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

(image: Dwight L. Moody; Francis Grimké; Joseph Simeon Flipper)

(Note: this is part 2 of a series giving context for an 1886 article by Francis Grimké; see: 

In November 1885, Francis Grimké accepted a call to Laura Street Presbyterian Church in Jacksonville Florida. On January 1, 1886, Dwight L. Moody kicked off a tour that would last until April, and carry him throughout the breadth of the South. After stopping in Cleveland and Chicago, Moody’s itinerary would take him to Knoxville, Chattanooga, Nashville, and Memphis; then on to New Orleans, then Houston and Galveston, then back through Mobile, Oxford, and Selma, to Atlanta and Savannah, Jacksonville, then up to Charleston, Columbia, before finishing in Norfolk, Lynchburg, and Charlotte (“Revivalists on the Wing,” Savannah Morning News, January 1886). As had become his practice, every one of the meetings in the South was planned and conducted according to Jim Crow segregation.

Moody’s 1886 Southern Campaign (original map from the Library of Congress)

Moody faced Black protest in many of these cities. It’s possible that Black pastors protested in every single one of them, but our knowledge is limited by what was published in the newspapers at the time, and what papers we currently have access to. Even with these limitations, we can still hear a chorus of Black protest to Moody’s segregated meetings that reached a crescendo with Francis Grimké’s published article “Mr. Moody and the Color Question in the South.”

Chattanooga: “The Colored Ministers Kick”

In the second city on the tour, the Black pastors protested. The committee that had planned the Moody meetings in Chattanooga consisted of all white members, who decided that of the various meetings that Moody would hold, “one of the services should be given to the colored people, and accordingly arranged a time and place for Mr. Moody to deliver a sermon to the colored people.” Black pastors in the city did not appreciate being excluded from the planning, excluded from the regular meetings, and told when and where to go to a “separate” revival “for colored people.” They “felt that they had been ignored to some extent in not being consulted with reference to the time and place of the services of the colored people.” The Black pastors called a meeting, and passed the following resolutions:

We the independent colored ministers of the city of Chattanooga, Tenn., met at Wesley Chapel M. E. Church to consider the previous arrangements made by the committee of white brethren to have Mr. Moody preach a special sermon to the colored people of this city Sunday, January 31st, and whereas a special time and place has been considered requisite in order to reach the colored people alone without having consulted the ministry, thus designating us an element unfit to attend public services in common with other races. Therefore we feel aggrieved by the discrimination made and refuse to accept the arrangements as published in the daily papers. We hereby subscribe our names: Jas. E. Smith, B. H. Johnson, Lee Mitchell, P. H. Binford, C. L. McTyeire, J. R. Inman, G. D. Olden and C. C. Petty, Pastors.

 (“The Colored Ministers Kick,” The Chattanooga Daily Times, January 23, 1886)

In Chattanooga, rather than participate in the segregated Moody “revival,” the Black pastors of the city decided to work together to plan their own revival meetings the following month, leaving the table of Jim Crow to build their own (“Colored Union Revival,” Chattanooga Daily Times, February 4, 1886). The lives of each one of these pastors is a ripe opportunity for more research.

As more and more Black people protested these arrangements, some people tried to push the responsibility away from Moody onto the local planning committees. The argument was that Moody just showed up in the city and went where he was told to go; how could he know about all of the various racial dynamics in each city where he went? 

We know that Moody was aware of these protests, because his traveling partner, Ira Sankey, recorded this very incident in his memoir:

At Chattanooga the colored people boycotted our meetings, the colored ministers taking offense because they were not invited to take seats on the platform. We arranged a special meeting for the colored people, and were surprised to find the church nearly empty when we arrived.

Ira Sankey, My Life and the Story of the Gospel Hymns and of Sacred Songs and Solos (1907), 88.

