and bravely periled their all for the sake of carrying the Gospel to the poor. The result of their labor has been the accession of more missionary fields than we can supply with preachers. Your Committee regret to inform you that we shall lack near one hundred preachers of supplying our missionary demands. Everywhere the cry is, send us the Gospel through the heralds of the A. M. E. Church. But ministers and means are both inadequate to the enormity of the work … The education of our people is also engaging the attention of the world; and while much credit is due the A. M. E. Church for her labors in that direction, your Committee have fears that some of our ministerial representatives are not alive to its indispensable importance. We therefore recommend that the Conference require each Itinerant Minister to raise and report the same next Conference, a Lyceum, Beading, Debating, or Literary Society in his field of labor, and that he be held accountable for failure or neglect. And further, that each Pastor, as per Discipline, see that the (rule requiring Local Preachers and Exhorters to labor in Sunday Schools is enforced … We would recommend that a Committee of Five be appointed to devise a plan and select a place for a suitable institution either in Georgia, North or South Carolina, where our young ministers can study at least the elements of Divinity.” See Smith, C. S., History of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, 519, 520. At the Georgia Conference of 1875, he volunteered to instruct any young ministers who could find time to spend a few weeks or months with him. In discussing the necessity of an educated ministry in a report to this conference, he said: “We cannot expect the people to feed, clothe and reverence us unless we are able to repay them with that instruction and knowledge which our exalted position demands, and they naturally expect. The simple titles of preacher, deacon and elder are not enough to satisfy those who are thirsting for moral and religious knowledge. We must be able to impart the same, otherwise we will become mere sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal, and our preaching will be but little more than, the low of an ox or the bray of an ass. The minister is the representative of our Lord Jesus Christ, and as such he should be able, learned and chaste, and every spare moment should be devoted to the acquisition of such information as will fit him for his high station.” See Gaines, , African Methodism in the South, 61, 62.

22 Jenifer, , op. cit., 161183; and, Richings, G. F., Evidences of Progress Among Colorea People, (Philadelphia, 1897), 117153.

23 Loggins, Vernon, The Negro Author (New York, 1931), 299.

24 Handy, Jamee A., Scraps of African Methodist Episcopal History (Philadelphia, n. d.) 247, 252, 253.

25 Jenifer, , Centennial Retrospect History of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, 306, 307.

26 See Bishop Turner's discussion of the topic, “Will it be possible for the Negro to attain in this country unto the American type of civilization?” in Culp, Twentieth Century Negro Literature, 4244. He concludes his discussion of the topic with these words: “Such being the barbarous conditions of the United States and the low order of civilization which controls its institutions, I see nothing for the Negro to attain unto in this country. I have already admitted that this country has books and schools, and the younger members of the Negro race, like the younger members of the white race, should attend them and profit by them. But for the Negro as a whole, I see nothing here for him to aspire after. He can return to Africa, especially to Liberia where a Negro government is already in existence, and learn the elements of civilization in fact; for human life is there sacred, and no man is deprived of it or any other thing that involves his manhood, without due process of law. So my decision is that there is nothing in the United States for the Negro to learn or try to attain to.”

27 See Turner, H. M., “Races Must Separate,” The Possibilities of the Negro in Symposium (Atlanta, 1904), 9098.

28 Cited by Eoss, E. E., Proceedings of the Joint Commission on Unification of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, and the Methodist Episcopal Church (New York, 1918), I, 141.

29 See Turner, H. M., “Negro Emigration to Africa,” The Independent (New York, 09 7, 1899), Vol. 51, 24302432.

30 In 1904 Bishop Turner said: “I have been singled out in this country aa the chief factor in the African emigration movement, and as such I believe that I have received all of a hundred thousand letters, some of them containing dozens and dozens of names, who are clamoring for transportation conveniences and cheap rates from this (country) to the land of their ancestors … This nation, or its aggregated people, will either have to open up a highway to Africa for the discontented or the Negro question will fluider this government … I am only contending that there should be a highway across the Atlantic for such black men and women as are self-reliant and have those manhood aspirations that God planted in them and degrading laws will intensify.” See The Possibilities of the Negro in Symposium, 94ff.

31 Brawley, Benjamin, A Social History of the American Negro (New York, 1921), 197.

32 Ooker, Daniel. Journal of Daniel Coker, A Descendant of Africa (Baltimore, 1820).

33 Ridgel, A. L., Africa and African Methodism (Atlanta, Ga., 1896), 57ff; 108ff.

34 . Ibid., 30ff. Rigdel was one of the missionaries who accompanied Turner.

35 See Smith, , History of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, 181ff.

36 Handy, , Scraps of African Methodist Episcopal History, 264, 275ff.

37 Jenifer, , Centennial Retrospect History of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, 350370.

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Church History
  • ISSN: 0009-6407
  • EISSN: 1755-2613
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