“DO NOT WANT MOODY”: Black Protest against Dwight L. Moody, Part 3: 1887–1894

Note: this is part 3 of a series giving context for an 1886 article by Francis Grimké; see: 

In 1885 and 1886, Black leaders, both within and outside the church, protested Dwight L. Moody’s segregated revivals. Did their protest have any effect? How was the memory of Moody’s racist practice and the Black response to it passed on over the years? Did Moody himself take any notice of these Black voices? This post examines these questions, with a particular interest in the way Francis Grimké’s experience and his published protest was referenced by other Black pastors in subsequent years.

A. M. E. Church in New York: “Mr. Moody Could Not Preach in a Barn” (1887)

William B. Derrick (source)

One year after Moody’s segregated tour of the south, and Francis Grimké’s published protest, the New York Annual Conference of the African Methodist Episcopal Church was held in June 1887 at the Bridge Street A. M. E. Church in Brooklyn. In their discussion on “the state of the country,” Dr. Benjamin T. Tanner (1845–1913) said this:

The report should condemn the conduct of Dwight L. Moody… I would not have ‘Evangelist’ Moody preach in a bar-room of mine if I owned it, much less in a church. His conduct in his Southern tour has been shameful towards the negroes of the South, and in Charleston, when I was there, he positively refused to allow representation in his evangelical meetings from among the colored churches of the city, placing caste above Christianity and his patented system of salvation, by which the whites could be saved and the blacks lost, above the glorious Gospel of Jesus Christ, which offers salvation to every sinner.

Dr. William B. Derrick (1843–1913), secretary of the conference, concurred with Tanner:

“The committee will report on both these questions with no uncertain voice… and I hope that every conference will help us in denouncing these outrages as they deserve. We have a double cross to bear, and heavy ones too. We are more cordially received in haunts of vice than in the alleged temples of Christ. Mr. Moody shows his narrow nature by his appeal to caste in the South, and dragged his meetings to the level of a circus, in which he plays the clown… We have so many things to fight against that we may run short of ammunition, but we will fight until the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man is recognized at least by professing Christians.”

Without Gloves: Dwight L. Moody Denounced by Colored Clergymen,” The Brooklyn Standard Union, June 10, 1887.

Another account quoted Tanner in slightly different words, but with the same substance:

“I simply want to say there is one phase of the subject on the state of the country which I trust will receive the attention of the committee on a supplementary report, and that is the conduct of the Evangelist Moody in the South. I could wish that there could go up one unbroken voice against the conduct of the Evangelist Moody in the complete surrender which he made to the Southern spirit of caste. I happened in Charleston, S. C., and in Jacksonville, Fla., and in both of these cities the colored clergymen were created with the most unmerited contempt. Mr. Moody could not preach in a barn of mine, and certainly not in my church. He has gone South, and in so far as his influence could he has crystallized the worst phase of caste prejudice that the world has ever seen. He shelters himself behind the arrangements which he makes with the Southern clergymen; and, while excluding colored people from the Moody services, they give to them one day in their churches. Many of our colored pastors open their churches and allow Mr. Moody to give them the crumbs from the white churches. We are men and Christians, entitled to respectful consideration from ministers of the Gospel; and as Christians we wish for nothing more, and as men we can submit to nothing less. I hope that the committee in the supplementary report will express our sentiments upon this complete and unholy surrender of Mr. Moody to the wicked spirit of American slavery. When he was called upon to explain his unchristian conduct he treated the respectful request with silence. A gentleman, the Rev. Frank Grimke, his equal in profession and his superior as a scholar, wrote an account to the Independent of Mr. Moody’s unchristian course, to which he paid no attention. Such are the acts of this professing evangelist, who so deports himself as if he had a patent upon Christianity.”

(“Could Not Preach in a Barn: What a Colored Preacher Thinks of Evangelist Moody,” The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, June 11, 1887)
Benjamin T. Tanner (source)

Tanner was the editor of the A. M. E. Church Review, a quarterly journal that published four articles by Francis Grimké between 1885 and 1887 (see Francis and Charlotte Grimké in the A.M.E. Church Review, 1885–1887). It is fascinating to know that Tanner was in Jacksonville with Grimké at the time of Moody’s segregated revival. Tanner referencing Grimké at the 1887 New York Conference is an example of how networks of Black leaders kept their colleagues’ work visible in public discourse, even when white media outlets might have preferred to ignore it.

