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Sandy Dwayne Martin

clergyman, community activist, denomination organizer, and black nationalist was born Albert Buford Cleage Jr., one of seven children of Pearl (whose maiden name is now unknown) and Albert Cleage Sr., in Indianapolis, Indiana. Shortly after Agyeman's birth, Cleage, Sr., a medical doctor, relocated with his family to Detroit, Michigan, where the father helped to establish the city's first African American hospital. After an undergraduate education that included a stay at Fisk University in Tennessee, Agyeman received his BA in Sociology from Wayne State University in 1937, serving as a caseworker for the Department of Public Welfare from 1931 to 1938. Subsequently Agyeman felt the call to ministry and obtained a Bachelor of Divinity degree from Oberlin College Graduate School of Theology in 1943. Also in 1943Agyeman married Doris Graham, to which union was born two children, Kris and the ...

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Matthew Kustenbauder

a Luo woman, helped to found and lead two African-initiated churches. The third of four children, Aoko was born in July 1943 in the town of Awasi, nineteen miles east of Kisumu in Nyanza Province, Kenya. Her educational background is uncertain. In interviews she called herself “uneducated” and claimed to know neither Kiswahili nor English, suggesting that she did not attend school beyond the primary level. Young Aoko was winsome by all accounts—“photogenic,” “tall with a smooth blackness,” and a “beautiful well-proportioned face” (Dirven, 1970, p. 126).

Against Aoko’s wishes not to marry, in 1957 her conservative father arranged a marriage to Simeo Owiti, a Catholic friend from Njoro near Nakuru. Three years later, the couple relocated south of the Kenya border to Bugire in the North Mara district of Tanganyika. Here, Aoko attended Tatwe a Catholic mission run by the Maryknoll fathers where she learned the catechism ...

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Jeremy Rich

religious leader, was born in 1883 in the Togolese capital of Lomé His full name was Robert Domingos Gonçalves Baeta His family belonged to the small but influential Afro Brazilian community who were the descendants of former slaves who had returned to West Africa His family chose to send Baeta to mission schools run by the Protestant North German Mission Norddeutsche Missionsgesellschaft along with two of his sisters who later became active in Christian ministry as well Even though German military officers only established a protectorate over southern Togo over the course of the second half of the 1880s North German Mission pastors had already established schools in southern Togo in the mid nineteenth century Baeta proved to be an impressive student The German pastor Johann Conrad Binder worked with Ewe speaking Togolese pastors such as Christian Aliwodzi Sedode to create a new generation of Ewe speaking pastors Nineteen ...

Article

Joel Gordon

founder and martyred leader of the Egyptian Muslim Brothers, the archetypical modern Islamist mass movement, was born in Mahmudiyya, a Delta town not far from Alexandria, in October 1906. His father, a devotee of a mystical Sufi order and graduate of the prestigious al-Azhar seminar in Cairo, owned a watch repair shop and sold gramophones, but he gave religious lessons by day. He oversaw young Hasan’s memorization of the Qurʾan and taught him the watch business. Hasan attended Qurʾan school in the provincial city of Damanhur, but in keeping with his father’s modernist religious sensibilities, he went on to government preparatory school, then, at age 14, enrolled in a junior teachers school in the Delta city of Damanhur. In 1924 he entered Dar al-Ulum, the teacher training college in Cairo.

Banna went on to pursue a career in the state educational sector but his life became dominated by a ...

Article

Charles Rosenberg

was born in Charles City County, Virginia, the son of Abraham Brown, and his wife Sarah Brown. (The elder Abraham Brown called himself “Abraham Brown, Jr.” in a 1789 will, but Abraham Brown, Sr. was his uncle, not his father). The Browns were descended from William Brown, born around 1670, sometimes referenced in Virginia court records as “William Brown Negro.” Arthur Bunyan Caldwell, in History of the American Negro and his institutions, briefly refers to the family history being traceable back to England, but provides no details.

The Browns had been free for over a century, and many had owned enough property to be taxable, when Abraham Brown was born. Several had owned title to enslaved persons; Abraham owned three in 1810. His father at various times owned both slaves and indentured servants, including one John Bell, indentured in 1771 Abraham Brown Jr ...

