Friday, December 9, 2011

Richard Allen's son found in Texas: How could it be???



The following short essay by Stephen E. Taylor is written on the life of Bishop Richard Allen's son, Peter Allen. Mr. Taylor sent me a copy of his findings and this is published on this blog by his permission. I'm looking forward to reading more from Mr. Taylor!

"A Biographical Essay on the Life of Peter Allen" by Stephen Taylor


Allen, Peter (ca. 1805-1836). Peter Allen, a free black who participated in the Texas Revolution, was among the troops under the command of Colonel James Walker Fannin, who surrendered at Goliad and were subsequently executed on Palm Sunday, March 27, 1836. Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, ca. 1805, Peter Allen was the son of Richard Allen (1760-1831), founder and first bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, and his wife, Sarah Bass (1764-1849). Richard Allen was born a slave into the household of Benjamin Chew, Attorney General of the State of Pennsylvania, but purchased his freedom on August 27, 1783, and went on to become one of the preeminent black leaders in Colonial America. An accomplished writer, Richard Allen published books, tracts, and sermons, while serving as a minister and educator up until the time of his death in Philadelphia on March 26, 1831. His wife, Sarah Bass, who was born into slavery in Isle of Wight, Virginia, in 1764, came to Philadelphia as a slave at the age of eight, obtained her freedom prior to marrying Richard Allen on March 11, 1801, and was active in reform activities up until the time of her death in Philadelphia on July 16, 1849.

In 1835 Peter Allen removed from the secure environs of Philadelphia, a city whose entire black population of approximately 15,000 was free, to Huntsville, Alabama, where only one percent of the state’s black population enjoyed freedom. The reasons for his emigration are unclear; however, it was an extraordinary move considering the threat of seizure and sale into slavery for any free black from the north venturing into the Deep South. That danger became more poignant with his marriage to an enslaved woman, Mary (ca. 1807-1885), shortly after his arrival in Huntsville. Despite the inherent danger, the events that unfolded in October 1835 suggest Peter Allen had, at the very least, gained tacit acceptance by the white community in Huntsville.


Beginning in late October 1835, appeals were published in several Alabama newspapers, including the Huntsville Southern Advocate, urging Alabamians to come to the aid of their “brothers in Texas.” On the night of October 31, 1835, an organizational meeting was held in Huntsville, and a volunteer company formed by Captain Peyton S. Wyatt. Although he was a free black who had only recently arrived in the city, Peter Allen, a flutist, was welcomed into the company as a musician as it departed Huntsville on Sunday, November 8, 1835.
A steamboat transported the twenty volunteers, including Peter Allen, down the Tennessee River and into the Ohio River before stopping at Paducah, Kentucky, for two days. There, Peter Allen and his small group of volunteers marched through the streets playing music, making speeches, and exhorting the local men to join them before continuing their journey down the Mississippi to Natchez and overland to Nacogdoches. Arriving in Texas in early December, Wyatt’s company was mustered into service on December 25, 1835. On January 12, 1836, they were dispatched to Goliad and then joined the volunteers at Refugio about January 22, 1836. With Wyatt on furlough, the Huntsville volunteers were commanded by Lieutenant B. T. Bradford and participated in the Battle of Coleto Creek under Fannin before their surrender on March 20, 1836, and imprisonment at Goliad.


The night before the massacre, Captain Jack Shackelford, commander of the Alabama Red Rovers, recalled that the musicians of the troop, which would have included Peter Allen, played the tune Home Sweet Home on their flutes as tears “rolled down many a manly cheek.” The next morning, Palm Sunday, March 27, 1836, the men were awakened at dawn by their Mexican guards, split into four divisions and marched outside the fort, each group proceeding in a different direction. Some minutes later, Shackelford heard shots and the screams of men as they were being executed. Later that day, the mangled corpses of his comrades were burned by the Mexicans.


Peter Allen’s siblings in Philadelphia, John Allen, Sarah Wilkins, and Mary Adams, claiming to be his only heirs, obtained title to 4,036 acres of land in Texas as a result of Peter’s service. When Peter’s wife, Mary, proved her marriage and filed a claim as well, the Philadelphia heirs objected and a protracted court battle ensued that ended in the Texas Supreme Court. Mary Allen’s claim was confirmed by the Texas Supreme Court, and the suit to deny her claim by the Philadelphia heirs was dismissed.


Peter’s widow, Mary, lived the remainder of her life in Huntsville, Alabama, and died in that city on June 23, 1885. Her second husband, John Cook, preceded her in death. Mary’s obituary recounted Peter’s service in the Texas Revolution and his refusal to save his own life when offered his freedom in return for again playing Home Sweet Home, this time at the request of the Mexican commander. The Huntsville Independent recalled Peter Allen’s determination to remain with his comrades and share their fate when he replied to the Mexican commander, “No, I’ll not play, but I’ll just go along with the rest of the boys.”

Bibliography

“Allen, Peter, Short Local Items”. Huntsville Gazette, Hunstville, AL. Saturday,
September. 17, 1892 page 3, Vol.III, issue 42. Readex: Archive of Americana, America’s Historical Newspapers, African American Newspapers, 1827-1898. Web. June 17, 2011.

Allen, Richard, and Absalom Jones. The Life, Experience, and Gospel Labours of the Rt.
Rev. Richard Allen: To Which is Annexed The Rise and Progress of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in the United States of America: Containing a Narrative of the Yellow Fever in the Year of our Lord, 1793: with an Address to the People of Colour in the United States. Philadelphia: Martin & Boden, Printers, 1833.

Berry, Craig. Hidden History of Kentucky Soldiers. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2011.

“Cook, Mary, Died.” Huntsville Gazette, Hunstville, AL. Saturday, June 17, 1885, page
3, Vol. VI, issue 32. Readex: Archive of Americana, America’s Historical Newspapers, African American Newspapers, 1827-1898. Web. June 14, 2011.

Cook, Mary; stamped page 422, page 8 [handwritten], line 46, Enumeration District 234,
Huntsville, Madison County, Alabama Census of Population; Tenth Census of the United States, 1880 (National Archives Microfilm Publication T9, roll 22) Records of the Bureau of the Census.

Elliott, Claude. “Alabama and the Texas Revolution.” The Southwestern Historical
Quarterly 50 (1947): 315-328.

Foote, Henry S. Texas and the Texans, or, Advance of the Anglo-Americans to the South-
West; including a History of Leading Events in Mexico, from the Conquest by Fernando Cortes to the Termination of the Texan Revolution. Philadelphia: Thomas, Cowperthwait & Co., 1841.

Gates, Henry Louis, and Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham. African American National
Biography 1, Aaron-Brown, Ruth. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.

Gibson, Campbell, and Kay Jung. Historical Census Statistics on Population Totals by
Race, 1790 to 1990, and by Hispanic Origin, 1970 to 1990, for the United States, Regions, Divisions, and States. U.S. Census Bureau. Washington, D.C. 2002.

Hooks, Michael Q. Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage. “The General Land Office:
Preserving Texas History Through Land Records.” Vol 2, No 3, Summer 1995: 9-11, 17.

