“Caste Prejudice”: Black Protest against Dwight L. Moody, Part 1: 1885

(image: D. L. Moody; Frederick Douglass; Robert Ingersoll; Francis Grimké)

Note: this is part 1 of a series giving context for an 1886 article by Francis Grimké; see: 

Francis Grimké very likely encountered Dwight L. Moody’s segregationist revival system for the first time in January 1885, when the evangelist was scheduled to hold a series of meetings in Washington, D. C. the weekend of January 16th to the 19th. Arguably the most famous evangelist in the world, Moody frequently attracted thousands of attendees to his meetings, and advance planning was necessary to coordinate all the logistics. The “Moody Machine” consisted of his own management team, which coordinated with local committees in each city where he visited, arranging the venues, the schedules, and the tickets to these meetings. In Washington, they decided to issue an invitation “to all ministers within a radius of fifty miles of the city, who are pastors in any evangelical church, to attend this convention… Admission will be by tickets, to be distributed by the city pastors to their membership” (“The Moody Meetings,” The National Republican, January 2, 1885).

“many ex-Confederates being present”—Richmond, Virginia

Thomas Jackson and Robert E. Lee (Library of Congress)

However, before he could travel up to Washington, Moody first needed to finish up his revival meetings in Richmond, Virginia, where he was embroiled in controversy. In December 1884, leading up to the scheduled meetings in Richmond, a “well known citizen” named B. D. Core had accused Moody of denigrating the character of two Confederate heroes, Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. Core claimed that at an 1876 revival at Hippodrome, New York, Moody had “divest[ed] Lee and Jackson of every honorable characteristic… ‘In a word,’ said he, ‘by every illustration and animus of their lives and actions, they more forcibly represented the character of the king of darkness than any since Judas betrayed the Lord of Glory.’ He then proceeded to clothe General Grant with all the grandeur of a god…”

Core was fighting the battles of the Lost Cause: “there lives not a Virginian with any pretensions to respectability who is not proud to claim a common citizenship with the immortal Lee and Jackson, and proud that Virginia had such Christian heroes to offer to the service of their country… Moody’s abuse of them is equally an abuse of each one of us who followed these peerless patriots… Their standard of a true, exalted Christian gentleman, is exalted enough for us” (“Down on Mr. Moody,” Alexandria Gazette and Virginia Advertiser, December 23, 1884).

When Moody arrived in Richmond on January 4, Southern Presbyterian Moses Hoge went to visit him immediately, and informed him “that there were no names more venerated and loved in Richmond than those of Generals Lee and Jackson, and that many of our people had been deeply pained by the report that he had spoken of them in a disparaging manner.”

Moody replied “emphatically that it was strange indeed that of all men these two should have been named as those of whom he had spoken disrespectfully, when they were the very men whom he held in the highest honor. He added that he had never said what had been imputed to him, and then proceeded to express freely and fully his admiration of these eminent men, so dear to the hearts of our southern people” (“Mr. Moody and Lee and Jackson,” Richmond Dispatch, January 4, 1885).

Apparently, Moody also sought out a meeting with Jackson’s widow. He remarked that “as soon as he reached the city [Richmond] he had sent a messenger to Mrs. Stonewall Jackson, assuring her that he had made no such remarks as imputed to him, and that he wished to talk with her.” In spite of (or, perhaps, because of) all of the controversy, “Mr. Moody had a large congregation in the evening, many ex-Confederates being present” (“Moody in Richmond,” Alexandria Gazette and Virginia Advertiser, 5 January 5, 1885).

Moody was not content to leave his apologies to private conversations. In one of his sermons in Richmond, “he wanted to say publicly and most emphatically that he had been incorrectly reported.” He was very concerned not to offend his pro-Confederate audience, and quoted the Bible to that effect: “Mr. Moody came forward and said that the Master teaches that ‘if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there remember that they brother hath aught against thee, leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way ; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.’” Moody again said that “he had always cherished for Lee and Jackson the highest respect, and he asserted that it was morally impossible for him to have said anything derogatory of their character. Even during the war, while a Northern man in his sympathies and feelings, he had always looked upon Lee and Jackson as not only great military men, but men of the highest Christian character.” He said further “that if he had at any time said in any of his sermons anything which has given offense to the people of the South, he asked the forgiveness of his brethren.” Moody wanted to get “all obstacles out of the way so that, with united hearts and hands, we might enter on this work” (“Mr. Moody’s Denial,” Alexandria Gazette and Virginia Advertiser, January 5, 1885; “Mr. Moody’s Meetings,” Richmond Dispatch, January 6, 1885).

The meetings in Richmond were held in observance with strict adherence to Jim Crow segregation, with a separate “special service for the colored people” (“The Evangelist: Mr. Moody’s Great Success,” Richmond Dispatch, January 7, 1885).