Chicago: “He likes a ni**er well enough in his place” (1887)

T. W. Henderson (source)

The report of the New York Conference reverberated through the country, including in Moody’s home base of Chicago. A reporter for the the Chicago Daily Inter Ocean interviewed A. M. E. pastor Thomas W. Henderson (1845–1915) for comment. Henderson affirmed his New York brethren’s sentiments, and added his own experience of discrimination: 

“Mr. Moody deserves all he got and more too… Every charge which Dr. Tanner made against Mr. Moody at the New York conference is true. Everybody knows that since Mr. Moody’s visits to the South he has completely ignored the colored race. He has fallen from the platform upon which he started out.” Henderson then described how in 1880, Moody had visited his church in St. Louis and preached, but several years later, when Henderson tried to speak with him again, he reported Moody as saying, “‘Oh, don’t bother me; I’ve no time to talk to you.’ … I made five or six more attempts to see him, but never obtained an audience. He treated other colored ministers precisely the same way.”

The reporter sought out an alternative opinion from Mr. B. F. Jacobs. Interestingly, Jacobs had heard Moody speak about the issue of race in the South, and specifically the meetings in Jacksonville, where Francis Grimké was pastoring:

“I heard Mr. Moody speak about that very matter when he was here last winter. He said that the trouble originated in Jacksonville, Fla., and came about in this way. All the arrangements for his meetings there were in the hands of the local committee who invited him. They arranged for the special building and its seating, and I believe they set aside the gallery for the colored people. These didn’t want to be partitioned off, and came to Mr. Moody about it. He explained to them that he couldn’t interfere in the arrangements of the local committee, and they at once conceived the idea that he was against them. He knew that if he did anything contrary to the local arrangements he would alienate the entire white population, and so he declined. Mr. Moody expressed to me great sympathy with the colored people, and a sincere desire to help them. At one place in the South, he offered to hold special meetings with them, but they refused, as a general feeling had been aroused against him among the entire race. I think he feels as kindly toward them as ever, and I know that he is very anxious to reach them, and greatly regretted any feeling that was excited.”

Hasty Action. That of the Colored Preachers in New York in Attacking Mr. Moody,” The Chicago Daily Inter-Ocean, June 21, 1887.

It is interesting that Moody said the trouble originated in Jacksonville. Black pastors had protested his segregated meetings in Washington in January 1885. They protested his meetings in Chattanooga in February 1886 and in Galveston in March 1886, all before the meetings in Jacksonville in April 1886. But something about Jacksonville must have caught Moody’s attention, at least as reported by Jacobs. Perhaps it was Grimké’s article published in the New York Independent, which would have garnered more attention than notices published in local newspapers throughout the South. Regardless, this would prove that Moody indeed aware of Grimké’s protest—he simply chose to do nothing about it.

Henderson wrote in the following week to contest the framing of the previous article. Henderson also explicitly explained why the use of segregated “galleries” was so offensive to Black people—it was the very same system used during slavery to segregate church services then, placing enslaved Black people in the gallery, operate from the white worshippers.

The whole letter deserves to be read in full, but here are some of the key quotes:

“Mr. Moody went South full of zeal for the salvation of souls. He found a loft, usually called a gallery, for his colored hearers—just such a one as was used in slavery times; the colored people protested; they thought they wanted to go to the sweet heaven Mr. Moody was picturing and wanted to start from the same level. But this God-sent man said, “I have nothing to do with where people sit; and if the committee says you colored people must go into the gallery, there you must go.”

Moody’s services were very crowded, and seats could be hard to find, but apparently he had a practice of calling out to the congregation to help someone find a seat—except for Black people. Henderson:

“Now, I call to witness every man, woman, and child whoever attended one of Mr. Moody’s meetings, that he was always watching for vacant seats and calling out from the platform, “Come this way; here is a seat, and there is a seat.” But I challenge any man to say that he ever heard Mr. Moody calling to a colored man or woman to come forward to a seat.”

