Methodism and the Negro in the United
Hartzell, Joseph C. (Joseph Crane), 1842-1929
METHODISM AND THE NEGRO IN THE UNITED STATES
The first converted Negro Methodist was baptized by John Wesley.
November 29, 1758, he wrote in his diary: "I rode to Wandsworth, and baptized
two Negroes belonging to Mr. Gilbert, a gentleman lately from Antigua. One of
these was deeply convinced of sin; the other is rejoicing in God, her savior,
and is the first African Christian I have known. But shall not God, in his own
time, have these heathen also for his inheritance?" 1
1 The fact that John Wesley organized a Sunday-school in Savannah,
Ga., in 1736, is recorded on a bronze tablet seen near the entrance of the
Protestant Episcopal Cathedral in Savannah.
Eight years later (1766) the first Methodist congregation of five met in the
private house of Philip Embury, in New York. One of that number was Betty, a
Negro servant girl.
In 1816, fifty years after that first service in New York, the
Methodists in the United States numbered 214,235 communicants. Of these 171,931
were white and 42,304, or nearly one-fourth, were Negroes. Two interesting facts
are, that of these 42,304 Negro members, 30,000 or nearly three-fourths were in
the South, and gathered principally from the slave population.
2 Minutes of the Methodist Conference.
These figures indicate the faithfulness of early Methodism to the
Negro, whether bond or free. These words and spirit of Freeborn Garrettson only
illustrate those of Coke, Asbury, and their associates. Under divine guidance,
Garrettson had freed his slaves. He says: "I often set apart times to preach to
the blacks, . . . and precious moments have I had, while many of their sable
faces were bedewed with tears, their withered hands of faith stretched out, and
their precious souls made white in the blood of the Lamb."
3 Matlack, Slavery and Methodism, 29. Coke's Journal,
In 1786 Asbury organized the first Sunday School in the United States
in the house of David Crenshaw, Maryland. 4
4 One celebrated Negro, known as "Black Harry," was Bishop Asbury's
travelling companion. When for any reason the Bishop could not fill an
appointment the people were pleased to hear him. Matlack, Methodism, 29.
Both Negro and White youth attended. One of the first converts in that school
was a Negro, John Charleston, who afterwards became a noted preacher.
5 Minutes of the Methodist Conference, 1832.
Four years later the Conference provided for Sunday Schools for white and black
children, with text books and volunteer teachers; and all ministers were
directed to use diligence in gathering the sons and daughters of Ham into
societies, and administer among them full discipline of the church. In 1800 the
ordination of Negroes was authorized. Where the colored membership was large,
and it was desired, especially in the cities and larger towns, separate services
and churches were provided. The policy of the church, as to the association of
the races in worship, is indicated by the following from the report of the Board
of Missions in South Carolina, in 1832: "As a general rule for our circuits and
stations, we deem it best to include the colored people in the same pastoral
charge with the whites, and to preach to both classes in one congregation, as
our practice has been. The gospel is the same to all men, and to enjoy its
privileges in common promotes good-will." 6
There were many eminently successful Negro local preachers, whose services were
very acceptable to white congregations. During these first fifty years all the
Negro societies or classes were under the direct care of white churches and
At the close of the first half century of Methodism in America what
is known as African Methodism had its beginning. Difficulties arose as to church
seating and pastoral service, and in New York there was dissatisfaction
concerning proposed legislation on church property. The outcome was a distinct
and successful movement in
favor of separate Negro Methodist denominations. At Wilmington, Delaware, in
1813, the Union American Methodist Episcopal Church was organized. In 1815 the
African Methodist Episcopal Church had its beginning in Philadelphia and five
years later the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church was organized in New
York. The conviction underlying these separate Negro denominations is, that
there is less opportunity for friction on account of race prejudice, whether
among whites or blacks, and freer and better opportunities for the development
of self-help and racial capabilities. 7
7 Arnett, Budget; Woodson, History of the Negro Church,
The organization of African Methodism, independent of white control
or association, in the North, was the most striking event previous to 1844, when
the white Methodist hosts, North and South, were to be divided. In the South the
chief event of interest, outside of faithful work of itinerants in preaching to
the slave population in connection with regular pastorates, was the successful
founding of plantation missions. Thus far the converts had been chiefly among
the more favored or house-servant class. Beyond these were vast multitudes,
probably four-fifths of the two million slaves of that day, where intellectual
and moral paganism reigned. Philanthropists, both in and outside of the various
churches, saw and recognized the necessity of some movement beyond the regular
church work, to carry the blessings of Christian civilization into the gloom of
this darker Africa in America. Methodists led in this important work.