This controversy regarding Moody and the Confederate generals was national news, and was reported in newspapers in almost every state in the country, from Maine to Georgia, to Texas, to Salt Lake City; even Devils Lake, North Dakota carried a report. Moody’s effort to clarify his admiration for these Confederate generals was read across the entire country, his example was a national example.

newspapers.com search: “moody jackson lee” [date: Jan 1883]

Moody’s willingness to publicly bend over backwards to pacify pro-Confederate southerners, praise Confederate generals, and remove any offense—with white people—stands out in stark contrast with his apparent total lack of concern for Black ministers when they would publicly voice their own concerns that very same month.

“Caste Prejudice”—Washington, D. C.

The very next week was the week of the scheduled meetings in Washington, and “A Brother in Black” wrote in to The National Republican with “a very pertinent inquiry”:

It begins to look as though the managers of the Moody meetings to be held at the Congregational Church in a few days have, for some reason, failed to supply the colored min­istry with tickets of admission to be distributed among their members. Is it that they were purposely overlooked? It would seem so, for there has been some talk of a meeting for the colored people in a colored church, and no colored minister was invited to any of the preliminary meetings which wore held before the mutter of issuing tickets was consummated. Will some one please inform me whether I am right in this opinion? 

(“A Very Pertinent Inquiry,” The National Republican, January 13, 1885)

The day before the meetings were to begin, “Another Colored Brother” wrote in to protest:

Permit me to say to your readers that the colored people of Washington have been shamefully treated by the managers of the Moody meetings to be held at the Congregational Church from the 16th to the 19th instant, inclusive.The programme marked out by these gentlemen calls for eight meetings at the Congregational Church for white persons, and one meeting at a colored church for colored people; and, in keeping with this plan, tickets of admission to the meetings at the Congregational Church have been withheld from the colored ministry. This exhibition of caste prejudice looks very bad in Christian workers, especially Christian ministers, and has already sown seeds of discord among brethren.

(“Another Colored Brother Protests,” The National Republican, January 15, 1885).

The letter went on to compare Moody’s campaign with the “infidel orator” Robert Ingersoll, whose managers, “you may be sure, would not draw the color line on such occasions.” The letter was again signed “A Brother in Black,” and it is possible that it was written by Frederick Douglass, who was living in Washington at the time. Douglass was friends with Ingersoll, and just a few months later in April, he would reference this incident in a speech, drawing the same comparison with Ingersoll (see below).

The meetings went on as planned, including the segregated meetings for Black people. (“Moody’s Seven Sermons,” The National Republican, January 19, 1885)

The next day “A Colored Clergyman” wrote in to protest this “Caste Prejudice.” His letter is powerful, and deserves to be read in full. Here are a few key paragraphs:

Editor National Republican: “Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, Circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free, but Christ is all and in all.” The sentimentsexpressed in these words are in marked contrast to the exhibition of caste prejudice manifested on the part of the managers of the convention of Christian workers, whose sessions have been held at the Congregational Church.

The colored people are surprised at the treatment they received. First, because it comes, not from the world, nor yet from the cold or lukewarm members of the church, but from those who claim to be most deeply interested in the advancement of the cause of Christ. Second, because in addition to the color of their skin they are discriminated against on the ground of their non-orthodoxy. According to the notice published in The Republican tickets were to be issued to the pastors of all evangelical denominations, and through them to the members of their respective churches. On what principle the thousands of members in good and regular standing in the colored Baptist, Methodist, Episcopal, Congregational, and Presbyterian churches, who subscribe to the same creed as the members of our white churches of the same denomination, have been pronounced unevangelical, is a question which I would like very much to have some of these brethren answer. Many grave charges have been, from time to time, made against the colored people, but this is altogether unprecedented.

The “colored minister” then pointed to some of the “injurious effects of such invidious distinctions on the part of professing Christians”:

In the first place, to my own certain knowledge, it has prejudiced a great many persons of color against Mr. Moody, who is believed by many to have been a party to the arrangement by which they have been excluded from these meetings…

In the second place, more serious still, it has prejudiced a great, many against Christianity itself. “Away with such a religion, if this is a sample of it!” is the sentiment upon the lips of many. And is it to be wondered at? Men do not stop to judge of Christianity by the life and character of its founder and the beautiful spirit of love and brotherhood which it inculcates, but by the lives of its professors. In the presence of such exhibitions as this I am not surprised that men like Mr. Ingersoll, turn away with disgust and pronounce the whole thing an imposture. The surest way to swell the ranks of infidelity and bring religion into contempt is for christian people, for the church of Christ, to continue to multiply such instances of caste prejudice.

(“Caste Prejudice,” The National Republican, January 20, 1885)

I don’t know who wrote the letter. In parts, it sounds like Francis Grimké, but it really could have been any number of Black ministers in the city. We do know that Grimké was in Washington at the time, as pastor of Fifteen Street Presbyterian Church, and that he was close friends with Frederick Douglass, having conducted Douglass’s wedding ceremony the year before, and corresponding frequently with him in those years.