Jerrido, Margaret. Archivist, Mother Bethel AME Church Archives, Philadelphia, PA.
“Re: Peter Allen’s parents and siblings.” Personal e-mail message, June 7, 2011.

Johnson, Allen W. Dictionary of American Biography 1, Abbe-Brazer. New York: Ch.
Scribner’s Sons, 1964.

“List of those who fell with Fannin at Goliad”. Telegraph and Texas Register, Columbia,
TX. Wednesday, November 9, 1836, Vol. 1, No. 37. Readex: Archive of Americana, America’s Historical Newspapers including Texas Historical Newspapers. Web. June 16, 2011.

Miller, Thomas Lloyd. Bounty and Donation Land Grants of Texas, 1835-1888, Austin:
University of Texas Press, 1967.

“Muster Roll: Capt. P.S. Wyatt’s Co., Hunstville, Alabama Volunteers, From 25th
December to 29th February 1836”. Tennessee Valley Genealogical Society. Valley Leaves 14, No. 1 (1979): 32-34.

Nash, Gary B. “New Light on Richard Allen: The Early Years of Freedom.” The
William and Mary Quarterly 46 (1989): 332-340.

Public Broadcasting Service, Africans In America, Part 3, 1791-1831, Philadelphia,
Brotherly Love. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part3/3narr1.html

Robertson, James M. “Captain Amon B. King.” The Southwestern Historical Quarterly
29 (1995): 147-150.

Schoen, Harold. “The Free Negro In The Republic of Texas.” The Southwestern
Historical Quarterly 40 (1937): 26-34.

Tanner, Benjamin T. An Apology for African Methodism. Baltimore: 1867

Texas State Library and Archives Commission. Republic Claims. List of those who fell
with Fannin. http://tslarc.tsl.state.tx.us/repclaims/133/13300191.pdf

Texas. The Texas Reports: Cases Argued and Decided in the Supreme Court of the State
of Texas. “J. P. Smith et al v. W. M. Walton et al” Volume 82. Austin, Texas: The State of Texas, 1892.

















Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Finding Flora Allen: May She Finally Rest in Peace


I recall vividly one request Bishop Richard Franklin Norris made of me as he appointed me to Mother Bethel in 2008: “I want you to find out what happened to the remains of Flora Allen.” There has never been agreement on where Flora was buried after a 9 month illness took her life in March, 1801. Many believed that she was buried at the Potter’s Field in what is now the prestigious Washington Square just north of Mother Bethel.

Well, I was happy today to call Bishop Norris and share the good news that we now know what happened to the earthly remains of Bishop Richard Allen’s first wife. The Bible says that if you ask, you shall receive. That law of faith is certainly true in this instance.

On Monday, I was contacted by a local researcher by the name of Terry Buckalew. He is a layman who has done a considerable amount of genealogy work in and around Philadelphia. Terry reached out to me to talk about the old burial ground owned by Mother Bethel in the 1800s located at what is now Weccacoe Park (bounded by S. 4th and S. 5th Streets & Queen and Catherine Streets). This in and of itself was news to me and I was happy to find out about this part of our past (even though the story of the lack of upkeep of the cemetery was not so glorious—look forward to hearing about this with Terry’s help at a later date).

Since we were talking about gravesites, I took the opportunity to ask about Flora. Although he did not know right off hand, he agreed to go back over his notes for any clues. I was more than a little surprised to hear back from him before 24 hours had passed. Through accounts found in the Philadelphia Gazette (March 14, 1801) and the Philadelphia Inquirer (November 5, 1889), combined with a little sleuthing, here’s the story he put together.

In 1801, Mother Bethel still worshiped in the first building, the Blacksmith Shop. When Flora died, her body was buried in the basement of that building. Apparently, the church also buried others in that same location until securing the Bethel Burial Grounds referred to earlier. For reasons that are unexplained, people seem to have forgotten that Flora and the others were buried beneath the church. Although two more buildings were built in the same location (1805 and 1841), there is no mention of the small, silent graveyard beneath the worshipers. As generation after generation had come and gone, so did the story of the dead.

However, all of that changed in 1889 with the construction of the fourth and present edifice. While the ground was being excavated, the contractor discovered a mummified corpse and the skeletal remains of others who had been hidden out of view of the congregation. Even then, it is not clear that anyone made the connection that among the dead was Flora Allen. Those remains were exhumed and then re-interred at Lebanon Cemetery (also now a playground on the corner of S.9th and Passyunk Streets in South Philadelphia).

The move would prove only temporary. Less than 15 years later, Lebanon Cemetery was purchased by the new Eden Cemetery just outside the city limits of Philadelphia. All of the remains from Lebanon were kept in the same area at Eden, which suggests strong evidence that Flora (along with those other unnamed founders of our great Zion) is now buried at Eden Cemetery. How fitting that the first “1st Lady” of African Methodism is resting in Eden!

Eden Cemetery, a National Landmark, is “home” to some of Americas most famous Black citizens: Marian Anderson, William Still, Octavius Catto, Francis Ellen Watkins Harper, and a number of the direct descendants of Bishop Richard and Sarah Allen. In addition to the need to restore the monument of Bishop Daniel Alexander Payne in recognition of his 200th birthday this year (see my posting from last year here), we also need to commemorate the spot where Flora rests. She was a tireless co-laborer with our beloved founder and worked until her death in helping to secure a legacy to pass on to us.

Let us ensure that future generations will never again forget where this saint lies in quiet repose. We must put the funding together to place a proper monument at Eden Cemetery so that she will never be lost again. This is certainly something that our entire Connection should want to support.

As you do for your ancestors, your children will do for you. –African Proverb

(Again, words cannot express our deep appreciation for Terry Buckalew for this incredible discovery. For those who wish to contact him directly, his email address is tebuckalew@gmail.com)







Sunday, February 13, 2011

New Bishop Richard Allen Documentary is just in time for Founder's Day!


Thanks to generous grants from the Lomax Family Foundation and the D'brickashaw Ferguson Foundation, Mother Bethel was able to complete a new documentary on the life and ministry of Bishop Richard Allen. DVDs will be available for sale in the near future, but the documentary will remain hosted on the Mother Bethel website for free for anyone who wishes to watch it (http://www.motherbethel.org/allen/version2/index.html). Others have signed on as sponsors to help keep the documentary posted online. To see the entire list, view the documentary landing page. To God be the glory for the great things God has done!!!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

AME Church Prominent in New Memorial at George Washington's first "White House"


Yesterday, I had the great honor and tremendous responsibility of offering the opening prayer at the dedication of one of Philadelphia's newest historical attractions: "President's House: Freedom and Slavery in Making a New Nation". Just over 2 years ago, I posted a note entitled "From the Slave House to the White House" which gives background to this posting (click here to read it).

Although it was well below freezing, more than 700 Philadelphians gathered to pay homage to the 9 enslaved Africans who lived in that house. In many ways, it felt a lot like President Obama's inauguration day. Not just the bone chilling, feet freezing temperature, but mainly the joyful and optimistic spirit that was present. We were standing right on the spot where freedom and slavery lived uneasily side by side. Think about it, it was one thing for members of Congress to debate the merits of slavery or the stain associated with it. But, it was altogether different to live with the paradox.

