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Marilyn Mellowes was principally responsible for the research and development of the series God in America and has served as its series producer. She produced and wrote From Jesus to Christ, the First Christians, a four-hour FRONTLINE series that premiered in 1998. Additional credits include Vietnam: A Television History, AMERICAN EXPERIENCE, Castro’s Challenge, The Kennedys, Nixon and Julia! America's Favorite Chef.
In the fall of 2008, newspapers, talk shows and blogs exploded with news that the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, the African American minister from Chicago's Trinity Church, had denounced the United States with inflammatory language: "God damn America!" Wright's most famous parishioner was the leading Democratic contender for the presidential nomination, Barack Obama. Trinity was Obama's spiritual home -- the place where he had found religion, where he was married, and where his daughters had been baptized. Rev. Wright, a former Marine with a Ph.D., had served as his spiritual mentor.
While many white voters seemed surprised, puzzled and shocked by Wright's angry rhetoric, African Americans were less so. Obama seized the moment to deliver a profound meditation on race in America, a speech titled "A More Perfect Union." Tracing the deep historical roots of racial inequality and injustice, Obama put Wright's anger into historical context. In very personal terms, he also described his experience at Trinity:
Like other black churches, Trinity's services are full of raucous laughter and sometimes bawdy humor. They are full of dancing, clapping, screaming and shouting that may seem jarring to the untrained ear. The church contains in full the kindness and cruelty, the fierce intelligence and the shocking ignorance, the struggles and successes, the love and yes, the bitterness and bias that make up the black experience in America.
Eventually Obama broke with Wright and left Trinity, but his speech illuminated the role of the black church in the African American experience. Standing apart from the dominant white society, yet engaged in a continuing dialogue with it, the church evolved with countless acts of faith and resistance, piety and protest. As historian Anthea Butler has observed, the church has been profoundly shaped by regional differences, North and South, East and West, yet in both the private and public spheres, the church was, and remains, sustained and animated by idea of freedom.
The term "the black church" evolved from the phrase "the Negro church," the title of a pioneering sociological study of African American Protestant churches at the turn of the century by W.E.B. Du Bois. In its origins, the phrase was largely an academic category. Many African Americans did not think of themselves as belonging to "the Negro church," but rather described themselves according to denominational affiliations such as Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian, and even "Saint" of the Sanctified tradition. African American Christians were never monolithic they have always been diverse and their churches highly decentralized.
Today "the black church" is widely understood to include the following seven major black Protestant denominations: the National Baptist Convention, the National Baptist Convention of America, the Progressive National Convention, the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church and the Church of God in Christ.
Christian History Timeline: Black Christianity Before the Civil War
1619 Twenty slaves of African descent are sold in Jamestown, Virginia—the first Africans sold on American shores.
1701 The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts (SPG) begins missionary work among Native Americans and, later, African slaves. Overall, this Anglican organization is not a success among either group.
1730 John Wesley comes to Georgia with the SPG as a missionary to the Native Americans and African slaves. When his missionary efforts prove ineffective, he returns to England.
1739–41 George Whitefield’s preaching tour of the colonies inaugurates the Great Awakening.
1758 The first recorded black congregation organizes on the plantation of William Byrd, near Mecklenburg, Virginia.
1773 Black Baptists found a church on the plantation of George Galphin, at Silver Bluff, South Carolina
1773 Phillis Wheatley’s Poems on Various Subjects Religious and Moral is published in London.
1775 War breaks out between Great Britain and its 13 American colonies.
1776 Black Baptist churches organize in the Virginia cities of Williamsburg and Petersburg.
1776 The Declaration of Independence acknowledges “certain inalienable rights . . . life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
1780 The Methodist denomination requires all its itinerate preachers to set their slaves free.
1783 Jarena Lee (1783–185?) is born free in Cape May, New Jersey. Known for her powerful preaching and missionary work, she traveled great lengths to do so. In 1827, for instance, she traveled 2,325 miles and delivered 178 sermons.
1782 George Liele leaves for Jamaica
1783 The Revolutionary War ends September 3.
1784 The first General Conference (the Christmas Conference) of the newly formed Methodist Episcopal Church forbids its members to own slaves.
1787 Absalom Jones and Richard Allen lead a small group of Africans out of Philadelphia’s St. George Church after being forced to give their seats to white congregants. (Some scholars argue this occurred in 1792).