“Better be an infidel than a hypocrite”—Frederick Douglass

Douglass was furious at this incident, and mentioned it in a speech that he gave a few months later. Speaking at the twenty-second anniversary of the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia, Douglass said this, near the end of his speech:

You remember the public meeting held in Lincoln Hall, and the free expression of opinion upon the unsoundness of the decision of the Supreme Court on the civil rights bill. You will also remember that the ablest and boldest words there spoken were from the lips of Robert G. Ingersoll, a man everywhere spoken against as an infidel and a blasphemer. Well, my friends, better be an infidel and a so-called blasphemer than a hypocrite who steals the livery of the court of heaven to serve the devil in. 

Infidel though Mr. Ingersoll may be called, he never turned his back upon his colored brothers, as did the evangelical Christians of this city on the occasion of the late visit of Mr. Moody. Of all the forms of negro hate in this world, save me from that one which clothes itself with the name of the loving Jesus, who, when on earth, especially identified himself with the lowest classes of suffering men, and the proof given of his Messiahship was that the poor had the Gospel preached unto them. The negro can go into the circus, the theatre, the cars, and can be admitted into the lectures of Mr. Ingersoll, but cannot go into an Evangelical Christian meeting.”

I do not forget that on the occasion of the civil rights meeting I have mentioned, one evangelical clergyman, a real man of God, gave to the gospel trumpet a certain sound. The religion of Dr. John E. Rankin, like the love of his Redeemer, is not bounded by race or color, but takes in the whole human family. No truer man than he ever ascended a Washington pulpit.

(“The Nation’s Great Act,” The National Republican, April 18, 1885; the full text of this speech was also printed in pamphlet form as Frederick Douglass, Three Addresses on the Relations Subsisting between the White and Colored People of the United States (Washington: Gibson Brothers, 1886)
Robert G. Ingersoll

The “public meeting at Lincoln Hall” that Douglass referred to was a meeting called in October 1883 by “a committee of colored men” to protest the Supreme Court ruling overturning the civil rights bill of 1875. Over 2000 people crowded into the hall, most of the Black people, though “there were many white people present.” A number of prominent Black leaders sat on the stage, including Senator Blanche K. Bruce, William Patton (president of Howard University), Frederick Douglass, Robert Ingersoll, and Francis Grimké (“Civil Rights Meeting,” Washington Evening Star, October 23, 1883). Grimké “opened the  proceedings with prayer” and then speeches were delivered by Douglass and Ingersoll, which were later printed in Proceedings of the Civil Rights Mass-Meeting held at Lincoln Hall, October 22, 1883, (available at the Colored Conventions Project).

Ingersoll’s presence at this 1883 meeting was just one of many instances of his willingness to stand in solidarity with Black people, and to “socialize” with them on equal terms. Ingersoll ate meals with Black people, invited them into his home, and even welcomed them to spend the night, all during age when “social intercourse” between the races was scandalous to many white people. Douglass recognized the bitter irony of the the fact of the nation’s most famous unbeliever, the “Great Agnostic” Robert Ingersoll displayed more genuine love for Black people than the nation’s most famous Christian evangelist, D. L. Moody.

Francis Grimké

15th St. Presbyterian

There are no explicit references that tie Francis Grimké to the Moody meetings in January 1885. It’s possible that he wrote the letter from “A Colored Clergyman” but it could have been written by any number of Black ministers in Washington. We do know that Grimké was in Washington the weekend of the Moody revivals. Fifteenth Street Presbyterian Church had been closed for renovations the first two weeks of January, but had re-opened up on Sunday, January 18th with Grimké preaching the sermon (“Fifteenth Street Presbyterian Church,” Washington Bee, January 24, 1885). Interestingly, Grimké was invited to sit on the platform at the Emancipation Day celebration in April, at which Douglass gave his speech. Robert Ingersoll was also invited to speak, though there is no evidence that Grimké or Ingersoll attended the meeting  (“Speakers for Emancipation Day,” Evening Star, March 12, 1885). That month Grimke had travelled to Jacksonville, Florida, where he was considering a move (“A Call to Florida,” Evening Star, April 6, 1885). By November, it was official—Grimké had resigned his pastorate at Fifteenth Street Presbyterian to take up a position at Laura Street Presbyterian Church in Jacksonville. Apparently, at the farewell service, Frederick Douglass “could not help from shedding tears” (“Rev. Grimke’s Farewell,” Washington Bee, November 7, 1885). It would be there in Jacksonville, just four months later, that Grimké and Moody would cross paths again, prompting Grimké to write his extended critique: “Mr. Moody and the Color Question in the South.”

See “The whole colored clergy was ignored”: Black Protest against Dwight L. Moody, Part 2: 1886


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