The plan adopted was to send missionaries to the plantations, to be
supported by the planters themselves, who were friendly to the work. Doctor
(afterwards Bishop) Capers was the apostle of this forward movement. The
importance of these efforts of this churchman are attested on a modest stone
over the grave of the Bishop, at Columbia, South Carolina, by these words,
"Founder of Missions to the Slaves." Under his guidance heroic itinerants
were found to brave the dangers of disease and bodily discomfort, and go into
the swamps and plantation cabins on a mission as holy as that which sent Cox to
Africa and Carey to India. Not a few of them died as martyrs, but the places of
those who fell were quickly filled. Volunteers would arise in the annual
conferences and say to the Bishop, "Here are we, send us." This is one of a
sample of all: "We court no publicity; we seek no gain; we dread no sickness in
going after the souls of these blacks for whom Christ died. If we may save some
of them from going down to the pit, and succeed in pointing their steps to the
heavenly city, all will be well." 8
8 Wightman, Life of William Capers, 295-296.
The greatest success was in South Carolina, where, in 1839, at the
end of ten years, seventeen missionaries were employed. There were 97
appointments, embracing 234 plantations and 6,556 church members, to whom
preaching and the sacraments were regularly given. They had also under regular
catechetical instruction 25,025 Negro children.
In 1844, when the division of American Methodism became inevitable,
these plantation missions were in the full tide of success. They were maintained
and rejoiced in by the whole Methodist Episcopal Church. Their chief support,
however, came from Methodists and other friends in the South. In the year
mentioned there were 68 missions in nine of the Southern States, with 80
missionaries and 22,063 members. In that year, white southern conferences paid
$22,379.25 to this work. It is estimated that the conferences in the South gave
for this cause $200,000 during fifteen years, up to 1844.
9 Minutes of the Methodist Conference, 1844.
The "Brother in Black," however, brought the republic an
irrepressible conflict, ending in frightful civil war. So, too, it must be said,
that in Methodism, for nearly a century Negro slavery was the occasion of
discussion and legislation, and at last of division, which Calhoun considered
the beginning of the dismemberment of the Union.
Methodism grew with the colonies, and at the close of the American Revolution
had 84 preachers and 15,000 members in its societies. It was the first organized
American church that officially gave its benediction, through Washington, to the
young republic. Its spirit and itinerant system kept its organizations on the
front wave of every movement of population. Its mission was salvation to rich
and poor alike, regardless of race. Its only test of membership was "a sincere
desire to flee from the wrath to come." Peoples of every station in life, bond
and free, educated and illiterate, rich and poor, political friends and
antagonists, were alike attracted by the impassioned appeals of her apostolic
missionaries. Her form of government brought into annual and quadrennial
conferences all questions of polity or principle involved in administration.
Other churches might relegate important questions of discipline to individual
societies; Methodism could not. Every important matter must be settled by a
majority vote of representatives of the whole church.
On doctrines there were no divisions. Not so as to questions relating
to African slavery. As to the abstract right and wrong of that institution, for
many years there was but little division among Methodists. Later some in the
South talked of the "divine institution," and occasionally a Northern man
claimed that a Christian might buy and sell slaves without sin. The legislation
of the church, however, was clear and explicit to this effect: "Slavery is
contrary to the laws of God and man, and wrong and hurtful to society." All
buying and selling of slaves, then, was forbidden. 10
10 Minutes of the Methodist Conference, 1784; McTyeire,
History of Methodism, 28.
