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Dancing with Jim Crow: The Chattanooga Embarrassment of the Methodist Episcopal Church

  • Paul W. Harris (a1)

Abstract

After the Civil War, northern Methodists undertook a successful mission to recruit a biracial membership in the South. Their Freedmen's Aid Society played a key role in outreach to African Americans, but when the denomination decided to use Society funds in aid of schools for Southern whites, a national controversy erupted over the refusal of Chattanooga University to admit African Americans. Caught between a principled commitment to racial brotherhood and the pressures of expediency to accommodate a growing white supremacist commitment to segregation, Methodists engaged in an agonized and heated debate over whether schools intended for whites should be allowed to exclude blacks. Divisions within the leadership of the Methodist Episcopal Church caught the attention of the national press and revealed the limits of even the most well-intentioned efforts to advance racial equality in the years after Reconstruction.

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*Corresponding author. E-mail: harrispa@mnstate.edu

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1 The Independent, Dec. 9, 1886, 21; Govan, Gilbert E. and Lovingood, James W., The University of Chattanooga: Sixty Years (Chattanooga, TN: University of Chattanooga, 1947), 3839; Longwith, John, Light upon a Hill: The University at Chattanooga, 1886–1996 (Chattanooga: University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, 2000), 3033.

2 Painter, Nell Irvin, “'Social Equality,’ Miscegenation, Labor, and Power” in The Evolution of Southern Culture, ed. Bartley, Numan V. (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1988); Wood, Forrest G., Black Scare: The Racial Response to Emancipation and Reconstruction (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1968), ch. 7; Hodes, Martha, White Women, Black Men: Illicit Sex in the Nineteenth-Century South (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1997), 166–75; Ayers, Edward L., The Promise of the New South: Life after Reconstruction (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992), 136–45; Williamson, Joel, A Rage for Order: Black-White Relations in the American South since Emancipation (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986), 84, 121.

3 J. C. Hartzell, “Our Schools in the South,” Zion's Herald, May 13, 1885, gave the total Southern membership of the Methodist Episcopal Church as 420,000, an eight-fold increase in twenty years. See also McPherson, James M., The Abolitionist Legacy: From Reconstruction to the NAACP (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1975), 149.

4 Dvorak, Katharine L., An African-American Exodus: The Segregation of the Southern Churches (Brooklyn, NY: Carlson, 1991); Montgomery, William E., Under their Own Vine and Fig Tree: The African-American Church in the South, 1865–1900 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1993). Harvey, Paul, a distinguished historian of religion, makes a telling error in this regard in Through the Storm, Through the Night: A History of African American Christianity (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2011), 72. In drawing data from Montgomery, he mistakenly gives the total number of black adherents in the Methodist Episcopal Church as 60,000, when that was actually the increase over 1890. Their actual black membership was over 308,000, so Harvey's figure was off by a factor of five.

5 Hildebrand, Reginald, The Times Were Strange and Stirring: Methodist Preachers and the Crisis of Emancipation (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1990), 55.

6 Stowell, Daniel W., Rebuilding Zion: The Religious Reconstruction of the South, 1863–1877 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), 7379, identifies five themes in the religious aspirations of African Americans during Reconstruction. In general, the vision of those who joined the Methodist Episcopal Church differed only slightly from those who joined the African Methodist denominations. All rejected the submissiveness espoused by their former masters and embraced preachers of their own race. All shared an intense desire for education and welcomed Northern assistance as long as it did not entail Northern control. The major point of contention involved the degree to which African Americans should pursue independent organization to control their own affairs, and it was on that ground that denominational rivalry was largely waged. Similarly, Charles F. Irons emphasizes similar aspirations among black Baptists in Virginia and North Carolina, regardless of the ecclesiastical relations they sought with white Baptists. Irons, Charles F., “'Two Divisions of the Same Great Army’: Ecclesiastical Separation by Race and the Millennium” in Apocalypse and Millennium in the American Civil War Era, eds. Wright, Ben and Dresser, Zachary W. (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2013), 194216.