The dedication service was also extremely emotional for me as a member of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, because the memorial pays great tribute to our founder, Bishop Richard Allen. Bishop Allen was no stranger to George Washington, who was an early contributer to Allen's effort to organize a free African church in Philadelphia. Washington also supported Allen's chimney sweep business, contracting him to clean the chimneys at America's first White House. What must have been the thoughts that went through Allen's mind as he waited for his payment and watched enslaved Africans serving inside the very walls of democracy and freedom? And while he never said what he felt about the unresolved tension of the presence of enslaved persons in Washington's home, Allen did have words about Washington the slave holder in a carefully crafted "eulogy" following the President's death.

The eulogy, delivered at Mother Bethel in December 1799, is now a permanent and prominent part of this National Park Service monument. Through his eulogy, Allen urged other American slave holders to follow the example of Washington whose last will and testament provided for the eventual emancipation of his slaves (however, they could not be free until Martha's death). While Allen knew that Washington's will did not go far enough, he used it effectively to push his cause to end slavery in the United States. Allen's role as an early member of the Anti-Slavery fight has often been overlooked and ignored. Now, however, his role will be hard to miss, as an actor portraying Allen will be seen by millions of visitors on a large tv screen on a continuous loop.

What an honor for the AME Church! Make sure that the next time you visit Philadelphia, that you stop by the corner of 6th and Market Streets to see this new treasure. Then, walk down about 6 blocks to Mother Bethel and visit the Richard Allen Museum.

[For more coverage on this story, check AME member and Philadelphia Inquirer Columnist Annette John Hall's article or Stephan Salisbury's article.]


Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Historic bust of Richard Allen returns to Philadelphia

The following article was posted in the Philadelphia Inquirer Newspaper on Friday, June 11, 2010. The unveiling on Thursday, June 17th was incredible and very inspiring! I've also uploaded pictures that document the coverage from the time the bust was picked up at Wilberforce University, taken to be conserved, unveiled at the First District Planning Meeting, and installed at Mother Bethel. Click here to view them: http://www.flickr.com/photos/48946341@N02/sets/72157623990273341

Friday, June 11, 2010 by Stephan Salisbury

A legendary marble bust of Richard Allen, widely thought to have been lost or destroyed - if not forgotten entirely - at last has returned to Philadelphia, where it was originally displayed during the final days of the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Fairmount Park.

The bust of Allen, founder of the African Methodist Episcopal Church and one of the seminal figures in American history, stands about two feet high and is believed to be the first work of public art completely conceived and sponsored by African Americans.

It will be ceremonially unveiled at a special service at the First District A.M.E. Headquarters, 3801 Market St., on Thursday, said Bishop Richard F. Norris, who will host the service.

The return of the bust, which has been at Ohio's Wilberforce University, overlooked and ignored since late 1877, marks the climax of dedicated sleuthing by members of the A.M.E. church and a Temple University art historian.

Norris noted that this year marks the 250th anniversary of Allen's birth and that the return of the bust, on loan from Wilberforce for at least a year, "highlights the significance" of Allen and sheds light on the treatment of African Americans at the time of the centennial, held in the summer before the end of Reconstruction in 1877.

Born enslaved, Allen bought his own freedom and in 1787 cofounded the Free African Society, a self-help group and the first organization formed by blacks in North America. He went on to lead, with Absalom Jones, a black effort to care for the city's dead and dying during the great yellow fever epidemic of 1793.

The next year, Allen founded Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church on land he owned at Sixth and Lombard Streets, where the church still stands. He was a staunch abolitionist and an early force for the Underground Railroad, and he organized the first Negro Convention - a national gathering of black leaders - in 1830.

"There was only one African American exhibit at the centennial of the nation," Norris said. "That exhibit was supposed to be from the A.M.E. church. And that didn't happen."

Why it didn't happen - actually, it partially happened - is a major element of the story.

Members of the A.M.E.'s Arkansas Annual Conference came up with the idea of a monument to Allen for the centennial, obtained agreement from centennial officials, raised the money, hired a sculptor, and arranged transportation, said the Rev. Mark Kelly Tyler, pastor of Mother Bethel.

In fact, Tyler said, his great-great-great-great-grandfather Jesse W. Devine assisted in the fund-raising and organizing efforts.

The group selected Cincinnati monument maker Alfred White to create the memorial. He crafted an elaborate 22-foot-high marble gazebo-like structure with columns, arches, and decorative cherubim and angels - with the bust of Allen, carved from fine-grained, milky Carrara marble, on a pedestal in the center.

"Men and women could sit and talk beneath Richard Allen's gaze," said Tyler.

By the time the memorial was completed, the centennial was already under way in Philadelphia. The enormous piece was packed on a train and sent east.

But at a bridge over the Chemung River in north-central Pennsylvania, a broken train wheel tangled with bridge rails and catapulted 16 railroad cars, including the massive monument, into the roiling water below, said Susanna Gold, assistant professor of art history at Temple University's Tyler School of Art.

"A number of reports [at the time] noted the damage and the loss of the monument," said Gold, who has done extensive research on the cultural implications of the Centennial Exposition and will discuss the bust at a 10 a.m. talk next Friday at the First District A.M.E. Headquarters.

Miraculously, Gold said, the bust was traveling in a separate car from the rest of the monument and was unharmed. It eventually made its way to Philadelphia and was finally installed on centennial grounds, near the crest of Georges Hill, on Nov. 2, eight days before the great fair ended.

At that point, the A.M.E. leaders wanted the bust permanently installed in the park, but the Fairmount Park Commission refused, citing park "standards" in "a rather snippy letter," Gold said.

"The park had not seen the monument" at the time of the rejection, she noted. "The project didn't seem worthy enough to them - a monument to Richard Allen didn't measure up."

Tyler said that the centennial was held at the beginning of a difficult period for African Americans. Frederick Douglass was not allowed to speak at the exposition, as planned. At the dedication of the Allen monument, J.T. Jenifer, an A.M.E. pastor, warned of lynchings and the dangers of withdrawing federal troops from the states of the defeated Confederacy.

Jenifer's was the only black voice heard on the centennial grounds that summer, Tyler said.

After the park refused permanent installation, A.M.E. leaders decided to send the bust to Wilberforce University, an A.M.E.-founded institution in Xenia, Ohio.

And there it sat for the next century, probably in storage, until the 1970s. After a tornado damaged several campus buildings, the Allen bust appeared on the reference desk in the university library.

It was known to be a bust of Allen, but no other information about it circulated. In fact, when Tyler was attending Wilberforce's Payne Theological Seminary, he walked past it every day.

Who knew?

"No one knew the significance of the story," Tyler said. "It was there since 1877. But the story was lost."

Gold, the art historian, tracked the bust down about a year before Tyler. She had followed small mentions in the press over the years and, on a hunch, contacted Wilberforce. Tyler did the same. They have now combined notes and information to give a fuller version of the story. Wilberforce agreed to send the bust back to Philadelphia for cleaning and conservation - undertaken by Milner + Carr Conservation - and for exhibition.