1787 Philadelphia blacks, including Richard Allen and Absalom Jones, organize the Free African Society as a burial society and support organization for widows and orphans.
1788 Andrew Bryan, born a slave in 1737, organizes the first African Baptist Church in Savannah, Georgia. By 1800 the church had 700 members. Bryan’s mentor was another slave preacher, George Liele, who had escaped slavery during the Revolutionary War, settled in Jamaica, and organized the first black Baptist church in the Caribbean Islands.
1789 The U.S. Constitution declares slaves “three-fifths persons.”
1791 The Bill of Rights passes.
1793 The Fugitive Slave Act allows slaveholders to reclaim runaway slaves in free states.
1794 Richard Allen purchases a lot at the corner of Philadelphia’s Sixth and Lombard Streets, moves a blacksmith shop to the site, and invites Bishop Francis Asbury to dedicate it as a worship center named Bethel Church.
1794 Lemuel Haynes becomes first black to pastor a white congregation, in Rutland, Vermont.
1794 Absalom Jones helps found and then pastors the African Episcopalian Church of St. Thomas, the first black Episcopal church in America.
1801 The Cane Ridge Revival inaugurates the Second Great Awakening.
1804 The Republic of Haiti is established as result of an eight-year war between rebelling slaves and France.
1805 Joy Street African Baptist Church organizes in Boston.
1807 The first black Presbyterian church (in New York City) installs John Gloucester, a former slave, as its founding pastor.
1807 British Parliament abolishes the slave trade the United States bans the importation of slaves.
1809 The Abyssinian Baptist Church is founded.
1813 The Union Church of Africans (now called the Union American Methodist Episcopal Church) breaks with the Methodist Episcopal Church. Led by Peter Spencer, the new denomination was concentrated mainly in Delaware and Maryland.
1815 Elders of St. George’s Church take the leadership of Richard Allen’s Bethel Church to court, hoping to maintain control of the operations of the black Methodist congregation. They lost before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court January 1, 1816.
1816 John Stewart begins missionary work among Ohio’s Wyandot Indians.
1816 The African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME) organizes in Philadelphia with Richard Allen consecrated as its first bishop.
1819 Jarena Lee, one of the premiere female black preachers, begins her preaching career.
1820 The Missouri Compromise prohibits slavery in all states north of 36 degrees 30 minutes north latitude (except Missouri).
1822 The African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church (AMEZ) organizes in New York City with James Varick as its first bishop.
1822 The First Colored Presbyterian Church of New York is founded with Samuel Cornish as pastor.
1822 An insurrection planned by Denmark Vesey, a member of the African Methodist Episcopal Church of Charleston, is discovered in Charleston, South Carolina.
1823 Julia A. J. Foote, the daughter of former slaves from Schenectady, New York, becomes a powerful preacher within the AMEZ Church, helping the denomination to be the first black church to ordain a woman as elder 75 years later.
1827 Samuel Cornish founds Freedom’s Journal, the first black abolitionist newspaper.
1829 David Walker, a freeborn South Carolina African American, publishes his critical essay against American racism, Walker’s Appeal in Four Articles, Together With a Preamble to the Colored Citizens of the World, But in Particular and Very Expressly to Those of the United States of America.
1829 The Catholic religious order Oblates, Sisters of Providence, organizes to educate “free children of color” in Baltimore. Sister Mary Elizabeth Lange, a free black, is appointed as superior general.
1830 James Augustine Healy, the first black Roman Catholic priest in the United States, is born to an Irish father and a mulatto slave mother. He and his brothers and sisters rose to several prominent positions within American Catholicism. Because of their light complexion they were able to move in the white world undetected as having African ancestry. Patrick Frances Healy (1834–1910) was the first black Jesuit, the first black to earn a doctorate, and the second president of Georgetown University. Eliza [Sister Mary Magdalen] (1846–1918) was an educator and later became convent superior of Villa Barlow at St. Albans in Vermont. She was transferred to the College of Notre Dame as superior on Staten Island during the last year of his life. Hugh, born in 1832, was also ordained a priest and died in his early 20s.
1830 The American Society of Free Persons of Color for Improving their Condition in the United States meets at Richard Allen’s Bethel Church in Philadelphia. These conventions, which were dominated by black ministers, were an attempt by the free black community to strategize ways to end slavery in America and to end discrimination by whites in the North.