Gradually the irrepressible conflict began in the church. The Northern section
more and more taught that slavery was wrong, and could in no way be excused or
tolerated by the church of Christ, without partaking of its sin. The South held
that slavery was a civil institution, approved by the word of God, and that the
church was not responsible for its existence or
its abuses. The duty of the church in its relation to slavery was taught to
be loyalty to civil government, as represented by national and State laws, and
to give the gospel as far as possible to both master and slave.
For more than half a century the largest growth of the church had
been in the Southern States, and Southern views as to slavery modified
legislation in relation to that institution. On the other hand, with the
development of the West and Northwest, the balance of legislative influence
shifted northward until in the historic General Conference of 1844, Bishop
Andrews of Georgia, having become related to slavery by marriage, was requested
by a vote of 111 to 69 "to desist from the exercise of his episcopal office so
long as this impediment remained." 11
11 Minutes of the Methodist Conference, 1844.
Then followed the inevitable division, and the organization of the Methodist
Episcopal Church, South. Only seventeen years later the Civil War began and
Southern Methodist hosts gave their sympathies, prayers, votes, money and sons
to the Army of Gray; while Methodists in the North, to quote the words of
Lincoln, "sent more prayers to heaven and soldiers to the field" for the Army in
Blue, than any other Christian church. Thus may people of God of like faith have
diverse consciences and differ, first, in sentiment and policies, then in
conviction and duty, and at last prayerfully face each other at the cannon's
mouth in deadly combat.
The years from 1844 to 1846 were indeed momentous in the history of
the American Methodism in its relation to the Negro. That little company of five
in New York in seventy-eight years had in 1845 come to be a multitude of
1,139,583 communicants, whose presence and spiritual energy were felt in every
community of the republic, North, South, East and West. Of that membership,
150,120 were Negroes, chiefly in the South, and mostly gathered from among the
slave population. But now there was to be division, the North to be more and
more anti-slavery and the South to be more and more pro-slavery.
Then followed three Methodist divisions as related to the Negro:
First, the African organizations already mentioned, with their chief strength in
the Eastern States; and second, the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, with a
total membership of 447,961 in 1846. Of these 118,904 were Negro slaves with few
exceptions. This church occupied all the territory of the Southern States
exclusively, except along the border. Methodists in Maryland, Virginia, Delaware
and the District of Columbia, including the Baltimore and part of the
Philadelphia Annual Conferences, and also many members along the border farther
west, did not join in the Southern movement. In the third place, then, there
remained in the Methodist Episcopal Church still (1846) a total membership of
644,558. Of these 30,516 were Negroes, of whom about 20,000 were slaves.
The following twenty years were crowded with far-reaching events in
church and state, as affecting the Negro. Each of the three divisions of
Methodism had its place according to its convictions during that twenty years of
agitation and war. The distinctly Negro organizations in the North, while having
slaves in their own communions, were, of course, anti-slavery in principle, and
sought in every way to advance the cause of abolitionism. Outside of Maryland
and Delaware they had no churches in the South, except one in New Orleans and
one in Louisville. A church organized in Charleston was driven out, after an
attempted Negro insurrection. Permission was given by the mayor of St. Louis to
one of its ministers to preach in that city, but the permit was afterwards
recalled on learning the sentiments of his church. 12
12 Tanner, African Methodism, 72.
During this period of twenty years the Methodist Episcopal Church had
wonderful growth throughout the North and West in membership, church buildings,
publishing interests, educational institutions, and in social and moral power.
Her entire membership rose from 644,294 to 1,032,184. Her Negro membership,
declined. In 1846 it numbered, as we have seen, 30,516, while in 1865 at the
close of the Civil War there were only 18,139. Shut away from the large Negro
populations of the South, and confronted with aggressive African Methodism among
the smaller Negro population in the North calling for separation from the whites
in ecclesiastical organization and government, the field of operation of the
Methodist Episcopal Church was necessarily proscribed among Africa's sons and
daughters. She was, however, faithful to her trust and retained her Negro
membership in church and conference relations, and, as the years went by, became
more and more permeated with sentiments of antagonism to slavery, both as
related to the church and the nation.