In Nashville, Moody’s services “for colored people” were held at Fisk University (“Moody and Sankey,” Nashville Banner, February 5, 1886). A 17 year old W. E. B. Du Bois was a student at Fisk at the time, and he mentions the Moody visit in a letter, though he makes no comment on it, positively or negatively (The Correspondence of W. E. B. Du Bois, vol. 1: 5)

In Memphis, out of eight meetings, one was a special meeting “for the colored people,” as they would not be allowed to attend any of the other meetings (“Moody and Sankey,” Memphis Daily Appeal, February 5, 1886). Ida B. Wells was living in Memphis at the time, and would later recount Moody’s segregated meetings when traveling abroad in England. New Orleans, too, had separate meetings “for the colored people” (“Moody and Sankey,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, February 15, 1886)

Texas: “The Colored Clergy Dissent”

When Moody embarked on the Texas leg of his tour, the schedule was updated to include new cities, and all of them followed the same format at each place. In Galveston, Houston, San Antonio, and Dallas, there would be a number of scheduled meetings, but always a separate meeting “for colored people” (“Christian Conventions,” The Fort Worth Gazette February 18, 1886).

At the first stop in Galveston, Black pastors protested the segregation publicly:

To the citizens of Galveston interested in the evangelistic meetings to be held shortly, Greeting. We the undersigned ministers of Galveston, while sympathizing with the efforts of our friends to elevate the moral and religious sentiments of our community, can not give our countenance to the discrimination made by the committee of arrangements. Unless that committee can show us that there are two heavens, one for the black souls and one for the white souls. Hence we respectfully ask to be excused from the present meetings, and any future such.—in which the discrimination will be as clearly made.

J. E. Edwards, Wm. F. Floyd, M. D., P. Morgan, J. H. Hall, B. J. Hall, F. Parker

(“Moody and Sankey Revival,” The Galveston Daily News, February 16, 1886

A reporter from the Daily News followed up with the Black pastors, and got this quote:

The trouble is simply this: The local committee invited our co-operation, which was at first freely given until we discovered that out of the three days revivals in Galveston, only one hour is set apart for colored people. Now, we do not think this is anything like a fair allotment of time, and so we had a mass meeting last Sunday, at which this question was discussed, and owing to this reason, and no other, the sense of the meeting was taken as being opposed to this unfair division of time.”

(“Moody and Sankey Revival,” The Galveston Daily News, February 21, 1886)

The reporter had also heard that “the program arranged for Galveston is the same throughout the State, and it is understood that a like dissatisfaction prevails among the colored people of San Antonio.”

In response to this protest, the Moody campaign decided just to drop “the colored meeting” from the schedule altogether:

“In consequence, at the suggestion of Rev. Henry E. Brown, agent of Messrs. Moody and Sankey, the committee have dropped them from the program entirely” (“Galveston,” Austin Daily Statesman, February 21, 1886)

The editor of the Brenham Banner opined that it was “evident that they [i.e., Black people] don’t want to be saved” (“Editorial Notes,” The Brenham Weekly Banner,February 25, 1886)

“Mr. Moody’s Wise Course”?

In early March, halfway through the campaign, the Morning News in Savannah, Georgia, published an article dedicated to Moody’s practice of segregated meetings, which they considered a “wise course.” In addition to being a great preacher, the article praised him as “a man of excellent common sense,” seen specifically in “his treatment of the race question since he has been in the South.” The Southern editor summarized the campaign so far: “Efforts were made in a number of Southern cities to induce him to make no distinction between the white and black races at his meetings.” People advocating for equal treatment were labeled “the extremists, the cranks, and those who delight in strife” who had pressed Moody “with considerable persistence.” Moody, “in effect, said: ‘No, I will not touch the race issue. Let the local committees deal with it, so far as my meetings are concerned, as they think best. They know more about it than I do, and doubtless will avoid the mistake that I would be liable to make.” This was a striking assessment, given that the these committees which “know more about” the “race issue” were entirely white, and excluded Black participation, thus creating a vicious circle of feedback: Moody appealed to his local committees; the committees excluded Black pastors; Black pastors protested against Moody; Moody appealed to his local committees…

The Morning News felt that these committees had “dealt with it thus far, and very successfully” and also wished that the entire nation, especially “the extremists at the North,” would “learn something for their own guidance in the course pursued by Mr. Moody.”