7 Richardson, Joe M., Christian Reconstruction: The American Missionary Association and Southern Blacks, 1861–1890 (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1986), 1822. This connection was earlier recognized by Morrow, Ralph E. in Northern Methodism and Reconstruction (Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1956), but Morrow wrote from the perspective of the Dunning school, regarding Methodist missionaries as meddling interlopers.

8 The concept of a “long Reconstruction” has been gaining traction even in the area of political reconstruction; cf. Brundage, W. Fitzhugh, “The Future of Reconstruction Studies,” Journal of the Civil War Era 7:1 (Mar. 2017): 7. In scholarship on religious reconstruction, Richardson's work has been joined most notably by Bennett, James B., Religion and the Rise of Jim Crow in New Orleans (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005). Nonetheless, most of the voluminous literature on the freedmen's education movement is still focused on the Reconstruction era as commonly understood, partly owing to historians' fascination with the Northern women who came South to teach. Butchart, Ronald E., Schooling the Freed People: Teaching, Learning, and the Struggle for Black Freedom (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010); Chirhart, Ann Short, Torches of Light: Georgia Teachers and the Coming of the Modern South (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2005); Faulkner, Carol, Women's Radical Reconstruction: The Freedmen's Aid Movement (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006); Jacoway, Elizabeth, Yankee Missionaries in the South: The Penn School Experiment (Baton Rouge: Louisiana University Press, 1980); Jones, Jacqueline, Soldiers of Light and Love: Northern Teachers and Georgia Blacks, 1865–1873 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1980); Morris, Richard C., Reading, ‘Riting, and Reconstruction: The Education of Freedmen in the South, 1861–1870 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1976); Rose, Willie Lee, Rehearsal for Reconstruction: The Port Royal Experiment (Indianapolis, IN: Bobbs-Merrill, 1964).

9 Litwack, Leon F., Been in the Storm So Long: The Aftermath of Slavery (New York: Knopf, 1979), xiv. Other seminal works on Reconstruction include Foner, Eric, Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863–1877 (New York: Harper & Row, 1988); and Hahn, Steven, A Nation under Our Feet: Black Political Struggles in the Rural South from Slavery to the Great Migration (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2003).

10 Separate Conferences and Schools,” Nineteenth Annual Report of the Freedmen's Aid Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church, for 1886 (Cincinnati, OH: Western Methodist Book Concern, 1886), 17; Hildebrand, The Times Were Strange and Stirring, 82–109; Morrow, Northern Methodism and Reconstruction, 181–200; McPherson, The Abolitionist Legacy, 227–34.

11 Harris, Paul W., “Separation, Inclusion, and the Development of Black Leadership in the Methodist Episcopal Church,” Methodist History LVI:1 (Oct. 2017): 1720; Hagood, L. M., The Colored Man in the Methodist Episcopal Church (1890; rpt. Freeport, NY: Books for Libraries Press, 1971), 139–41, 167–69, 199206; Hildebrand, The Times Were Strange and Stirring, 110–17; C. N. Grandison, “The Spread of Methodism in the South,” Southwestern Christian Advocate [hereafter SWCA], Dec. 3, 1891. Stowell, Rebuilding Zion, 133–37, discusses the founding of the Holston and Tennessee Conferences, each of which initially had a somewhat mixed-race membership, though Holston was overwhelmingly white and Tennessee predominantly black.

12 “Caste,” SWCA, Oct. 5, 1882.

13 A. K. Davis, “The Birmingham Matter,” SWCA, Jan. 11, 1883.

14 H. R. Revels, “The Birmingham Matter,” SWCA, Dec. 21, 1882.

15 Hays, D. W., “The ‘Color Line’ Again,” What They Say; Or, Echoes from Birmingham (New Orleans: Southwestern Office, 1883), 23.

