Alexander Crummell (March 3, 1819 – September 10, 1898) was a pioneering African-American minister, academic and African nationalist. Ordained as an Episcopal priest in the United States, Crummell went to England in the late 1840s to raise money for his church by lecturing about American slavery. Abolitionists supported his three years of study at Cambridge University, where Crummell developed concepts of pan-Africanism.

In 1853 Crummell moved to Liberia, where he worked to convert native Africans to Christianity and educate them, as well as to persuade American colonists of his ideas. He wanted to attract American blacks to Africa on a colonial, civilizing mission. Crummell lived and worked for 20 years in Liberia and appealed to American blacks to join him, but did not gather wide support for his ideas.

After returning to the United States in 1872, Crummell was called to St. Mary’s Episcopal Mission in Washington, DC. In 1875, he and his congregation founded St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, the first independent black Episcopal church in the city. They built a new church on 15th Street, NW, beginning in 1876, and celebrated their first Thanksgiving there in 1879. Crummell served as rector there until his retirement in 1894. The church was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1976.

Crummell was born in New York City to Charity Hicks, a free woman of color, and Boston Crummell, a former slave. According to Crummell’s own account, his paternal grandfather was an ethnic Temne born in Sierra Leone, who was captured into slavery when he was around 13 years old. Both parents were active abolitionists and allowed their home to be used to publish the first African-American newspaper, Freedom’s Journal. Boston Crummell instilled in his son a sense of unity with Africans living in Africa. His parents’ influence and these early experiences within the abolitionist movement shaped Crummell’s values, beliefs, and actions throughout the rest of his life. For example, even as a boy in New York, Crummell worked for the American Anti-Slavery Society.

Denied admission to the General Theological Seminary in New York City because of his race, Crummell went on to study and receive holy orders; he was ordained in 1842 in Massachusetts. As he struggled against ambivalence and low church attendance, Crummell took a trip to Philadelphia to petition the area bishop for a larger congregation, as Philadelphia had a large free black community. Bishop Onderdonk replied, “I will receive you into this diocese on one condition: No negro priest can sit in my church convention and no negro church must ask for representation there.” Crummell is said to have paused for a moment, and then said: “I will never enter your diocese on such terms.”

In 1847, Crummell traveled to England to raise money for his congregation at the Church of the Messiah. While there, Crummell preached spoke about abolitionism in the United States and raised almost $2,000. From 1849 to 1853, Crummell studied at Queens’ College, Cambridge, sponsored by Benjamin Brodie, William Wilberforce, Arthur Penrhyn Stanley, James Anthony Froude, and Thomas Babington Macaulay. Although Crummell had to take his finals twice to receive his degree, he became the first officially black student recorded in the university records as graduated.

During his time at Cambridge, Crummell continued to travel around Britain and speak out about slavery and the plight of black people. During this period, Crummell formulated the concept of Pan-Africanism, which became his central belief for the advancement of the African race. Crummell believed that in order to achieve their potential, the African race as a whole, including those in the Americas, the West Indies, and Africa, needed to unify under the banner of race. To Crummell, racial solidarity could solve slavery, discrimination, and continued attacks on the African race. He decided to move to Africa to spread his message.

Content: Wikipedia

Photo: Cambridge University

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