The article remarkably admits that there were no plans to deal with white supremacy any time soon; in fact, the plan was not to deal with it at all and just let everything play out: “The issue, however, is not one that can be settled in a day or a year… It can be settled only by time—that is, it will eventually work out its own settlement. This, Mr. Moody is wise enough to see.” (“Mr. Moody’s Wise Course,” Savannah Morning News, March 7, 1886.)

This was the article that Francis Grimké would quote at length and use as his foil when lambasting Moody several months later, dismantling the argument piece by piece, and calling Moody to account.

Jacksonville: “The Whole Colored Clergy Was Ignored”

Francis Grimké

Moody made his way back to the east, holding segregated meetings in Mobile, Alabama (“Moody and Sankey,” The New Orleans Daily Picayune, March 12, 1886), and arriving in Jacksonville, Florida on March 22. Here, the pattern played out yet again: Black ministers were excluded from the planning; one segregated meeting was planned for Black people to attend (without consulting them); Black pastors protested.

An article describing the meetings was published in the Savannah Morning News, but its language needs to be understood correctly—when the schedule says that the first meeting was “open to all,” it means “all white men and women.” There were separate meetings for white women, white men, and Black people, and a “general” meeting for white men and women. The language of “all” is to be understood within the total framework of whiteness.

(“Moody and Sankey: Closing of the Great Revival Meetings at Jacksonville,” Savannah Morning News, March 23, 1886).

This time the protest came in the form of a full length article written by “Rev. Francis J. Grimke” and published in the New York Independent. Grimké responded in particular to the article “Mr. Moody’s Wise Course” (see above) and dismantled the arguments in favor of Moody’s segregated revivals.

Grimké described the proceedings:

“In the city of Jacksonville, at the conference which took into consideration the coming of Mr. Moody to the city, not one colored minister was present. The whole colored clergy was ignored, and a meeting appointed for their people at the hour of one of their regular services, without consultation with them.” 

“even at the special meeting for colored people in this city (there was only one to which they were admitted, out of the eight meetings held,) it was impossible to keep the whites away, although it was announced beforehand that they would not be admitted.”

“Mr. Moody knew, further, that by this arrangement the colored people would be deprived of attending the great majority of those meetings. Again, he knew that in taking this position he was pandering to an unholy prejudice—the direct effect of which would be to harden men in their sins.”

Grimké held nothing but disdain for Moody’s practice:

“It is impossible to contem­plate this man from his lofty eminence, as the most noted evangelist of modern times, and yet stooping to a thing so mean, so cowardly, so utterly opposed to the plainest teachings of the holy religion in which he professes to believe, without mingled feel­ings of pity and disgust. Under some cir­cumstances it might be the duty of Chris­tian charity to go backward and cover his shame; but in the present instance the whole affair is so aggravated, so utterly without excuse as to call only for the sever­est condemnation.”

The whole article is a powerful rebuke of racial prejudice, and deserves to be read in full:

Francis Grimke, “Mr. Moody and the Color Question in the South” (1886)

Charleston: “Only White Persons Were Allowed To Attend”

From Jacksonville, Moody went on to Charleston, South Carolina. There, the segregated meetings were reported explicitly: 

THE COLOR LINE

At the services held at Agricultural hall, only white persons were allowed to attend…”

Charleston Aroused,” The Atlanta Constitution, March 29, 1886.

The Savannah Morning News put it the other way:

“The hall has been crowded daily and nightly by men and women (No colored people were admitted, special services being held for them elsewhere)”

Moody and Sankey Depart,” Savannah Morning News, March 20, 1886.

Atlanta: “Trouble with the Colored People”

Joseph Simeon Flipper

Moody’s meetings in Atlanta were held April 3–7, and the schedule had been advertised several weeks in advance. As usual, the sixteen scheduled meetings were segregated, with two of them “for colored people only.” The Atlanta Constitution added the note that “the entire order [had] been suggested by Mr. Moody himself,” which, if true, removed even the flimsy excuse that Moody deferred these decisions to the local committees (“Moody and Sankey Meetings,” The Atlanta Constitution, March 21, 1886). As in other locations, Black clergy protested, this time led by A. M. E. Pastor Joseph Simeon Flipper (1859–1944):