16 Quoted in SWCA, Feb. 8, 1883; “Is This Thing Religion? If So, Give Us a Sample of Deviltry,” New York Freeman, Feb. 26, 1887. On Ward, see McPherson, The Abolitionist Legacy, 224 et passim.

17 Executive Committee meeting of Dec. 13, 1879, Board and Committee Meetings, 1866–1896, Freedmen's Aid Society Records, 1866–1932 (Wilmington, DE: Scholarly Resources).

18 Govan and Lovingood, University of Chattanooga, 12–15; “Separate Conferences and Schools,” 19.

19 Govan and Lovingood, University of Chattanooga, 10–13; “The East Tennessee Wesleyan University,” Western Christian Advocate, Sept. 14, 1881, 294.

20 Journal of the General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, Held in Cincinnati, May 1–28, 1880, ed. Woodruff, George (New York: Phillips & Hunt, 1880), 188, 281, 292–93, 343–45. Tellingly, in the middle of the debate, the African American members of the Holston Conference asked to be organized into a separate conference.

21 G. E. Cunningham, “'We Be Brethren,’” SWCA, May 24, 1883; I. B. Ford, “The General Conference and the South,” SWCA, Apr. 15, 1880; “Mississippi Conference: Report on Freedmen's Aid Society,” SWCA, Feb. 2, 1882.

22 Govan and Lovingood, University of Chattanooga, 16–19; “The Educational Convention at Chattanooga,” Christian Advocate, Sept. 9, 1880; “Our Central University at Chattanooga,” Christian Advocate, Mar. 11, 1886; Executive Committee meetings of Oct. 23, 1880 and Oct. 19, 1881, Board and Committee Meetings, 1866–1896, Freedmen's Aid Society Records, 1866–1932.

23 Longwith, Light upon a Hill, 3, 13; Govan and Lovingood, University of Chattanooga, 12; “Past Presidents and Chancellors,” University of Tennessee at Chattanooga (http://www.utc.edu/chancellor/past-presidents-chancellors.php); “Hiram Sanborn Chamberlain,” The Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture, version 2.0 (tennesseeencyclopedia.net/ entry.php?rec=225); The Independent, Feb. 24, 1887; “A University in the South,” Christian Advocate, Feb. 13, 1873.

24 “Editorial Notes,” The Independent, Apr. 12, 1883.

25 Executive Committee meeting of May 26, 1883, Board and Committee Meetings, 1866–1896, Freedmen's Aid Society Records, 1866–1932.

26 “The ‘Northern’ and Color Line People,” SWCA, May 24, 1883.

27 The Independent, May 29, 1884, 18; Van Pelt, J. R., “John Wesley Edward Bowen,” Journal of Negro History, 19 (Apr. 1934): 217–18; “Editorial Notes,” SWCA (Apr. 17, 1884); “New England on Caste,” SWCA, May 1, 1884; duplicates of confidential letters by Bowen to Revs. Peck, Albert, and Westbrook, in Joseph C. Hartzell papers, General Commission on Archives and History, United Methodist Church [hereafter GCAH].

28 Manker quoted in Govan and Lovingood, University of Chattanooga, 35–37.

29 E. S. Lewis, “Little Rock University,” Zion's Herald, Nov. 7, 1883.

30 McPherson, The Abolitionist Legacy, 107–10; Williamson, A Rage for Order, 72–78.

31 “The Chattanooga University,” SWCA, Feb. 14, 1884; Blight, David, Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2001).

32 Bennett, James B., Religion and the Rise of Jim Crow in New Orleans (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005), 21–46, 7174.

33 J. C. Hartzell, “Our Southern Educational Work,” SWCA, June 21, 1883.

34 Journal of the General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, Held at Philadelphia, May 1–28, 1884, ed. Monroe, David S. (New York: Phillips & Hunt, 1884), 8283, 299–300, 305; J. W. Hamilton, “The Blacks Must Not Apply,” Independent, Nov. 18, 1886.

