Monday, Feb. 13, 1950
The Rev. Reverdy Cassius Ransom is one of the patriarchs of Negro religious life in the U.S. The oldest bishop in one of the country's oldest Negro denominations, the African Methodist Episcopal Church,* frail-looking Bishop Ransom, 88, still works—as research director—for the church he has served for more than 60 years. In the current issue of the picture magazine Ebony, Reverdy Ransom writes his "Confessions of a Bishop," a gentle, detached look into some of the trials and triumphs of a man who has ministered well to his people.
During his childhood in Flushing, Ohio, Reverdy knew "constant hunger; the old distillery near grandfather Ransom's house, and regular visits there to get 10¢ or 15¢ worth of whisky in a tin bucket; the unswerving religious devotion in our small community; no toys and little play; only a candy peach at Christmas; and my mother toiling to support me."
Racket & Revolver. Reverdy was a normally mischievous boy who learned to swear and smoke and pilfer, but his mother did her best to counteract the effects of poverty and slums by encouraging her son in the religious life. When he finally decided to become a minister after graduating from Wilberforce University, she was delighted. But his farmer father exclaimed: "You're a fool to spend your life going through the world making your living off the damned niggers!"
In 1896 Ransom became pastor of the Institutional A.M.E. Church on Chicago's South Side. He was shocked by the policy rackets in the big city: "Even the church members were using my Sunday texts as guides for selecting numbers to be played during the week." Determined to stop it, he conducted his own investigation, then announced a series of sermons which would reveal "the so-called respectable citizens who were backing this underworld industry." His office was promptly dynamited, says Reverdy Ransom, but he went right ahead with his campaign: "I delivered my sermons with a loaded revolver always within easy reach."
Something Doing. Ransom came to Bethel Church in New York's Harlem in 1907, and shocked fellow ministers by opening a mission in a store-front "flanked on one side by a notorious gambling joint and on the other by one of the biggest sporting houses in New York. I'm told it housed as many as 60 girls." He came to be a respected friend to both girls and gamblers; sometimes dead-broke streetwalkers "timidly would . . . ask: 'Will you lend me a dollar, Reverend?' And I always would." Once, he remembers, a prostitute new to the district asked him coyly: "Anything doing tonight?" Replied he: "No, but I am Pastor Ransom . . . and if you ever get sick or in trouble and have no one to turn to, either you come or send for me and I think there will be 'something doing.' "
Old Bishop Ransom's appraisal of his own busy life is tempered with Christian humility. "I cannot say that I have always been a servant of exceptional faithfulness," he writes, "nor can I say that in my role of bishop my decisions have always been unquestionably right. I may perhaps have made some hearts richer, some minds clearer, and inspired some to more noble prompting, and if so, I am indeed happy."
* Founded in 1816, the A.M.E. Church is the third largest Negro denomination, with 816,578 members. The two biggest: National Baptist Convention, U.S.A., Inc.: 4,385,206; National Baptist Convention of America: 2,580,921.