To this branch of Methodism, moreover, belongs the honor of
establishing the first Methodist institution of higher learning for the
education of colored people. In 1855 the Cincinnati Annual Conference appointed
the Rev. John F. Wright as agent "to take incipient steps for a college for
colored people." In two years Wilberforce University, near Xenia, Ohio, was
established, with fifty-two acres of land and large and commodious buildings.
The next year the Visiting Committee of the Conference reported the school in a
flourishing condition, and said: "The examinations showed conclusively that the
minds of the present class of students are capable of a very high degree of
cultivation." Under the presidency of Rev. R.S. Rust the school was successful
until financial embarrassment compelled suspension in 1863. One reason given was
the War, and the consequent difficulty of obtaining funds from the South. From
the beginning, the friendly co-operation of the African Methodist Episcopal
Church was encouraged and received. Fortunately the leaders of that denomination
were able to assume the indebtedness which was a nominal sum as compared with
the value of the property. The lands and buildings were transferred with the
good wishes and prayers of the Methodist
Episcopal Church, ministry, and people, and Wilberforce University became,
and continues to be, the chief educational center of African Methodism in the
United States. 13
13 Special Report of the U. S. Commissioner of Education,
1871, pp. 372- 373.
Freed from all embarrassments from connectional relations with
abolition sentiment the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, prospered in its way.
Her territory was rapidly extending westward and southwestward, population and
wealth were increasing, and slavery being embedded in the national and state
constitutions, pro-slavery sentiment prevailed without question. Her total
membership from 1846 to 1861 advanced from 449,654 to 703,295. This was, in
fifteen years, an increase of 162,749. Dividing this increase by races, we find
that among white people the growth was from 330,710 in 1846 to 493,459 in 1861,
being an increase of 162,749. During the same period the Negro membership went
from 118,904 to 209,836, being an increase of 90,932. Efforts to increase the
slave membership in connection with the regular charges were continued with
encouraging results, and the plantation mission work among the slaves was
prosecuted with gratifying success. The largest figures were reached in 1861,
when there were 329 Negro missions throughout the South, with 327 missionaries
and 66,559 members. It is estimated that the Methodist Episcopal Church, South,
from 1844 to 1864, when freedom came, expended $1,800,000 in plantation work
among the slaves. 14
14 Minutes of the Methodist Conference.
The sudden emancipation of almost 4,000,000 Negro slaves meant new
and tremendous responsibilities for the loyal and philanthropic people of the
Northern States. The churches and benevolent organizations of the South had all
shared largely in the demoralization caused by the Civil War, and were without
financial resources. Neither was it reasonable to expect that the Southern
people would do for free Negroes what they had done for them when
slaves, much less enter upon the absolutely necessary missionary movement, to
prepare the newly enfranchised for the responsibilities incident to freedom.
For more than half a century, outside of what the general and State
governments have done or attempted to do, the tide of philanthropic and
Christian aid for the Negro has gone Southward, and will continue as long as
needed. How many million dollars have been expended by churches, educational
boards and individual philanthropists has not been computed. Neither has anyone
attempted to measure the results of the work of the many consecrated men and
women, who have given and are still giving their lives for the uplift of the
Negro race since emancipation. The results are manifest. Already the advance of
this people since freedom in morality, intellectual development and economic
success has no parallel, in the same time, in the history of any other race.
The Methodist Episcopal Church and the two large branches of African
Methodism were in the fore-front of this movement from the beginning. The
African Methodist Episcopal Church had at first its chief increase in the South
along the Atlantic Coast, especially in South Carolina and Florida. Bishop
Arnett, the statistician of that denomination, estimates that 75,000 of the
Negro membership of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, transferred,
ther church relations to that denomination. The African
Zion Church as a factor in the South had its beginning in North Carolina and
Alabama. It is estimated that at least 25,000 of the Southern Negro members
united with this branch. Both of these sections of African Methodism have
continued to prosecute their work of evangelization and education throughout the
South, as well as the North, and continue powerful factors in the evangelistic
forces of American Methodism as related to the Negro. In 1921-22 the membership
of the African Methodist Episcopal Church was 550,776; and that of the African
M. E. Zion Church was 412,328. 15
15 The A. M. E. Church has Wilberforce University, Xenia, Ohio, with
enrollment of 1,070 and an annual income of $145,000. This church has ten other
schools with an enrollment of 4,448, several of which have college classes. The
total annual income of these schools is $309,820.00 There are also theological
classes with total enrollment of 156.