1831 Nat Turner leads an insurrection in Southampton Virginia. At least 57 whites are killed before the revolt is put down.
1831 William Lloyd Garrison begins publishing his abolitionist newspaper, The Liberator.
1834 Ohio’s Providence [Baptist] Association organizes.
1834 Great Britain abolishes slavery throughout the Empire.
1836 [Baptist] Union Association of Ohio is formed.
1837 Amanda Berry Smith (1837—1915) is born in Long Green, Maryland. After the death of her husband in 1869 she began to preaching before mixed audiences in the southern Reconstruction and North. In 1878, Smith was invited England where she ministered for two years, then went to India for a year. She then spent eight years of ministry in West Africa, starting in 1881, before she returned to the United States.
1839 Illinois’s Wood River [Baptist] Association is established.
1842 Sisters of the Holy Family, The Catholic religious order, is founded by Henriette Delille, a free French mulatto woman who worked among the poor black citizens of New Orleans.
1843 Black Presbyterian pastor Henry Highland Garnet gives a fiery “Address to the Slaves,” in which he calls for slaves to rebel.
1843 Isabella Baumfree (1797–1883) changes her name to Sojourner Truth and begins a career as preacher, abolitionist, and feminist.
1844 The Methodist Episcopal Church separates over the issue of slavery, forming North and South branches.
1845 White Baptists split over the issue of slavery. The northern group, the Northern Baptist Convention, is now called the American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A.. The southern branch took the name of Southern Baptist Convention, claiming an estimated 200,000 black members.
1849 Harriet Tubman (c. 1821–1913) escapes slavery from the Maryland Eastern Shore. Following the North Star as her guide, she made some 19 trips into the South, and leading some 300 blacks to freedom.
1850 Passage of the Fugitive Slave Law makes the apprehension of blacks, ex-slaves or not, relatively easy.
1852 Harriet Beecher Stowe publishes Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
1853 Representatives from seven states organize the Western Colored Baptist Convention, which lasted until 1857.
1854 The Presbyterian Church establishes Ashmun Institute (later renamed Lincoln University) in Pennsylvania to train black men for missions and ministry.
1854 The Kansas-Nebraska Act declares that the residents of new territories have the right to decide the slave issue for themselves.
1856 The Methodist Episcopal Church North establishes Ohio’s Wilberforce University, named for the famous British abolitionist, to educate blacks. The AME Church, under the leadership of Bishop Daniel A. Payne, purchased Wilberforce University in 1863, making it the first college for African Americans owned and operated by a black organization.
1857 In the Dred Scott case, the Supreme Court declares that slaves are property, even when living in a free state, and that Congress cannot forbid slaveholding.
1859 John Brown leads an unsuccessful raid on Harper’s Ferry, Virginia, hoping to inspire and supply a widespread slave insurrection.
1860 The Confederate States of America secede.
1861 The Civil War begins.
1863 Abraham Lincoln issues the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing all slaves in rebelling states.
1864 The American Missionary Association sends Sara G. Stanley, an African American educated at Oberlin college, south to educate the newly freed slaves. She was one of many blacks and whites who saw the education of former slaves as their calling.
1865 The Confederate States surreder and the United States Congress passes the Thirteenth Amendment, which abolishes slavery except for convicted criminals.
1867 The Consolidated American Baptist Missionary Convention organizes with 100,000 members and 200 ministers.
1868 The Fourteenth Amendment establishes citizenship for African Americans.
1870 The Colored Methodist Episcopal Church (now the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church) organizes in cooperation with the Methodist Episcopal Church South. During the Reconstruction period, the Methodist Episcopal Church South lost significant numbers of its former slave membership to the AME, AMEZ, and the Northern Methodists. At its founding, the Southern Methodists were down to 40,000 freedmen and women.
1870 The Fifteenth Amendment establishes right to vote for black men.
1886 Led by Rev. William J. Simmons, six hundred delegates from 17 states organize the American National Baptist Convention.
1895 Three Baptist organizations unite, forming the National Baptist Convention of the U.S.A., Inc.—the largest African American denomination in the U.S.