Article

Susan B. Iwanisziw

activist, listed in some records and Philadelphia city directories by the names of Burgoe, Berge, or Burgu, was evidently a free African American by the time his name appears in public records, when he was already over fifty years of age. No information about his precise date or place of birth, status at birth, parentage, marriage or children, or date of death has come to light. The 1790 census records show that he shared a house at 19 Cresson Alley, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, with three other free African Americans, possibly his family. Over a decade later he is listed in the St. Thomas African Episcopal Church Birth and Baptismal Register as an adult of sixty-five years, who was baptized on 23 January 1803. No other persons named Burgaw appear in the records spanning the years 1796–1837 which suggests that his immediate family had already dispersed by this time or ...

Article

Dennis C. Dickerson

physician and social and political activist, was born one of twelve children to Barnett Glenn Cannon and Mary Tucker Cannon, a former slave. He was born in Fishdam (later Carlisle), South Carolina. Northern Presbyterians offered education for Cannon at the Brainerd Institute in South Carolina and at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania. Hearing that J. C. Price, a prominent African American educator and African Methodist Episcopal Zion (AMEZ) minister, was a Lincoln graduate convinced Cannon to attend the Presbyterian school. Work as a Pullman porter covered his expenses at Lincoln, and as an athletic and abstemious undergraduate he emerged as a leader among his peers in the class of 1893. He became one of nine classmates to enter medicine, and like another Lincoln graduate, Eugene P. Roberts, class of 1891 he entered the New York Homeopathic Medical College and Flower Hospital Again his position as a porter ...

Article

Steven J. Niven

sharecropper and minister, was born in the Mississippi Delta, the tenth of twelve children of Miles Carter, a sharecropper descended from Georgia slaves owned by the forebears of President Jimmy Carter. The name of Miles Carter's wife is not recorded The Carters lived a peripatetic existence moving from one plantation to another but never escaping the cycle of poverty that characterized much of black life in the Jim Crow South Despite the hopelessness of that situation Miles Carter was an ambitious man who occasionally advanced to the position of renter Unlike sharecroppers who usually possessed antiquated farming tools and equipment and received only half of the value of their crop renters often owned their own mules and implements and could expect to earn a three quarter share of their crop which in the Delta was inevitably cotton Miles Carter s success as a renter required however that his ...

Article

David Michel

pastor and religious leader, was born somewhere in the South; however, little is known about his early and adult life. He never went to school but managed to educate himself and learned both Hebrew and Yiddish. He also worked as a seaman, during which time he traveled all over the world. While overseas he claimed to have been appointed a prophet by God. He moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and founded the Church of God (Black Jews) in 1915. He probably married and fathered at least one child, Benjamin Cherry.

Cherry maintained that blacks, whom he also called Jews or Hebrews, descended from the Jews of the Bible, with Jacob as the father of all black people. Cherry was not the first African American to claim a Jewish ancestry for blacks. In 1896William S. Crowdy had founded the Church of God and Saints of Christ viewing its ...

Article

Douglas Morgan

founder of the Church of God and Saints of Christ (CGSC), was born on a slave plantation in Maryland. Crowdy escaped in 1863 and joined the Union army, in which he was assigned to the Quartermaster Corps as a cook for the officers. After the war he purchased a small farm in Guthrie, Oklahoma. Crowdy put his skills as a cook to use with the Santa Fe railroad, which frequently took him to Kansas City, Missouri. There he met a young widow, Lovey Yates Higgins, at a church fair and married her around 1880. At some point in the mid-to-late 1880s, the couple moved to a farm in Oklahoma with their three children, Mattie Leah (who died soon afterwards), Isaac, and August. Crowdy served as a deacon in the Baptist church but does not seem to have been regarded as unusually pious or knowledgeable on religious ...

Article

Charles Rosenberg

minister, active in the Underground Railroad, reputed to have founded ten churches, including the Tabernacle Baptist Church in Oklahoma City, was born in 1833 on a plantation in New Kent County, Virginia. By the laws of that state, he was the property of the Ferrell family. His name was variously spelled Dungee, Dungy, Dunjy, and Dunjee. His children adopted the Dunjee spelling.