The A. M. E. Z. Church has seven schools with an attendance of 2,128
and an annual income of $43,331.00. The leading school of this church is
Livingstone College in North Carolina, with an attendance of 504 students and an
annual income $13,633.
The policy of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, toward the Negro
Freedmen took definite form in 1866. At the General Conference held that year at
New Orleans, provision was made for the organization of its remaining Negro
membership into "separate congregations and districts, and annual conferences."
If the colored people should desire, and two or more Negro annual conferences be
formed, a separate ecclesiastical autonomy would be granted. The reasons for the
organization of this new separate Negro Methodism are given in its Book of
Discipline over the signature of its first four Bishops. They say that the
Southern Methodist Conference "found that, by revolution and the fortunes of
war, a change had taken place in our political and social relations, which made
it necessary that a like change should also be made in our ecclesiastical
relations." The result was that, in 1871, the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church
of America was organized to be composed exclusively of Negroes, and officered
entirely by members of this race. Here we have the beginning of a third large
section of African Methodism. The new organization started with 80,000 members
made up of nearly all who still remained in the Methodist Episcopal Church,
It would be very interesting to speculate as to the probable results,
could the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, have continued its work among the
Freedmen, which it had for years carried forward with such excellent results
among the slaves. But it is no part of this paper to criticize or philosophize.
This branch of Methodism, second in numbers and influence in the nation, with
all but 30,000 of its
members in the South, now has 2,239,151 members, a few of whom are Negroes.
Commencing with 1883, the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, took
definite and forward steps for the education of the Negro. A Board of Trustees
was appointed in cooperation with the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church. In
1884, Paine Institute was founded at Augusta, Georgia, and contributions of over
$90,000 have been contributed to that school. Lane College, Jackson, Tennessee,
has also been aided. The Colored Methodist Episcopal Church has seven schools
with an enrollment of 2,509 and an annual income of $113,830. Fifty-seven
students of theology are taught in two schools and college courses are offered
in several of their institutions.
We have yet to speak of the work of the Methodist Episcopal Church.
When freedom came, as we have seen, this church had (1864) 18,139 Negro members
principally in Maryland, Delaware and adjacent territory. The Negro membership
in this branch of Methodism now (1923) in the United States is 385,444.
As the way opened during and following the Civil War to reach the
masses of the South both white and Negro, the Methodist Episcopal Church
extended its work of reorganization southward among both races. Her Bishops and
other church officials organized missions and conferences and opened up schools.
Each benevolent society of the church aided financially. The support of pastors
was supplemented by the Missionary Society; the Board of Church Extension aided
in building houses of worship; the Sunday School Union and Tract Society gave
their co-operation, and the Freedmen's Aid and the Southern Educational Society,
now the Board of Education for Negroes, and the Woman's Home Missionary Society
developed the educational work. In 1864, the Negro work in Maryland, Delaware
and adjacent territories was organized into the Washington and Delaware Annual
Conferences. In the other border States where the Negro membership was small,
the preachers with their congregations were admitted into white conferences.
With unwavering and magnificent purpose for over half a century, with fraternity
and co-operation for all other churches in the same field, and impelled by a
conviction of duty to needy millions irrespective of race, this branch of
Methodism has gone forward with its work of education and evangelization
irrespective of race. The results have been very remarkable. The white
membership has grown on what was slave territory from 87,804 in 1860 to 475,641
in 1922; while the Negro membership in the same territory has increased from
18,139 in 1864 to 370,477 in 1922.