"The unveiling of the bust and its return to Philadelphia over the next year is an opportunity for people to see something very significant for our city," said Tyler.

"It's rare," Gold agreed. "This is the first time the African American community sponsored and erected a public monument to an African American person that I've found in my research."

After the unveiling, the bust will be on view at the Richard Allen Museum at Mother Bethel for at least a year.


Contact culture writer Stephan Salisbury at 215-854-5594 or ssalisbury@phillynews.com.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Bishop Richard Allen Park










Yesterday, June 1, 2010, was a great day in Radnor, Pennsylvania. Radnor, a part of the "Main Line" in the Philadelphia area, is one of the first places where Bishop Richard Allen preached the gospel. Almost 2 full years before his experiences at St. George's Methodist Church commenced, Bishop Allen found himself in the home of the Waters family, receiving their generosity and preaching the good news.

I was fortunate enough to join Bishop Richard Franklin Norris, Rev. Carlos Bounds (Pastor of Bethel AME in Bryn Mawr, PA), and Bethel Bryn Mawr members in being a part of the dedication service (Sis. Gaskins on the right was instrumental in this day happening). Bishop Norris, Rev. Bounds, Sis. Gaskins, and myself all gave remarks on behalf of the AME Church. I literally had chills standing in that spot!

The neighborhood where Bishop Allen preached has largely changed and a park now sits on the Waters property. Think about just how timely this renaming celebration is in light of 2010 being the 250th birth year of Bishop Allen. Only God could hook things up in such a way!

Read about Bishop Allen's time in Radnor in his own words in the section below in italics. Also, for a more complete story of how the sign dedication came to be, check out the following story by Anne Minicozzi: http://mainlinemedianews.com/articles/2010/05/12/main_line_suburban_life/opinion/doc4bea15299655d312335649.txt

In the year 1784 I left East Jersey, and laboured in Pennsylvania. I walked until my feet became so sore and blistered the first day, that I scarcely could bear them to the ground. I found the people very humane and kind in Pennsylvania. I having but little money, I stopped at C├Žsar Water's, at Radnor township, twelve miles from Philadelphia. I found him and his wife very kind and affectionate to me. In the evening they asked me if I would come and take tea with them; but after sitting awhile, my feet became so sore and painful that I could scarcely be able to put them to the floor. I told them that I would accept of their kind invitation, but my feet pained me so that I could not come to the table. They brought the table to me. Never was I more kindly received by strangers that I had never before seen, than by them. She bathed my feet with warm water and bran; the next morning my feet were better and free from pain. They asked me if I would preach for them. I preached for them the next evening. We had a glorious meeting. They invited me to stay till Sabbath day, and preach for them. I agreed to do so, and preached on Sabbath day to a large congregation of different persuasions, and my dear Lord was with me, and I believe there were many souls cut to the heart, and were added to the ministry. They insisted on me to stay longer with them. I stayed and laboured in Radnor several weeks. Many souls were awakened, and cried aloud to the Lord to have mercy upon them. I was frequently called upon by many inquiring what they should do to be saved. I appointed them to prayer and supplication at the throne of grace, and to make use of all manner of prayer, and pointed them to the invitation of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, who has said, "Come unto me, all ye that are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest." Glory be to God! and now I know he was a God at hand and left not afar off. I preached my farewell sermon, and left these dear people. (The Life, Experience, and Gospel Labours of the Rt. Rev. Richard Allen, page 9)

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Allen 250 Kick Off Event!!!

For a full list of activities during the week of Bishop Allen's 250th birthday and ways you can celebrate in your own area, click here: http://www.motherbethel.org/Allen250.pdf

Monday, January 18, 2010

"The Day I met Dr. King" : A Mother Bethel Member Remembers

Yesterday at church, our current college students recognized college students from the Civil Rights Movement. Sis. Winnefred R. Bullard shared her own testimony, which is re-posted here in its entirety.

Good Morning, Pastor Tyler, Associate Pulpit Clergy, Officers, First Lady Leslie Tyler, Members, and Friends.

Today, I am extremely proud and honored to be invited to share with you my personal experience of meeting Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The day that I met Dr. King added an everlasting meaning to sit-ins and demonstrations.

Actually, some years before I had the opportunity to meet Dr. King, while attending the public schools in Marion, South Carolina, I questioned the structure of segregation. Although, my grandparents and teachers explained and discussed daily, the unjust laws of segregation.

All public places and things were segregated: schools, school buses, public transportation buses, hospital sections, movies, public beaches, neighborhoods, and the list continued.

Therefore, by the time, I enrolled in Allen University, an African Methodist Episcopal church supported School located in Columbia, South Carolina, I was well read and very knowledgeable about Dr. King’s nonviolent stand for justice. I wanted to make a difference and was ready to take a stand for justice; therefore, I joined the student government and became very active. Our student government was very upset about the segregated conditions in the city and the way Black college students were treated. Determined to make a difference, with the help of our professor/campus advisor, we collected the facts about the main segregated movie downtown and planned a strategy of direct action. During my freshman year, two days before Christmas, I along with twenty student government members, peacefully, walked downtown to the movie, bought tickets and sat downstairs in the white Only section. Immediately, the ticket collector ran over and ordered us to go upstairs, but we told him that the ticket did not read

“Sit upstairs”. He told us that coloreds had to sit up stairs. We told him we were college students who knew our rights and we were not moving.

At that point, he said he would call the law on us. We joined hands and started praying. We did not move when the law came; therefore, we were taken bodily out of the movie and told we were going to jail for dis obeying the law. The president of the Student government spoke for all of us…We would all go to jail because we had not disobeyed the law. We were fingerprinted and taken to the State Penitentiary, a prison for offenders of serious crimes.

We prayed, remained brave, and sang “We shall Overcome” from the time we got to prison, until hours later when a Black prison guard secretly told us that Dr. MARTIN LUTHER King Jr. had heard about us and was coming up from Georgia to get us out of prison. We continued to pray and sing all night long.

The next day, Dr. King came to set us free. It was an amazing and joyful time. Dr. King, a tall stately gentleman with a strong confident voice greeted and hugged each one of us. He commended us for recognizing the need to be brave and to personally demonstrate against segregation and injustice. He told us that we had made a great accomplishment and our stand for justice and our values would never go unnoticed. Dr. King took us to dinner and back to campus. When we returned to campus, we formed a big circle with Dr. King standing in the center and we sang, again “We shall overcome”.

From that day to this day, I feel that I made a difference and I will always remember the day Dr. King supported us by coming to the prison himself to get us. Dr. King’s strong spoken words added a lasting in-depth meaning to taking a stand for justice.

By Winnefred Rowell-Bullard

January 17, 2010

Monday, November 30, 2009

Bishop Daniel Payne's 200th Birthday fast approaching!