35 Journal of the General Conference, 128, 107, 127, 142, 148, 158–59, 170, 180, 203, 224.

36 Hamilton, “The Blacks Must Not Apply”; J E. Bills, Buffalo Advocate, Nov. 30, 1886.

37 Journal of the General Conference, 252, 256, 365–66.

38 Ibid., 334, 280, 245–48; “Caste's Tactics in the Last General Conference” by One Who Was There, Independent, Feb. 10, 1887.

39 “The Chattanooga Problem,” Christian Advocate, Mar. 3, 1887.

40 Marshall W. Taylor, “What I Know About a Color Line in the M. E. Church”; D. W. Hays, “The ‘Color Line’ Again”; and J. M. Shumpert, “Is It Christ, Color-Line, or Caste?” all in What They Say, 10–28.

41 The previous highest office that a black person had held was that of missionary bishop resident in Liberia; Taylor turned down election to that office before the vote for editor of the Southwestern. Journal of the General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, Held at Philadelphia, May 1–28, 1884, 234–35, 248, 254, 246–48.

42 “Tennessee's Theological University,” St. Louis Daily Globe-Democrat, June 2, 1884; J. M. Walden and R. S. Rust, “Our Central Church at Chattanooga,” Zion's Herald, Mar. 17, 1886.

43 Longwith, 21, 28–29; “'Negro Cheek,’” The Independent, Oct. 14, 1886; J. W. Hamilton, “Good Students, But ‘Poor Men in Vile Raiment,’” Zion's Herald, Feb. 10, 1887.

44 Hamilton, “The Blacks Must Not Apply”; A. B. Leonard, “Chattanooga University and the General Conference,” Western Christian Advocate, undated clipping in Hartzell papers, GCAH.

45 Hartzell filled two scrapbooks with articles on the controversy, and even he did not find everything; cf. “Items,” The Friend, Dec. 4, 1886; “Ministers’ Meeting. Methodists Discuss the Subject of ‘The Church in the South,’” Boston Daily Advertiser, Dec. 21, 1886.

46 “Bishop Walden at Chattanooga,” Christian Advocate, Nov. 25, 1886; “Independent of Truth and Decency,” Christian Advocate, Feb. 17, 1887.

47 The Independent, Nov. 4, 1886, and Dec. 16, 1886; “Expediency or Principle, The Independent, Dec. 9, 1886; “Editorial Passing Comment,” Northwestern Christian Advocate, Feb. 9, 1887.

48 Wilbur P. Thirkield, “Principle or Policy in our Southern Work—Which?” Christian Advocate, Dec. 9, 1886.

49 “Statement from the Executive Committee of the Freedmen's Aid Society in the case of Professor Caulkins,” Christian Advocate, Jan. 6, 1887; “Expediency or Principle, The Independent, Dec. 9, 1886; “The Churches,” Zion's Herald, Jan. 5, 1887.

50 “The Chattanooga Problem,” Christian Advocate, Mar. 3, 1887.

51 “Color-Caste in Our Southern Work,” Northern Christian Advocate, Nov. 25, 1866. The paper's editor at first doubted the truth of the story about Caulkins: “The Independent's ‘Facts,’” Northern Christian Advocate, Dec. 23, 1886.

52 The Congregationalist, Jan. 13, 1887, and Feb. 24, 1887; St. Louis Globe-Dispatch, Jan. 1, 1887; Milwaukee Sentinel, Dec. 30, 1886; New York Freeman, Jan. 8, 1887, and Feb. 25, 1887.

53 “Action of Detroit Methodist Preachers' Meeting,” Zion's Herald, Feb. 9, 1887; T. B. Snowden, “Upon What Are We Building—Numbers or the Gospel Foundation?” Zion's Herald, Jan. 19, 1887; D. W. Hays, “A Voice from the South,” Western Christian Advocate, Feb. 23, 1887.