In 1998, PBS ran an excellent documentary titled Africans in America: America’s Journey Through Slavery. It’s truly one of the best (if not the best) video series on the topic we've ever seen, and dedicates a lot of time to the role Christianity played in the slaves’ lives as well as to the stories of black Christians in the North (like Richard Allen, founder of the African Methodist Episcopal Church). The four-part documentary is now available on book, by the same title, weaves together primary source documents, short stories (by renowned author Charles Johnson), and narratives and comes up with one of the most innovative book formats we've seen. It’s incredibly riveting, too. And one cannot overly praise the series’ companion website, either (more on that below).
The best online resource about African Americans before the Civil War—perhaps the best resource on the subject period—is PBS’s companion site to its documentary The North Star: A Journal of African-American Religious History, an academic journal sponsored by Columbia University’s Barnard College, also provides information on events, new publications, research collections, and other resources in the field of African-American religious history.
By A. G. Miller
[Christian History originally published this article in Christian History Issue #62 in 1999]
A.G. Miller is assistant professor of religion at Oberlin College, Ohio.
Founding the African Methodist Episcopal Church
In 1799, Allen became the first African American to be ordained in the ministry of the Methodist Episcopal Church. Then, in 1816, with support from representatives from other Black Methodist churches, Allen founded the first national Black church in the United States, the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Today, the AME Church boasts more than 2.5 million members.
Understanding the power of an economic boycott, Allen went on to form the Free Produce Society, where members would only purchase products from non-enslaved labor, in 1830. With a vision of equal treatment for all, he railed against slavery, influencing later civil rights leaders such as Frederick Douglass and Martin Luther King Jr.
The sanctuary still contains many of the historical elements.
that have allowed the congregation to preserve much of its rich history. The stained-glass windows installed during the pastorate of the 5th Pastor, Reverend George Gibbons, can still be found along the edifice. A stained-glass window of Rev. George Leile is located on the external front wall of the church.
The light fixtures and baptismal pool are all original to the church. They were installed during the Pastorate of Reverend Emmanuel King Love. The light fixtures were originally gas, but were later converted into electrical.
The solid oak pews were installed in the main sanctuary during the early 1900's under the leadership of the 7th Pastor Reverend James Wesley Carr. The pews located in the balcony are original to the church. These pews were made by enslaved Africans, and are nailed into the floors. On the outside of some of the pews are writings done in a classical West African Arabic script from the 1800s.
The pipe organ, also, located in the balcony, was commissioned in 1834 by St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, the local white Catholic church. St. John the Baptist passed the organ on to St. Joseph Catholic Church, the local black Catholic church who eventually donated the organ, presumably in 1888, to First African Baptist Church.
The holes in the floor are in the shape of an African prayer symbol known to some as a BaKongo Cosmogram. In parts of Africa, it also means "Flash of the Spirits" and represents birth, life, death, and rebirth.
Echoes of Faith: Church Roots Run Deep Among HBCUs
In the years after the Civil War, there were millions of newly-freed Black children and adults who emerged from slavery worn but eager and determined to get something they never had—a chance to learn how to read the Bible, write their names and words on a page, and be educated. Even before the Civil War, some Blacks in the North were pressing their way forward into church-basement-turned schools and rough-hewn wood frame rooms established just for them mostly by benevolent White Christians.
In 1837, the largess of a Quaker philanthropist established Cheyney University of Pennsylvania, which began as the African Institute, a school for Black children. But years later, religious leaders, local churches, missionaries, and denominations were descending across the South in the 19th century, believing that it was worth it to spend their time and money and do the right thing when they decided to establish seminaries, classrooms, colleges, and even medical schools for Blacks.
John Miller Dickey, a Presbyterian minister, and his Quaker wife were among them. In 1854, Dickey placed Ashmun Institute, now Lincoln University of Pennsylvania, amid rolling farmlands on a wooded hilltop in southern Chester County when he set out to offer training in theology, the classics, and the sciences to young Black men who had no other opportunities for higher education.
But even as he prepared to dedicate Lincoln University (formerly Ashmun Institute), one of the nation’s oldest HBCUs, Dickey struggled to find favor, funding and support from his church and his peers. In fact, on Dec. 30, 1856, the day Lincoln was dedicated, “Hope and fear struggled in each breast as they contemplated the future of the first American College looking to the education of a people ‘despised and rejected.’ With prayer they committed it to God,” wrote William D. Johnson, then a student at Lincoln in 1867. Johnson’s book, “The Nation’s First Pledge of Emancipation,” chronicles Lincoln’s early history.