In a few short months, we will begin our official celebration of the 250th birthday of our illustrious founder, Bishop Richard Allen. In fact, in Philadelphia, several pre-events have already occurred or will soon happen (Mother Bethel at St. George's, Dr. James Cone preaches at Mother Bethel, Drs. Cornell West and Molefi Asante will discuss Allen on Dec. 16). The year will literally fly by as we rightfully celebrate Allen's lasting legacy.

However, as a denomination, we should be thinking and planning right now for the proper way to remember Bishop Daniel Alexander Payne's 200th birthday on February 24, 2011. After Bishop Allen, no other person has had such an impact on the shape and direction of the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AMEC) than Bishop Payne. Bishop Payne was the longest serving bishop in our history, serving as an active bishop literally 1/2 of his 82 years (elected and consecrated in 1852).

During his lifetime, he led the fight for an educated ministry, he purchased Wilberforce University on behalf of the AMEC, and he was the central figure in the expansion of the AMEC into the south in the days after the Civil War. On the flip side, he was largely responsible for defeating the efforts of those who sought inclusion of women into the ranks of ministry and he led the crusade to erase what many today view as valuable aspects of Black Christian worship.

Payne was a controversial figure, to be certain, and his legacy needs to be better understood by a contemporary audience in that much of what we know today to be "AME" had to do with his policies and practices. A proper celebration of his life should in the very least include voices from Charleston, SC; Wilberforce, OH; Gettysburg, PA; Troy, NY; Philadelphia, PA; Washington, DC; and Baltimore, MD. This list is not exhaustive, but just highlights those places where he lived and worked. Clearly, there are others who should be included.

Perhaps one area of concern we can all agree on doing together is repairing the head stone at his last resting place. As you can see in the picture above, Payne's monument is in disrepair. In fact, Bishop Alexander Wayman's (Payne's son in the episcopacy) monument sits next to his and is also broken down. Both are at Mt. Zion Cemetery in Baltimore, MD. They were moved to the current location in the mid 1900s after the original location (Laurel Cemetery) was swindled away by unscrupulous Baltimore city council members and turned into a shopping mall. Prior to this act, Laurel Cemetery was a "who's who" for Baltimore African Americans. The AMEC was fortunate for the action of the Baltimore Annual Conference in saving the monuments and remains of Bishops Payne and Wayman, in that many others were simply covered with asphalt to make a parking lot.

Let's not let the remains of Bishop Payne go through disrespect for a second time. Like we care for the remains of Bishop Richard Allen, Mother Sarah Allen, and Bishop Morris Brown, in the tomb at Mother Bethel, some small fund or stipend should be put in place to care for the site of one of the giants of African Methodism.

If there are interested persons who would like to begin discussing how we best honor the life and legacy of Bishop Payne in 2011, please reach me via email at markkellytyler@gmail.com. Also, add a comment here so that others might be inspired to think about ways we can commemorate this milestone of 200 years!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Blood is thicker than water...

For me, the day was best summed up by one of our members who approached me after service saying how upset she was that she only had one Kleenex for the day. It was truly a tear jerker for many of the 400 to 500 worshipers on yesterday at Historic St. George's United Methodist Church as Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church returned home for worship. Although there have been gatherings of the 2 congregations over the past 200 plus years, this is the first time that both churches have worshiped together at the 11am hour. This is an important point to remember, for the walk out of Richard Allen and Absalom Jones was not an event between 2 denominations, but it was a tearing apart of one congregation. And I must say, it felt good be back.

The service was highlighted by serving Holy Communion with a chalice presented to St. George's in 1785 by Methodist founder, John Wesley. Adding to the significance was Wesley Chapel in London, England (John Wesley's church) singing the same hymns as our service at their morning worship as a sign of solidarity. Keeping in the spirit of pan-Methodism, we were joined in worship by the spouse of Bishop Jeffery N. Leath, Dr. Susan Leath, Episcopal Supervisor of the 19th Episcopal District (South Africa); a caravan of worshipers from Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Baltimore, MD, (which stands side-by-side with Mother Bethel in it's important historical role in the founding of the AMEC); Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church, the National Cathedral of African Methodism, in Washington, DC; and Hemmingway African Methodist Episcopal Church in Maryland; along with a host of other UMCs and AMEs from the local and regional area.

The day was capped off for me when I received a hand made cross from Rev. Fred Day (pastor of St. George's) that was crafted from nails used to build the balcony in which Richard Allen was pulled up from his knees in prayer. Nails, which once symbolized segregation and division, had now been turned into a symbol of God's redemptive power. The nails remind us that in spite of all that divides us, we are united by the blood. It is the blood of Jesus, shed for our sins, which unites us and brings us to a place where we recognize that blood is thicker than water!

In an effort to share the many different faces and voices from the day, here are links to news stories done by CBS, ABC, the Philadelphia Inquirer, KYW News, and photos taken by a reporter with the UMC News. Enjoy!

http://cbs3.com/video/?id=90085@kyw.dayport.com

http://abclocal.go.com/wpvi/video?id=7082155

http://www.kyw1060.com/topic/play_window.php?audioType=Episode&audioId=4111418

http://www.umc.org/site/apps/nlnet/content3.aspx?c=lwL4KnN1LtH&b=5259669&ct=7612683&tr=y&auid=5516658

http://www.philly.com/inquirer/home_region/20091026_Methodist_congregation__split_by_racism_200_years_ago__unites.html

http://www.philly.com/inquirer/opinion/20091101_Editorial__Segregated_Sundays.html

http://picasaweb.google.com/EPAConference/StGeorgeSAndMotherBethelWorship#

http://picasaweb.google.com/lhs1967/StGeorgeSUnitedMethodist?authkey=Gv1sRgCJWLyeGqgP-B0gE&feat=email#

http://picasaweb.google.com/lhs1967/MotherBethelAMEChurch2009?authkey=Gv1sRgCMDxh42p1fjK0wE&feat=email#

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Change we can believe in? A few thoughts from W.E.B. DuBois

Much has been written and said about the recent inauguration of our 44th president, Barak Obama. At the swearing in ceremony, my camera caught the image of the Black National flag in the foreground with the American flags in the background. For some reason, this picture has been on my mind since Tuesday. I think I finally understand why it has been with me. It is related to the words spoken by W.E.B. DuBois over 100 years ago in his classic work, The Souls of Black Folk:

"One ever feels his two-ness,--an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.

The history of the American Negro is the history of this strife,--this longing to attain self-conscious manhood, to merge his double self into a better and truer self. In this merging he wishes neither of the older selves to be lost. He would not Africanize America; for America has too much to teach the world and Africa. He would not bleach his Negro soul in a flood of white Americanism, for he knows that Negro blood has a message for the world. He simply wishes to make it possible for a man to be both a Negro and an American, without being cursed and spit upon by his fellows, without having the doors of Opportunity closed roughly in his face."

President Obama's sudden rise to power provides an excellent opportunity for us to reexamine the words of DuBois and once again ask the age old question: What does it mean to be Black and American? Can these "unreconciled strivings" ever be reconciled? Can these 2 "warring ideals" be held in check without tearing one asunder? Can you have one service with 2 preachers, Rick Warren and Joseph Lowry, both offering prayers and not lose your mind in the process?