Following the wishes of both races the policy of separate
conferences, churches and schools has been carried out in the South. There are
several strong Negro churches in white conferences in the North. The New
Conference elected Dr. W. H. Brooks, one of its Negro pastors, a delegate to the
General Conference in 1920. The Methodist Episcopal Church has thirty-seven
annual conferences in the Southern States with properties in parsonages,
churches, schools of different grades, hospitals, and the like valued at
$63,495,130.00. In 1856 the property of this church of all kinds in the same
territory was less than $2,000,000. Seventeen of these conferences include the
work among white people, and nineteen, the work among Negroes; and each group of
conferences covers the Southern States from Delaware to Texas.
The twenty annual conferences in the South among Negroes have
properties in parsonages and churches valued at $19,767,430. There are also
thirty-two Negro institutions of learning in these twenty conferences with
enrollment of 8,868 and lands with buildings and equipment valued at $6,522,642.
The outstanding professional and collegiate institutions for Negroes are Gammon
Theological Seminary, Atlanta, Meharry Medical College, Nashville, and colleges
in several of the principal cities of the South. The total church properties
named above, in Negro Methodist
Conferences of the Methodist Episcopal Church on former slave territory, is
$25,218,230.00. These conferences raised $1,500,000 during three years from 1870
to 1872 for general church work at home and in foreign fields outside of
pastoral and other local church expenses. 16
16 Gammon Theological Seminary, Atlanta, Ga., has seven professors,
142 students, buildings and equipment $145,000 and an endowment of $500,000.
Meharry Medical college, Nashville, Tenn., ranks A among medical colleges in the
United States, has 43 teachers, 646 students, $350,000 in grounds and equipment
and $560,000 in endowments and has graduated two thirds or more of the Negro
physicians, dentists and pharmacists in the United States. Eleven colleges under
the Board of Education for Negroes has 248 teachers; an enrollment of 4,326.
Only a small proportion are below the eighth grade in scholarship.
There is no separation on account of race in annual conferences,
churches or schools in the Methodist Episcopal Church, except as desired and
requested by those interested. As the result of many petitions and extended
discussions the General Conference, which met in 1876, in Baltimore, passed a
law that the annual conferences in the Southern States which had both Negro and
white members could separate, provided each group voted in favor of it. Under
this action with few exceptions the division was made, where desired. The same
law prevails in reference to churches and schools. The nineteen Negro
conferences have ninety-two delegates in the General Conference, the law-making
body for the whole church. These delegates have representation in all
legislation. One or more Negro ministers or laymen are on each of the general
boards of the church--publication, education, missions--home and foreign,
Epworth League, and the like. Nearly a score of able and effective Negro men and
women are official representatives of the general church boards in their work
among the Negro conferences.
Six Negroes have, been elected bishops in the Methodist Episcopal
Church. Four were missionary bishops, with full episcopal authority on the
continent of Africa. Of these Bishop Scott remains and is on the retired list.
In their fields these bishops were not subordinate but
coordinate with general superintendents. Their episcopal work was of the same
type as that of William Taylor, James Thoburn, Oldham, Warne, and Hartzell,
white missionary bishops in Africa and India.
The General Conference in 1920 elected Robert E. Jones and Matthew W.
Clair general superintendents. The former has his episcopal residence in New
Orleans and the latter in Liberia. They preside in turn at the semiannual
conferences of the Board of Bishops and will preside at the General Conference
The great mass of Negro Christians in the United States will continue
to prefer churches made up of their own race. This is natural and on the whole
the best for many reasons. On the other hand, the door of every church of Christ
should be open for all. At present in twenty-nine white Protestant churches in
the United States with a total membership of over 4,000,000, there are 579,690
Negro members. Nearly three-fourths of that membership are in the Methodist
The total Negro Methodist Church membership in the United States is
1,756,714. Of that number 1,330,409 are in the African Methodist Episcopal, the
African Methodist Episcopal Zion and the Colored Methodist Episcopal Churches;
385,444 in the Methodist Episcopal Church and 41,961 in seven smaller African
bodies. If we multiply the total membership by 2 1/2 we have 4,557,117, which
represents, approximately, the enrolled members membership and constituency of
Negro Methodism in the United States.
JOSEPH C. HARTZELL.