Led by ‘Consciences and Hearts’
The Board of Bishops of the Methodist Episcopal Church, meeting in November 1866, thought nothing was more urgent than responding to the emancipation of 4 million slaves who were now “at our very door.”
Led by their “consciences and hearts,” the Board of Bishops declared they would act to rescue and educate Blacks. They didn’t wait for Southern states to decide whether they were going to “make some provision for the education of the colored children now growing up in utter ignorance in their midst,” they wrote following that November 1866 meeting.
With the support of the Freedman’s Aid Society, the United Methodist Church responded by establishing 70 schools in the South and Southeast for Blacks between 1866 and 1882. Eleven of them remain.
Today, Bennett College for women, Bethune-Cookman University, Claflin University, Clark Atlanta University, Dillard University, Huston-Tillotson University, Meharry Medical College, Paine College, Philander Smith College, Rust College, and Wiley College are affiliated with the United Methodist Church (UMC). These institutions “are supported by every United Methodist Church in the United States,” says Cynthia Bond Hopson, executive director of the Black College Fund of the United Methodist Church.
“Each church is assessed an amount to pay, and many local churches and annual conferences (a group of geographically grouped churches) take enormous pride in paying their 100 percent share” to the Black College Fund, which is marking its 40th year, adds Hopson.
In 1866, the first Black institution that the church started was birthed in the basement of Asbury Methodist Episcopal Church, where Moses Adams, a Black preacher, was the pastor. Rust College in Holly Springs, Miss.—named for Richard Rust, then secretary of the denomination’s Freedman’s Aid Society—is steeped in distinction. It’s the oldest of the 11 UMC-affiliated Black colleges and universities, the second oldest private college in Mississippi, the oldest Historically Black College in the state, and one of the remaining five Historically Black Colleges in America founded before 1867.
Today, more than a century separates them from their church founders. But on campuses like Rust College, Bethune-Cookman, and Claflin, denominational heritage is proudly on display, says Hopson, who also enjoys listening to a little bit of church-Black college history when she calls some of her institutions and is put on hold or visits campuses where the iconic UMC symbol—a cross and flame—has a public presence.
But, in 2012, with its Black colleges thriving, educating Blacks is no longer the emergency that Methodist bishops found in 1866 America.
“That’s true,” says Hopson who admits the point hasn’t gone overlooked by those in the pews. And the questions do arise about the denomination’s continued support of Black colleges or whether these same institutions that were first established to support newly freed Black youth now perpetuate segregation.
Bring on the questions, says Hopson, a graduate of Clark College (now Clark Atlanta university), an HBCU.
“These are ones that I welcome because they give me an opportunity to educate people about our students and our schools,” says Hopson, who touts Black colleges that are open to all regardless of race and points out that they are affordable, accessible, and still needed.
“No, we are no longer faced with the same emergency for African-American students, but it’s the underserved student who may be Latino, Caucasian, or any student who needs access to higher education that is the concern today. Education is something that United Methodist [Church] values, is committed to, and is still willing to support,” Hopson says.
Black institutions are among the 120 UMC-affiliated schools, colleges, and universities, supported in part by the church.
The Fruit of Black Dreams
The African Methodist Episcopal Church (A.M.E.), founders of Morris Brown College, had a chance to set up classes for Blacks in a White college but decided in 1881 that they could establish their own school and begin educating their own preachers in the south. They named the College for Morris Brown, the second A.M.E. bishop.
“We are unique among the HBCUs because not many were founded by Blacks,” said Stanley Pritchett, president of Morris Brown. “When you look at the Black denominations, the African Methodist Episcopal Church has been pretty progressive since its founding in 1787. Even during the time of slavery, the church was able to come together and form a Black college” in the lower level of Atlanta’s Big Bethel A.M.E. Church.
Historic campus buildings—Fountain Hall, Hickman Hall, Jordan Hall, and Gaines Hall—honor its A.M.E. Church founders and keep Morris Brown connected to its religious lineage, Pritchett says.
Did You Know?