What does the "age of Obama" mean for the question of DuBois? Has the rule about race in America changed, or is he only another in a long list of exceptions to the rule? Only time will tell. But for now, we pray for the day when we no longer have anything to reconcile. We pray for a day when our Blackness is not viewed as being at war with our American-ness. We pray for a day when others will value (and not despise) the unique gifts and perspective that comes from being Black in America. Let's hope that this will also be a part of the change we can believe in.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

My 1st Sunday at Mother Bethel: A day to remember












A few weeks ago, on my first day preaching as the new pastor of Mother Bethel, the congregation was hosting the Richard Allen Foundation (RAF) in celebration of Liberation Sunday. The day is set aside each 3rd Sunday in November by the RAF to commemorate the exodus of black worshipers at St. Georges Methodist Episcopal Church on a cold 3rd Sunday in November in the late 1700s. This movement gave rise to 2 new congregations, the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas led by Absalom Jones and Mother Bethel led by Richard Allen.

The dream of Third District Supervisor Ernestine Henning (pictured along with St. Thomas' Rector Martini Shaw and myself), the RAF's aim is to keep alive the spirit of Bishop Allen and the founders of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. While in worship at Mother Bethel, a candle was lit and taken to the tomb of Richard Allen in the basement of the church.

The theme for the day selected by the RAF, you ask? From Richard Allen and Absalom Jones to Barack Obama. My sermon title for that morning, you ask? From the Slave House to the White House. Isn't God deep!

Following worship at Mother Bethel that morning, an afternoon service was held at St. Thomas (click here for the full story in the 11/25/08 copy of the Christian Recorder, #17) on the other side of town. In that inspirational service, we were led back in time through lectures, song, and dramatic interpretation.

It was during that moment that the weight of this new appointment really hit me. Here I was sitting next to the pastor of St. Thomas, the direct pastoral descendant of Absalom Jones on my very first Sunday in the direct pastoral line with Richard Allen on the anniversary of their historic declaration of independence. Talk about putting the appointment into the proper historical perspective!

Not only were the members of Mother Bethel extremely gracious and welcoming to our family on that day, but we also had an opportunity to share with the members of St. Thomas. It was truly a day to remember and a day for remembering!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Press Release: New Pastor of Mother Bethel stands on broad shoulders of predecessors & brings passion for history



Okay, I know that there is probably a much more creative way to make this announcement, but frankly, I'm still speechless. I'll just say "Thank you, Lord!" and thanks to Bishop Norris for the trust he has placed in me to represent all of you at the Mother Church. With that, I’ll let the press release say the rest.


PRESS RELEASE

Rev. Dr. Mark Kelly Tyler, Ph.d. IS NAMED THE 52ND PASTOR OF historic MOTHER BETHEL AME CHURCH IN PHILADELPHIA
, Pennsylvania, the oldest property continuously owned by black Americans. Dr. Tyler is a dynamic preacher and pastor having led congregations in California, Missouri, Ohio, and New Jersey. Dr. Tyler is also a skilled teacher serving as an adjunct professor at Payne Theological Seminary in Ohio and New Brunswick Theological Seminary in New Jersey.
Dr. Tyler has become widely known in the AME Church for his love of AME Church history. His passion and knowledge are not only demonstrated in his sermons and teachings, but also during his recent campaign for the office of Historiographer in the AME Church. During the year-long campaign, Dr. Tyler developed a grassroots following using such efforts as his blog: Tyler’s AME History Notes (www.markkellytyler.blogspot.com).
While Dr. Tyler’s aspiration to serve as Historiographer was not realized at the General Conference, the loss turned into a gain by paving the way for him to serve as the 52nd pastor of Mother Bethel. He is excited about this new chapter in his ministry that fuses his passion for history with his love of serving as a pastor in the AME Church. “It is a tremendous honor to serve as the pastor of Mother Bethel,” Tyler said of his appointment. “This congregation has stood as a beacon of hope for citizens of Philadelphia for more than 200 years. But far beyond the borders of the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection, Mother Bethel is also a symbol of liberation, hope and self-help for members of the AME Church throughout the world,” Tyler added.
Dr. Tyler succeeds Bishop N. Jeffrey N. Leath, who served at the head of Mother Bethel for the past 15 years. Bishop Leath was elected and consecrated the 128th Bishop of the AME Church in July 2008. Elected at the head of his class, Bishop Leath now serves as the presiding prelate of the 19th Episcopal District of the AME Church in South Africa.
Consequently, the pastor that Bishop Leath succeeded in 1993 is Bishop Richard F. Norris the 116th Bishop elected and consecrated in 2000 and current leader of the 1st Episcopal District. Dr. Tyler received his new assignment from the hand of Bishop Norris 2 weeks ago.
Dr. Tyler is a native of Oakland, CA. He is a graduate of Clark Atlanta University with a B.A. in Religion, Payne Theological Seminar y with the M.Div., and the University of Dayton with an earned Ph.D. in Educational Leadership.
Mother Bethel’s building and Museum are located on the corner of 6th and Lombard Streets. It is open for guided tours Tuesdays through Saturday, from 10am-3pm, and Sundays after the 8am and 10:45am worship services.

Monday, November 10, 2008

8 Days in November: How the AME Church Represented Black America at the 1876 Centennial Celebration















(On the left: Bust of Bishop Richard Allen; Above: Bishop Richard Franklin Norris, along with Dr. Susanna Gold and ph.d. candidate Rob Armstrong, stands on the site where the Bishop Allen bust was dedicated in 1876.)

In 1876, the United States of America threw a 6 month party to celebrate 100 years of nationhood. The Centennial, held at Fairmount Park in Philadelphia, opened on May 10 and closed on November 10. Intended to display before the world America's great diversity, black Americans were conspicuously absent and silent.

When Frederick Douglass, for example, showed up for the opening ceremony in May to take his place on the main stage, he was not allowed to address the enormous crowd. In fact, he almost was not allowed on the stage. Although he possessed valid credentials, Philly's "finest" refused to let him pass. It took the intervention of a U.S. senator from New York to get America's most famous black man to his seat. So rather than wait for someone to offer a seat at the table, the AME Church took its' own seat.

Determined to have a black presence at the Centennial, members of the Arkansas Annual Conference devised a plan to erect a monument in honor of AME founder, Bishop Richard Allen. Under the leadership of Revs. John T. Jenifer and Andrew J. Chambers, $7,000 was raised to commission a stunning, 22' high, imported Italian marble sculpture that would hold a bust of Bishop Allen. Every map of the Centennial that has survived includes the Bishop Allen Monument, making it the the only exhibit set up by, about, and expressly on behalf of black Americans.

The monument as intended, however, was not to be. Continually met by delays, setbacks, and ultimately disaster, it seemed as though it was destined never to make it to the exposition. Scheduled for unveiling in Philadelphia on the 4th of July, the sculptor did not deliver on his promise. The committee was forced to push the full dedication back to September, but soon met a new challenge. As the monument was shipped from Cincinnati, the train that transported it encountered some type of accident crossing the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania. The entire 22 foot high, elaborate monument, with the exception of the bust of Bishop Allen, was destroyed in the accident.