“During the week there has been considerable trouble with the colored people. The gentlemen who arranged the program intended two services for colored people. Certain of the colored citizens, however, kicked up a disturbance because they had not been consulted. Rev. Flipper of Big Bethel, led a party of discontents, but was finally pacified… There is a prejudice with the  colored people against Mr. Moody on account of his views on the race question: in that he conforms to the customs of the particular locality in which he is preaching”

Trouble with Colored People,” The Atlanta Constitution, April 4, 1886

Articles like this are a good example of why one must read these accounts “against the grain” of the white-supremacy that colors even the way these incidents are reported. In a situation where Black pastors are protesting racial prejudice, they are characterized as having “prejudice against Mr. Moody.” In a situation where Black people were “not permitted” to enter white-only revival meetings, they were characterized as “kicking up a disturbance.”

Nevertheless, the segregated meetings went on as planned, with the meetings “for colored people” held in Friendship Baptist Church, pastored by Rev. E. R. Carter. In an ironic twist, Mr. Moody preached from Luke 2:7: “Because there was no room for them in the inn”—but rather than make any reference to the fact that he was speaking to a group of people who were told “no room for you” at every turn in the South, including his own revivals, Moody spiritualized the text with reference to peoples “hearts” which had “no room for Christ.”

Moody made reference in his sermon to the battle for prohibition in Atlanta:

“I understand you had a vote here not long ago as to whether you would vote the devil out or keep him in, and the result was almost in favor of the devil. You could not get the votes for Christ… Every rum-seller would vote to keep him out… There is not a town or city on the face of the earth that would vote to have him come back. They don’t want him. You colored people would like to have him come? You think you would? Are you sure about it? Come, my friend, think! There would be an overwhelming majority against him. There is no room in this world for the Son of God.”

Mr. Moody Yesterday,” The Atlanta Constitution, April 5, 1886.

Again, the irony is sharp. Black Christian had been praying fervently for centuries for Christ to come back and set injustice to rights, including the injustices that attended Moody’s own campaigns. For Moody to lecture them on “desiring Christ’s return” is the epitome of religious blindness to both material and spiritual realities.

The Macon Telegraph also picked up on the recent vote, and drew a sharp contrast between the color-line rigidly maintained at Moody’s revival meetings, and the blurring of that line when garnering Black votes for prohibition in Atlanta:

“Our special correspondent from Atlanta recites the fact that negroes are debarred from the privilege of listening to the eloquence of Moody and the melody of Sankey because they are negroes. Indeed, they are deprived of a chance to be saved on account of their color.

“What renders this case peculiarly aggravating is that these same negroes but a little while ago were brothers, stuffed with hot coffee, cakes and pies and decorated with the red badges of prohibition. They were good enough to vote down the business and property of white men. They were presented with flags and memorials. It is possible that they may have been given a nickel or so. They mingled with their white brothren [sic] under the grand tent and marched arm and arm with them to the many ballot boxes, but now, when an opportunity should be offered to them to join hands and sing “Blessed be the tie that binds,” they are excluded from the benefits of tuneful psalmody and the instruction of the traveling evangelists, and all because they are black or parti-colored.”

(“Cases for the Coroner,” The Macon Telegraph, April 4, 1886).

For more on the Black temperance movement, and the role of Black voters in Atlanta’s Prohibition saga, see H. Paul Thompson’s engaging study: A Most Stirring and Significant Episode: Religion and the Rise and Fall of Prohibition in Black Atlanta, 1865–1887.

Moody Bible Institute

Interestingly, 1886 was the year that $250,000 was raised for the founding of the Chicago Evangelization Society. Moody came to Chicago in December 1886 and stayed for several months to help establish the institution, which was incorporated in February 1887.

(“City Mission Training School,” The Chicago Inter Ocean, November 21, 1886; “New Corporations,” Chicago Tribune, February 14, 1887).

Throughout the year, Moody had repeatedly pushed Black bodies to the side, and then ignored Black voices of protest when they spoke up about their treatment. Now, from a home base in Chicago, he would train generations of future Christian workers how to do evangelism.

What was the impact of Black protest against Moody’s segregated revivals? Did anyone take note? What about the impact of Moody’s endorsement and practice of segregation? The third, and final post in this series takes up those questions: [FORTHCOMING]

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