PAUL QUINN COLLEGE
Founded in 1872 in Austin, Texas, by a small group of African Methodist Episcopal preachers at Metropolitan A.M.E. Church, Paul Quinn College began as a high school. But it was A.M.E. Bishop William Paul Quinn who envisioned an expanded campus and broader curriculum for its students that included liberal arts and trades. The college was chartered by the state of Texas in 1881.
VIRGINIA UNION UNIVERSITY
After 1865, teachers and missionaries from the American Baptist Home Mission Society arrived in Richmond, Va., the former Confederate capital, and spent nearly three decades educating newly freed Blacks as teachers and preachers. They used the basement of Ebenezer Baptist Church on Leigh Street as the first home of a school for Black women that was modeled after Wellesley College in the North. From the eventual closure and merger of four of the Mission Society’s seminaries and colleges came Virginia Union University in 1899.
In 1867, two years after the Civil War ended, Augusta Institute opened in the basement of Springfield Baptist Church, considered the oldest independent African-American church in the U.S. The Augusta Institute prepared Black men for the ministry and teaching. Today we know it as Morehouse College.
Shaw University was founded in 1865 by the American Baptist Home Mission Society of the Baptist Church to provide a theological education to freed Blacks.
When the Seventh-day Adventist Church decided to educate Black students in the South, they established an industrial school in 1896. The school became Oakwood College in 1943. Later renamed Oakwood University in 2008, the institution is the only Black university-owned and operated by the Church.
Wanting to give Black and Native American children in the South the Catholic-oriented education she thought they lacked, Katharine Drexel, a Philadelphia heiress turned Catholic nun and later saint, used her inheritance to open a high school for these students in 1915. Drexel and the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament added Xavier University of New Orleans, a four-year college, in 1925. It remains the nation’s only Black Catholic university.
People, Locations, Episodes
On this date in 1816, representatives of five Methodist congregations assembled at the Bethel Church in Philadelphia.
Dissatisfied with the treatment of Blacks in the Methodist Episcopal Church, they organized the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME). Daniel Coker was the church’s first elected bishop but declined. Richard Allen then became the first AME bishop. The Black Methodist church in the United States was formally organized in 1816. It developed from a congregation formed by a group of Blacks who withdrew in 1787 from St. George's Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia because of discrimination.
They built Bethel African Methodist Church in Philadelphia, and in 1799 Bishop Francis Asbury of the Methodist Episcopal Church ordained Richard Allen its minister. In 1816, Asbury consecrated Allen bishop of the newly organized African Methodist Episcopal Church. Confined to the Northern states before the American Civil War, the church spread rapidly in the South after the war. It supports an active home-missions program and has sent missionaries to Africa and the West Indies.
The church is Methodist in doctrine and church government, and it holds a general conference every four years. It has about 3,500,000 members. Currently, the African Methodist Episcopal Church is the largest Black Methodist denomination in America, with about 2.2 million congregants.
2,000 years of extraordinary achievement
by Jessie Carney Smith
Copyright 1994 Visible Ink Press, Detroit, MI
Oldest Black Church In Fairfax Recalls Roots
Members of the First Baptist Church Chesterbrook of McLean, Fairfax County's oldest black church, remembered last week the man who founded their church 120 years ago, with the unveiling of a monument at the grave of the Rev. Cyrus Franklin Carter on the church grounds.
The large granite slab, engraved with Carter's name and the three Northern Virginia churches he helped to found, cost the less than 100-member church about $2,000.
"It was worth it to us," explained Albert Brown, chairman of the church's Deacon Board. "It's good for church history . . . it's a marker that will last for a number of years."
The ceremony took place after a memorial service and processional from the First Baptist Church Chesterbrook, at 1740 Kirby Rd., to the grave site, which is about 700 yards from the church.
Carter was born in Port au Prince, Haiti, in February 1815. When he was a young child, Carter was brought to the United States as a slave with his parents. He was emancipated before the end of the Civil War after working as a slave much of his life in Lancaster County, Va.
In 1863, as a free man, Carter and his family traveled to Northern Virginia and landed at Maison Island, now known as Roosevelt Island.
During the Civil War he served in the ambulance corps for the U.S. government. Between 1866 and 1891, the year he died, Carter helped to establish four Baptist churches.
He also served as pastor at those churches, the First Baptist of Fairfax County, now the First Baptist Church Chesterbrook the First Baptist Church in Vienna the Fourth Baptist Church of Fairfax County, now known as Shiloh Baptist Church, in Odricks Corner, Va., and Mount Salvation Baptist Church in Arlington.