Feeling somewhat defeated, the committee purchased a plain 9' granite pedestal shaped like a pyramid and placed the bust of Bishop Allen on top of it. To add insult to injury, the guest speaker for the dedication on November 2, never arrived. Remarks were given by Bishop John M. Brown and the Richard Allen Monument was dedicated. Being on display for only 8 days in the 6 month long Centennial, it must have seemed that all the effort was simply in vain.

But that would miss the larger point. Remember, there was a concentrated effort to stifle the voice of dissent and the voice of the oppressed. But the monument offered an opportunity for the AME Church to say on behalf of others, that which could not be said on the main stage.

J.T. Jenifer at the first dedication of the monument's base in June, delivered a sermon that the organizers of the Centennial surely did not want the world to hear. According to Jenifer, the "outrages and murders committed upon us are the fruits of wanton prejudice, hatred, and hellish passion, suffered to satiate itself under the weakness of the Government upon the plea of State rights." Unlike most speech by black Americans of his day, the words were not relegated to the pages of the black press. This speech was reprinted in its entirety in the pages of the widely read Philadelphia Press for all the world to see.

In closing his address, however, Jenifer did not look back to the pain of the past or on the struggles of the present. Rather, he looked forward with hope to future generations imagining the world 100 years later:

"We are here today before the eyes of all nations to show our appreciation of the American Centennial. We shall not be here the next national anniversary, but our children will be. They will not come as we have come, but they will come greater--come with their productions. They will come in their arts, their science, their literature, and in their philosophy, in all of which they shall excel. Color lines will then be wiped out, caste will be gone; the American citizen, white or black, will be honored and loved, and mind and moral excellence will be the measure of the man."

But the period of hope that Jenifer spoke of in his speech would have to wait, at least for a little while.

Following the end of the expo, the monument committee asked the Fairmount Park Commission to allow the bust to remain in the park as a lasting tribute (like the Catholics and others were allowed to do), but they were denied. Within a few weeks, the monument was taken down and placed at Wilberforce University.

The symbolism of Bishop Allen being "put out" of the park was fitting for the times, for a few months later the period of Reconstruction had come to an end. The clock was rolled back on blacks in America, Jim Crow laws became the rule of the land, civil rights were revoked, voting rights were denied, blacks were run out of elected office, and the greatest period of terror on free black men began as lynchings became common and widespread.

The dream of Jenifer may have been delayed, but it was not to be denied. 100 plus years later, we are the evidence that all things are possible with God. We sit today as the fruit of his dream. There are still giants to face and mountains to climb, but in the words of the black church, "we may not be where we want to be, but thank God, we're not where we used to be!"

Saturday, November 8, 2008

The Slave House to the White House: From Hercules to Obama and the meaning of the black presence in the Executive Mansion











When the nation's first president, George Washington, occupied the Executive Mansion in Philadelphia (at that time, Washington, D.C. had not yet become the nation's capitol), he did a very odd thing for the leader of a newly freed democracy that proclaimed that all men were created equal: he imported slaves from his Virginia plantation to serve him in what would become known as the White House. In the White House, across the street from the United States Congress, on 6th and Market Streets in Philly, President Washington set up slave quarters in the residence that was meant to be a beacon of freedom for all the nations to see.

When talk about slave quarters in the White House first began a few years back, the National Park Service argued that slaves never lived in the mansion. They did not want to mar the image of the executive residence by suggesting that something as ugly as slavery lived there, so they denied it. But on last year, as excavation began on for a new memorial to be built on the site where the house previously sat over 200 years ago, a funny thing was exposed below the ground: slave quarters. A slave house in the White House, just think about that for a moment.

The irony obviously did not escape his enslaved servants, either. Hercules (believed to be the man in the above portrait on the left), one of the slaves that was brought from Virginia, served as the Executive Chef in the White House kitchen. By all accounts, he lived an enviable life, even for a slave. He was allowed to sell leftovers from the kitchen to local residents and made an estimated profit of $200 a year. However, no matter how comfortable his life was or high he rose, he was still a slave.

It is very likely that Hercules came into contact on a regular basis with the free black population of Philadelphia, including AME Church founder, Bishop Richard Allen. In addition to being a pastor, Allen was also a master chimney sweep and one of his contracts was with President Washington. It is difficult to believe that Hercules and Allen (himself a former slave) would not have had contact while in Philadelphia. Seeing free black men and women come and go as they pleased must have taken a toll on Hercules. When he could no longer take being a slave, he packed what he could carry, slipped out into the night, and disappeared never to be seen of again by the president. Hercules ran as fast as he could away from the White House.

Yes, in the 1790s, blacks were running away from the White House. But now, 200 plus years later, blacks are now running to the White House! When President Elect Obama and his family walk through the doors of the White House, they will represent more than just the First Family. They will represent more than just a change from one political party to the next. They will represent, as Maya Angelou most eloquently expressed it, "the dream and the hope of the slave." They represent the dream of Hercules, the dream of Olney Judge (another escaped White House slave), the dream of the millions of slaves and those who died in the Middle Passage before even making it to the Americas. They are a powerful reminder that sometimes, dreams do come true.

Speaking of dreams, isn't it interesting that 40 years after the death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the Moses of the Civil Rights Movement, we have come to the place where God has raised a Joshua to take the movement in a new direction. Could this be what Dr. King saw from the mountaintop that night before his death in his last speech? If that sounds like a stretch, consider this fact: we stand exactly 40 years after Robert F. Kennedy proclaimed on "Meet the Press" that he believed a black man could be president in 40 years. Imagine it, 40 years is the same period of time that the Hebrews had to wander in the wilderness before God allowed them to enter into the Promised Land, and now black Americans have lived long enough to witness that which was hardly a dream just one generation ago.

But that is glory of what only God can do. God can move you from the "slave house" in life and place you in the "White House" even though all the odds are against you. Someone said it this way, "He picked me up, turned me around, and placed my feet on solid ground." For what we have witnessed on this past week, to God be the glory!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

A Day in November to Remember: Revisting the Camden Election Riots of 1870


On Tuesday morning, November 8, 1870, the Philadelphia Press newspaper ran the following blurb about the day's coming election: The election polls in the various precincts and townships of Camden county [sic] this morning open at seven o'clock and close at seven this evening. By the next morning, the same paper ran the following headline on the front page: Election Outrage in Camden! The "election outrage" would ultimately lead to the conviction of a white police officer, the severe wounding of numerous innocent black men, and the death of Theophilus Little, a black man who died of wounds received at the polling place while trying to exercise his right to vote.

This event was nothing less than an act of domestic terrorism on the black residents of Camden, yet, it is amazing that this story is not widely known by many people in the area. Thanks to the coverage from the Christian Recorder, the Philadelphia Press, the New York Times, and the ultra conservative Camden Democrat (the Fox News Channel of the day), it was not too difficult reconstructing the events of that day. In Philadelphia, a statue is being planned in honor of Octavius Catto, a local school teacher killed in the Philadelphia election riots in 1871. However, the seeds for that riot were planted one year earlier right across the river in Camden. In fact, it is highly likely that some of the same thugs (many of whom happened to be off duty Philadelphia police officers) were involved in both the 1870 and the 1871 riots.