Five Ferrell heirs moved to Alabama, and sold the family's Virginia plantation in 1842 to former president John Tyler, who renamed it “Sherwood Forest.” Dungee was hired out to Virginia governor John Munford Gregory, and in later years spoke well of him. However, when the Ferrells—who had sold off many slaves, and had a reputation for severity—sent word that they wanted him sent to Alabama, Dungee escaped to Canada via the Underground Railroad in February 1860 arriving first in Hamilton Ontario then traveling via Toronto ...

Article

Kathleen Sheldon

founder and leader of a Nigeria-based Christian sect known as the Cherubim and Seraphim Society, was born Abiodun Akinsowon in Porto Novo, Benin. She was the daughter of a Saro family with kin and business connections along the West African coast. Her father, Rev. B. A. Akinsowon, was pastor of a church in Porto Novo, where he also had commercial activities. Baptized into the Anglican Church in Lagos, Abiodun moved between Porto Novo, Ibadan, and Lagos and attended elementary school in Lagos until 1920. Though she had some training as a seamstress, she stayed with an aunt who was a market woman in Lagos and joined her as a trader.

Generally referred to as Abiodun, in 1925 she watched a Catholic religious procession in Lagos and fell into a trance that lasted for seven days She remained in a coma until Moses Orimolade Tunolase arrived he already had a ...

Article

Monte Hampton

preacher, shoemaker, and founder of the world's third oldest African Methodist Episcopal (AME) church, was born in Charles City County, Virginia. Little is known of his parents, upbringing, or eventual marriage.

En route to Charleston in the 1780s Evans arrived in Fayetteville, North Carolina. According to William Capers, a Methodist bishop, Evans stayed in Fayetteville because “the people of his race in that town were wholly given to profanity and lewdness, never hearing preaching of any denomination, and living emphatically without hope and without God in the world.” Evans's initial efforts to instruct slaves in the vicinity of Fayetteville met with stout resistance from whites. Fearing that his preaching would incite sedition and insurrection, white officials jailed him. Eventually released, Evans continued his evangelistic efforts at clandestine meetings in the sand hills outside of town.

Evans's persistence paid off. By 1802 the public morals of the negroes ...

Article

Eric Bennett

Wallace D. Fard, also known as Fard Mohammed, entered public life in Detroit, Michigan, in the summer of 1930. Coming from obscure origins, perhaps Egyptian or Hawaiian, he peddled “notions”—trinkets, silks, and raincoats—to residents of Paradise Valley, a predominantly African American neighborhood of Detroit. Fard claimed to have come from Arabia, identified his goods as the wares of African peoples, and satisfied his customers—many of whom were uprooted Southerners—by providing them with a sense of cultural identity and stories of a common heritage. At first he moved from house to house, talking of his travels, but soon popular interest in his anecdotes encouraged him to move his storytelling to a hall.

Although Fard initially prescribed foods and moral codes, he began to address deeper theological concerns as his popularity grew. He cited the Bible, not to teach Christianity but to debunk it espousing instead the Islamic ...

Article

Laura Murphy

minister, was born in Hanover, Virginia, to an enslaved woman, and was named after his mother's owner, a British man named Richard Ferrill. Upon Richard Ferrill's death his sister inherited both London and his mother, and when London was eight or nine she separated him from his mother by selling him to a Colonel Samuel Overton for six hundred dollars. Overton eventually freed Ferrill, though the details of his emancipation are not entirely clear.

Ferrill dated his religious conversion to a near death experience in his childhood when he nearly drowned Believing that he would have gone to hell had he died Ferrill made a covenant with God in the belief that it would change his fate His baptism at age twenty was an important moment in his life and he soon felt called to preach At a time when religious revivals in the South were often integrated ...

Article

Stacey Graham

, first bishop of Axum, was the founder of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. His conversion of the Axumite king Ezana around 330 led to the Christianization of Ethiopia, one of the first kingdoms in the world to officially become Christian.