"We're very proud of him," said Brown. That dedication to the church's founder is evident in the Annual Cyrus Carter Day held each year since 1980. Six years ago, church members formed the Cyrus Carter Memorial Club. Members of the club now are working on a written history of Carter's life.
Brown said it's difficult to find out just what Carter did during his early years. "I understand that there is a book on the history of Fairfax County and he Carter is mentioned in it."
A few descendants of Carter, including his great-nephew, were honored at the May 26 ceremony.
Deborah, also spelled Debbora, prophet and heroine in the Old Testament (Judg. 4 and 5), who inspired the Israelites to a mighty victory over their Canaanite oppressors (the people who lived in the Promised Land, later Palestine, that Moses spoke of before its conquest by the Israelites) the “Song of Deborah” (Judg.
Old Testament In answering the call, Deborah became a singular biblical figure: a female military leader. She recruited a man, the general Barak, to stand by her side, telling him God wanted the armies of Israel to attack the Canaanites who were persecuting the highland tribes.
101 African American Firsts
African American history is about much more than chronicling a series of “firsts.” The time and place of a breakthrough reflects not only remarkable individual achievement but is itself an indication of the progress or lack of progress of black people in realizing the centuries-old intertwined goals of freedom, equality, and justice. Our 2014 Black History Month Observance examines the progress toward those goals by acknowledging those who were the first in their fields of endeavor. We at BlackPast.org have assembled the following list which provides the names of the first African Americans in a variety of areas of achievement in government, law, diplomacy, the military, science and medicine, sports, literature, and other fields. Some of the names below like Jackie Robinson, Thurgood Marshall, Halle Berry, or Barack Obama will be known to most who read this list. Other names are less well known. Regardless of their fame, we applaud the efforts of all on this list as we encourage many, many others to follow in their footsteps.
African-American Firsts: Government
- Officeholder in colonial America: Matthias de Souza, 1641
- State elected official: Alexander Lucius Twilight, 1836.
- Municipal elected official: John Mercer Langston, 1855.
- County sheriff: Walter Burton, 1869.
- State Supreme Court Justice: Jonathan Jasper Wright, 1870.
- City mayor: Pierre Caliste Landry, 1868.
- U.S. Representative: Joseph Rainey,1870.
- U.S. Senator (appointed): Hiram Revels, 1870.
- Governor (appointed): P.B.S. Pinchback, 1872.
- Person to run for the presidency: George Edwin Taylor, 1904.
- Woman legislator: Crystal Bird Fauset, 1938.
- Woman Head of Peace Corps: Carolyn L. Robertson Payton, 1964.
- U.S Senator (elected) Edward Brooke, 1966.
- U.S. cabinet member: Robert C. Weaver, 1966.
- Mayor of major city: Carl Stokes, 1967.
- Woman U.S. Representative: Shirley Chisholm, 1969.
- Woman cabinet officer: Patricia Harris, 1977.
- Governor (elected): L. Douglas Wilder, 1989.
- Woman mayor of a major U.S. city: Sharon Pratt Dixon Kelly, 1991.
- Woman U.S. Senator: Carol Mosely Braun, 1992.
- U.S. Secretary of State: Colin Powell, 2001.
Woman Secretary of State: Condoleezza Rice, 2005.
African-American Firsts: Law
- Admitted to the Bar: Macon B. Allen, 1845.
- Woman admitted to the bar:Charlotte Ray, 1872.
- Elected municipal judge: Mifflin W. Gibbs, 1873
- Editor, Harvard Law Review: Charles Hamilton Houston, 1919.
- Federal Judge: William Henry Hastie, 1946.
- Woman federal judge: Constance Baker Motley, 1966.
- U.S. Supreme Court Justice: Thurgood Marshall, 1967.
- President of the American Bar Association: Dennis Archer, 2002.
African-American Firsts: Diplomacy
- U.S. ambassador: Ebenezer D. Bassett, 1869.
- Nobel Peace Prize winner: Ralph J. Bunche, 1950.
- Woman U.S. ambassador:Patricia Harris, 1965.
- U.S. Representative to the UN: Andrew Young, 1977.