Before heading to the polls on that fateful Tuesday morning, black citizens of Camden had already received word of voter suppression and intimidation waiting for them if they dared to exercise their newly guaranteed right under the 15th Amendment. For that reason, many of the men gathered early in the morning to vote as a group before a mob had a chance to gather. They formed 2 lines determined that no one would break them and they marched down to what is now Centerville in Camden to cast their ballots. What they did not know at the time, was that this was no ordinary mob waiting for them.

The mob, in this case, was led by the very persons who had sworn to serve and protect the citizenry, regardless of race and class. The leader was Constable Thomas Souder, backed up by Justice of the Peace James Henry and Attorney Samuel Davis. Attorney Davis' job was to challenge black voters to determine if they were "qualified" to vote (Wow, sounds vaguely familiar). This group of "peace officers" was backed up by a notorious group from across the Delaware River known as "Fox's Police." Mayor Fox of Philadelphia was no friend to black voters. In fact, as the riots occurred in Camden, black men who arrived in Philadelphia from New Jersey on the ferries that same day were immediately met by uniformed Philadelphia police officers and arrested for suspicion of voter fraud.

As the election went on back in Centerville, the "peace officers" recognized that the vote was not going their way. The new black vote, representing some 300 persons, would represent a major shift in local politics if it continued. Seeing that they could find no legal reason to stop them from voting, the Constable and Justice of the Peace led the off duty Philadelphia officers and others right into the lines of black men. They began beating them with blackjacks, clubs, and pistols. Charles Williams was shot as he tried to get off the floor and Theophilus Little was hit so hard, he would die within days. The black men were driven out of the polling place where they reformed their lines.

What happened next was not exactly a scene from the Civil Rights Movement or an episode of "Eyes on the Prize", as attested to by the Philadelphia Press:

"The colored men, rallying in their turn, drove their assailants from the polling place.[Justice of the Peace] Henry was badly injured; his nose was broken and he was severely cut about the head. Henry Thomas, who was engaged with [Constable] Souder and Henry in the attack upon the blacks, was also severely beaten. From this time until late in the afternoon everything was quiet."

Having no one there to protect their rights, this group of black men stormed the polling place against an armed mob of peace officers and took their right to vote!

I wish that I could report that this was the end of the violence that day, but it wasn't. The mob simply waited for a more opportune moment. Late in the afternoon, the mob stormed into the polling place, stole the ballot box, took it outside and began to smash it to pieces! This time, Sheriff Morgan and the mayor of Camden stood up for the rights of their black citizens and called on the National Guard troop to restore order. Led by Colonel J.M. Scovel, order was restored, blacks were able to complete the voting process, and the white peace officers were arrested and held over for trial.

What is truly remarkable about this story is that the U.S. District Court did not merely slap the hands of the peace officers in this incident. Bail was set on each person arrested and not one defendant was released until their role was thoroughly examined by the federal authorities. The efforts of the U.S. District Attorney in the case led to the indictment of 23 persons and Constable Souders was the first to go to trial. The trial lasted only 2 weeks in 1871 and a guilty verdict was returned. While I have not been able to determine at the writing of this post the results in the remaining indictments, it is clear that this was a moment celebrated by the victims of the rioting on that fateful day in November.

This is a timely reminder for those of us who might complain about standing on a long line on November 4, 2008. Yes, you may have to give up some time and convenience to cast your vote because of the expected high voter turnout, but isn't that a small price to pay when we consider what others have done on our behalf? When those men shed their blood in 1870, it wasn't just for them. They shed it for those of us today who they would never, ever know. They shed it so that we would not have to shed ours. We owe it to them to show up to the polls and cast our vote. The blood of the martyrs cries out that we show up and cast our vote every time the polls open. Whether or not there is a black man on the ticket as president is irrelevant, voting for black Americans should been viewed as a sacred obligation. After all, isn't it the very least that we can do?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Underground Railroad History made in South Jersey AME Church








Above is a trap door used to hide escaping slaves. To the right is the pastor of Jacob's Chapel, the Rev. Terrell Person, my colleague on the Camden-Trenton District.

[This article is reprinted here from the Courier Post Newspaper, October 22, 2008, by Lavinia DeCastro, www.courierpostonline.com]

MOUNT LAUREL Members of Jacob's Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Mount Laurel celebrated their congregation's 195th birthday by remembering the past and preparing for the future.

During a ceremony last week, Jacob's Chapel launched the "Join The Journey Capital" campaign to raise $1 million over the next three years to preserve the church's two historic buildings (Jacob's Chapel and the Colemantown Meeting House) and Civil War cemetery. The money will also be used to buy land to erect a new building to house a growing membership.

"We want to bring these buildings back to the way it was in the past with the pot-bellied stove and stained glass window," Pastor Terrell W. Person said.

Housing one of the oldest African-American congregations in the state, the church was established in 1813. It was part of the Underground Railroad, which allowed escaped Southern slaves to reach the North.

A key player in the development of the Underground Railroad was Medford-born William Still, son of slaves Charity and Levin Still, who escaped long before the formal railroad route was devised.

Most of the Still family is buried at the church's cemetery, including Dr. James Still, the famous "Black Doctor of the Pines" and herbalist.

The congregation first met in the Colemantown Meeting House, believed to be among the oldest original black church buildings in the nation. Inside, hand-hewn beams outline the frame of the Quaker-built structure, which is still used for Sunday school.

In 1850, the congregation built a new church on land donated by a local Quaker, Albert Jacob. Jacob's Chapel is named after him.

"We have an opportunity to preserve this history right now and we must," said Department of Environmental Protection Deputy Commissioner John S. Watson Jr., the keynote speaker at the event. "Our duty as public servants is to preserve these places and to help people understand why they're important."

Watson vowed to help the church list its structures on the state and national Register of Historic Places and secure state funds for preservation.

"We stand with you in spirit and resources," Watson told the more than 100 people who attended Saturday's event.

In addition to restoring the congregation's historic structures and archives, Person said he wants to purchase five more acres of land to build a 300- to 400-seat sanctuary and community development center.

"The past is important, but we also have a community to take care of," said Person, a descendant of Dr. James Still.

The church already owns four acres across the street from the Elbo Lane chapel.

"The people who have gone before us, the Harriet Tubmans, the William Stills, the Quakers, they have laid down such a foundation for us," said Charles Buffington II, the lead consultant for the capital campaign. "We share their treasure, but it takes money for restoration, it takes money for development, it takes money to build a house of faith."

Helen Gaines, of Moorestown, has a great-uncle, Civil War veteran George Robinson, buried at the cemetery.

"I've been here ever since I was born," Gaines said. "I'm looking forward to restoring this church."

Reach Lavinia DeCastro at (856) 486-2652 or ldecastro@courierpostonline.com

[To contact the Jacob's Chapel to assist in their Capital Campaign, call 856-235-7900.]