Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Alexander Crummell

Today in the Episcopal Church, we remember the Rev. Alexander Crummell. Priest, scholar, missionary, abolitionist, and writer, he had the courage and tenacity to pursue his vocation in the Episcopal Church at a time when only white men were welcomed as priests. He finally found a home in the Diocese of Massachusetts and was ordained to the diaconate in 1842 and the priesthood in 1844. He earned a degree in Cambridge (UK) in 1853 while serving as a parish priest there, and continued on to work in Liberia before returning to the US.  He is one of the founders of what is now the Union of Black Episcopalians.

The Rev. Alexander Crummell, 1877 -

The Union of Black Episcopalians offers a good biographical sketch:

The Rev. Alexander Crummel’s Biography:
Born March 3, 1819 in New York City, Alexander Crummell struggled against racism all his life. As a young man he was driven out of an academy in New Hampshire, dismissed as a candidate for Holy Orders in New York and rejected for admittance to General Seminary. Ordained in 1844 as a priest in the Diocese of Massachusetts, he left for England after being excluded from participating in diocesan convention.
After receiving a degree from Cambridge he went to Liberia as a missionary. A model Christian republic seemed possible in Liberia. He traveled extensively in the United States urging blacks to immigrate to Liberia and support the work of the Church there. On returning to Liberia he worked to establish a national Episcopal Church. Political opposition and a lack of funding finally forced him to return to the United States.
He concentrated his efforts on establishing a strong urban presence of independent black congregations that would be centers of worship, education and social service. When southern bishops proposed that a separate missionary district be created for black congregations, Crummell created  a national convocation to fight the proposal. The Union of Black Episcopalians is an outgrowth of that organization.
His faith in God, his preseverance in spite of repeated discouragement, his perception that the Church transcended the racism and limited vision of its rulers, and his unfailing belief in the goodness and greatness of black people are the legacy of the Afro-American pioneer. 

From Dr. Sarah Meer, a lecturer at Cambridge University, one of Alexander Crummell's alma maters:

W.E.B. DuBois himself writes of Crummell.  Here is the pertinent chapter, via YouTube audio books:

The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B Du Bois - Chapter 12: Of Alexander Crummell:

You may also read this online here:

I am also interested to see that Stanford University has him listed in their Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Clearly he is not only a church pioneer, but a secular scholar as well.  Since this is not the focus of the church biographies, I had not realized that until now. 

Alexander Crummell (1819–1898) was the most prominent rationalist of the black American enlightenment thinkers in the nineteenth-century. He stands out among his contemporaries—Frederick Douglass, Anna Julia Cooper, Booker T. Washington, most notably—for his robust defense of the central place of reason in moral agency. His attempts to work out the consequences of that view for the nature of language and history lends his philosophy a breadth and depth not matched by other enlightenment thinkers.

His papers are among those of the New York City Public Library Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.

Almighty and everlasting God, we thank you for your servant Alexander Crummell, whom you called to preach the Gospel to those who were far off and to those who were near. Raise up in this and every land evangelists and heralds of your kingdom, that your Church may proclaim the unsearchable riches of our Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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