54 J. Will Jackson, “The Methodist Episcopal Church and the Negro,” Christian Advocate, Feb. 17, 1887; G. W. Hughey, “The Chattanooga University and the Negro,” Christian Advocate, Mar. 31, 1887; T. Cotton, “Can the Rights of the Negro Be Maintained?” Christian Advocate, Apr. 14, 1887.

55 “Freedmen's Aid Society and Chattanooga University” and “The Chattanooga Documents,” The Independent, Feb. 10, 1887.

56 Govan and Lovingood, University of Chattanooga, 41–44; Longwith, Light upon a Hill, 38; “Chattanooga University,” Christian Advocate, Mar. 31, 1887; Journal of the General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church Held in New York, May 1–31, 1888, ed. Monroe, David (New York: Phillips & Hunt, 1888), 168, 184–85, 202, 451–53.

57 Zion's Herald, Jan. 26, 1887; “The Louisiana Conference,” SWCA, Feb. 3, 1887; Bishop Warren, “The Two-Fold Work,” Zion's Herald, Feb. 16, 1887.

58 H. F. Forrest, “Is a White Man as Good as a Negro?” Zion's Herald, Jan. 19, 1887.

59 Montgomery, William E., Under their Own Vine and Fig Tree: The African American Church in the South, 1865–1900 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1993), 52121, 252, 343; Angell, Stephen Ward, Bishop Henry McNeal Turner and African American Religion in the South (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1992), 7071, 142–56.

60 Hammond, E. W. S. memorial in Journal of the General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, Held in New York, May 1–31, 1888, ed. Monroe, David (New York: Phillips & Hunt, 1888), 584–85.

61 “Denied, but True,” SWCA, Oct. 7, 1886; “Color, but Not Caste,” SWCA, June 10, 1886.

62 “What Nonsense!,” SWCA, Dec. 2, 1886; “When Did the Methodist Episcopal Church Surrender to ‘Caste?,’” SWCA, Jan. 20, 1887.

63 “Editorial Perambulations. On to East Tennessee,” SWCA, Oct. 28, 1886; “Mutterings of the Quadrennial Gale,” SWCA, Dec. 30, 1886.

64 “Too Much Contempt and Wrath,” SWCA, June 23, 1887; “The Cringing Class of Negroes,” New York Freeman, Apr. 9, 1887; “Methodist Policy Defined. In Relation to Schools in the South,” New York Freeman, May 21, 1887; “Still at the Old Stand,” SWCA, Aug. 4, 1887. Other criticisms of Taylor include “A Question of Fact,” Michigan Christian Advocate, Dec. 18, 1886, and “Caste in the Methodist Episcopal Church,” Michigan Christian Advocate, Dec. 25, 1886.

65 Too Much Contempt and Wrath,” SWCA, June 23, 1887; “If You Will, We Won't,” SWCA, May 12, 1887.

66 Longwith, Light upon a Hill, 39; Govan and Lovingood, University of Chattanooga, 47–49.

67 Govan and Lovingood, University of Chattanooga, 45–53; J. C. Hartzell, “U. S. Grant University, Athens and Chattanooga, Tenn.,” Christian Advocate, Aug. 15, 1889.

68 Sheridan, Wilbur Fletcher, The Life of Isaac Wilson Joyce (Cincinnati, OH: Jennings & Graham, 1907), 8792; “The University Matter from a Secular Stand Point,” The Athenian, undated clipping in Hartzell papers, GCAH; “Dr. Spence's Retirement,” Chattanooga Times, May 28, 1893.

69 Chattanooga News, June 1, June 2, and June 3, 1893; Chattanooga Times, June 2 and June 3, 1893; “Social Equality,” unidentified clipping in Hartzell papers, GCAH.

70 For the later history of the struggle, see Davis, Morris L., The Methodist Unification: Christianity and the Politics of Race in the Jim Crow Era (New York: New York University Press, 2008); Murray, Peter C., Methodists and the Crucible of Race, 1930–1975 (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2004).

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