African-American Firsts: Military
- U.S Army unit to have black men comprise more than half of its troops: 1st Rhode Island Regiment, 1778.
- Commissioned officer in the U.S. Navy: Robert Smalls, 1863.
- Commissioned officer above the rank of Captain in the U.S. Army: Major Martin R. Delany, 1865.
- West Point graduate: Henry O. Flipper, 1877.
- Graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy: Wesley A. Brown, 1949.
- Congressional Medal of Honor winner: Sgt. William H. Carney, 1900.
African-American Firsts: Art and Literature
- Poet: Lucy Terry, 1746.
- Published autobiography: Briton Hammon, 1760.
- Poet (published): Phillis Wheatley, 1773.
- Recognized artist: Joshua Johnston, 1790, portraiture.
- Woman’s autobiography: Jarena Lee, 1831.
- Male Novelist: William Wells Brown, 1853.
- Woman novelist, Harriett Wilson, 1859.
- Recognized photographer: James Conway Farley, 1885
- Pulitzer prize winner:Gwendolyn Brooks, 1950.
- Pulitzer prize winner in Drama: Charles Gordone, 1970
- Poet Laureate: Robert Hayden, 1976.
African-American Firsts: Music and Dance
- Published musical composition: Francis Johnson, 1817.
- Theatrical company: The African Company, 1821.
- Nationally recognized dance performer: William Henry Lane (Master Juba), 1845.
- Member of the New York City Opera: Todd Duncan, 1945.
- Member of the Metropolitan Opera Company: Marian Anderson, 1955.
African-American Firsts: Film and Theater
- First African American film company: Lincoln Motion Picture Company, 1916.
- Film director: Oscar Micheaux, 1919.
- First Oscar winner: Hattie McDaniel, 1940.
- First Honorary Oscar: James Baskett, 1948.
- Tony Award Winner: Juanita Hall, 1950.
- Oscar, Best Actor: Sidney Poitier 1963.
- Director for a major Hollywood studio: Gordon Parks, 1969.
- Woman director for a major Hollywood Studio: Julie Dash, 1991.
- Oscar, Best Actress: Halle Berry, 2001.
- First President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (The Oscars): Cheryl Boone Isaacs, 2013.
African-American Firsts: Science
- Patent holder: Thomas L. Jennings, 1821.
- Woman patent holder: Judy Reed, 1884.
- Member of the National Academy of Sciences: David Harold Blackwell, 1965.
- Astronaut: Robert H. Lawrence, Jr., 1967.
- Astronaut to travel in space: Guion Bluford, 1983.
- Head of the National Science Foundation: Walter E. Massey, 1990.
- Woman astronaut: Mae Jemison, 1992.
- Space Shuttle Commander: Frederick D. Gregory, 1998.
African-American Firsts: Medicine
- Hospital dedicated to black patient care: The Georgia Infirmary, 1832.
- M.D. degree: James McCune Smith, 1837.
- M.D. degree from a U.S. Medical School: David Jones Peck, 1847.
- Woman to receive an M.D. degree: Rebecca Lee Crumpler, 1864.
- Female Dental Surgeon: Ida Gray Nelson Rollins, 1890.
- Black-owned hospital: Provident Hospital founded by Daniel Hale Williams, 1891.
- Heart surgery pioneer: Daniel Hale Williams, 1893.
- Developer of the blood bank: Dr. Charles Drew, 1940.
- Implantation of heart defibrillator: Levi Watkins, Jr., 1980.
- President of the American Medical Association: Lonnie Bristow, 1995.
African-American Firsts: Scholarship
- Graduate of an Ivy League School: Theodore Sedgewick Wright, 1828
- College professor: Charles Lewis Reason, 1849.
Lucy Stanton Day Sessions
Image Ownership: Public Domain
- Woman to graduate from a college, Lucy Stanton, 1850.
- College president: Daniel A. Payne, 1856.
- Non-white public high school: Paul Lawrence Dunbar High, 1870.
- Ph.D.: Edward A. Bouchet, 1876. .
- Elected to Phi Beta Kappa, George Washington Henderson, 1877.
- Rhodes scholar: Alain L. Locke, 1907.
- Women Ph.Ds: Georgiana Simpson, Sadie Tanner Mossell and Eva Beatrice Dykes, 1921.
- Ivy League University president: Ruth Simmons, 2001.