The sources for the life of Frumentius are few. The main story of his conversion of Ethiopia comes from the continuation of Eusebius’s Ecclesiastical History (i. 9) by Rufinus of Aquilea, who translated works on theology and church history from Greek into Latin in the fourth and early fifth centuries. While in Syria, Rufinus apparently heard the story from Aedesius, Frumentius’s companion in Ethiopia. Frumentius is also mentioned in a letter written by the Roman emperor Constantius to the Axumite king Ezana in 356.

According to Rufinus Frumentius and Aedesius were traveling with their philosopher kinsman Metropius on a merchant vessel through the Red Sea when the ship put into port ...

Article

Donald Scott

founder of African American Presbyterianism and abolitionist, born a slave in Kentucky, was a “body servant” called “Jack” and purchased as a young man by the Tennessee Presbyterian minister Gideon Blackburn. Gloucester's parentage is unclear because of his early enslavement; although in 1806, while a member of the New Providence Presbyterian Church of Maryville, Tennessee, he was bought by Blackburn from an undisclosed owner. His intelligence and comprehension of theological principles motivated Blackburn, an evangelical preacher and abolitionist, to unsuccessfully seek Tennessee legislative help to free Gloucester. Blackburn had been born an orphan and moved into the Presbyterian ministry in the early 1790s before establishing missions to “educate” the Cherokee in Tennessee. He visited Philadelphia with Gloucester and freed him under the guidance of the Reverend Archibald Alexander pastor of the Third Presbyterian Church By that time in Tennessee Gloucester had converted many whites and blacks to ...

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Scott A. Miltenberger

founder of the first African American Presbyterian church, social reformer, and community leader. Born a slave in Kentucky, John Gloucester encountered Gideon Blackburn, a Presbyterian minister from Tennessee, when he was a young man. Blackburn converted Gloucester and, impressed by his intelligence, bought him and took him to Tennessee. There Blackburn educated Gloucester and encouraged him to become a minister. Under Blackburn, Gloucester gained valuable experience preaching to the local Cherokee Indians. In 1807 Blackburn petitioned the General Presbyterian Assembly in Lexington, Kentucky, on Gloucester's behalf, asking that he be licensed to preach. A special committee ultimately ruled that he could be licensed provided that the Tennessee Synod approved. In making their decision, the committee noted that Gloucester might be useful in converting fellow blacks.

Soon after the ruling, the pastor of Philadelphia's Third Presbyterian Church, Archibald Alexander approached Blackburn and Gloucester Alexander had long hoped to ...

Article

Colin Clarke

known as the Repairer of the Breach (RB), was born in 1903 to lower-class parents living in Coleyville, a black peasant-farming community in the highlands of central Jamaica. As a young man, he was given to visionary experiences and challenged the teachings of orthodox Christianity. In his mid-twenties, Henry became convinced that Saturday, not Sunday, was the Sabbath, and he was warned by a Church of England priest, the Rev. Basington, in whose congregation he grew up, not to preach against the authority of the Anglican Church. Henry had a vision telling him to read Isaiah 58:12: “Thou shalt be called the Repairer of the Breach, the restorer of the paths to dwell in” (Chevannes, 1976, pp. 265, 273).

In the mid-1940s, the Rev. Henry, along with his wife Gertrude Hewitt (whom he had married in 1932 and their son Ronald migrated to the United States but ...

Article

Born to slave parents, Rosa Horn began preaching in Evanston, Illinois, and moved to New York City in 1926 in order to expand her ministry. In 1929 she founded the Pentecostal Faith Church for All Nations, which was also known as the Mount Calvary Pentecostal Faith Church.

Horn began radio broadcasting from her Harlem congregation in 1934 and her program, You, Pray For Me Church of the Air, attracted listeners from as far as the South and the Caribbean. James Baldwin attended her church as a child, and she inspired him to become a preacher. During the Great Depression Horn opened the Gleaners' Aid Home, which provided food for the poor. From the 1940s through the 1970s, Horn focused her charitable works primarily on providing vocational and religious training to poor youth.