Henderson contrasted Moody with a Senator Sherman:

“Senator Sherman finds colored men refused admission to his rooms in a Southern hotel, and at once leaves the hotel and goes to where they can be admitted. Mr. Moody, a great religionist, finds colored people refused to the floor of his meetings where he is preaching that Jesus Christ is no respecter of persons, and he simply tells them, “you must stand it; I can’t help it.” But says to them, “I will go up to some of your colored churches and talk to you.” They felt insulted and told Mr. Moody that they would try and get their sins washed away without him. They had no faith in any such a man.”

Henderson then reported on Moody’s demeanor in Chicago:

“I refer to what I have before said—Mr. Moody paid no more attention to the colored ministers of Chicago than he did to the dogs on the streets. I know of my own knowledge that the leading colored minister of Chicago, a man well-known personally to Mr. Moody, placed himself directly in the path of Mr. Moody more than a half dozen times during his late stay in this city, for the very purpose of testing this very question, and received no more attention, nor half as much, as if he had been a common pick-pocket. The gentlemen mentioned in your article may say as often as they please that Mr. Moody has great interest in the colored people, but for our part we answer, “The Lord deliver us from all such interested representatives of the Lord Jesus.” Mr. Moody’s interest is like that of many other whit men. He likes a ni**er well enough in his place, and he thinks the gallery, or loft, or some such quarter is his place.”

The Action Not Hasty,” The Chicago Inter Ocean, June 25, 1887

Louisville: “DO NOT WANT MOODY” (1888)

William M. Hargrave (source)

In January and February 1888, Moody conducted an extended campaign in Louisville, Kentucky. As usual, the committee planned segregated meetings, including one “for colored people only” (“Ministers in Session,” The Louisville Courier-Journal, January 3, 1888). While the meetings were reported in detail in the Louisville Courier-Journal, there are very few details regarding the attendance of Black people, except for a brief reference on the last day of the meetings: “The doors opened at 5:45 o’clock, and a little after 6 there were no vacant seats. The colored people came early, but Mr. Moody said they had not asked him to preach to them” (“Notes,” The Louisville Courier-Journal, February 13, 1888).

Perhaps this was the immediate source of the report published the same day under the top line heading “DO NOT WANT MOODY.” The write reported that “It has been a matter of common report for several days that owing to the lukewarmness of leading colored preachers Mr. Moody had not been invited to return to Louisville next fall and preach to the colored people, although he had from the pulpit announced his willingness to do so.” The reporter spoke with William M. Hargrave, pastor of Knox Presbyterian church for comment. When asked about the “lukewarmness” toward Moody, Hargrave said this:

“I think that the local committee in charge of the Moody meetings made a great mistake in the arrangements, and if there is any lukewarmness it has grown out of that arrangement. I see no reason why there should be a color line in matters of this sort. We don’t want to perpetuate the sins of our fathers… The whites and the blacks ought to co-operate in the work of God. Why, white and black men co-operate in the election of men to office, and I don’t see why they can’t do the same in religious matters.”

He went on:

“I think any lukewarmness there may be proceeds from the separate arrangement made by the local committee. The colored people felt snubbed… Any union meeting where the people are classified according to race or color will be a failure as far as the colored people are concerned.”

Hargrave doubted Moody’s effectiveness:

“If Mr. Moody were to come to preach to the colored people I doubt if he could reach them. He has failed to reach those he wanted to so far… No, he could do us no good. He could not reach the colored people.”

Hargrave was familiar with Moody’s broader practice of segregated campaigns, and of Francis Grimké’s protest two years earlier:

“Speaking for myself, I must say that I felt mortified and disappointed when the color question was raised. It has been the same all over the South as here. The fight has been on principle. One of our best known colored ministers, Rev. F. J. Grimke, of Jacksonville, Fla, when Mr. Moody was there, wrote an open letter to one of the papers attacking and denouncing the whole business as a matter of principle—on the color line ground. This principle has been the source of my opposition to the arrangement made here.”

(“Do Not Want Moody,” The Louisville Courier-Journal, February 13, 1888.

William Hargrave and Francis Grimké crossed paths several times over their careers as Black Presbyterian pastors. Both graduated from Lincoln University (Grimké in 1870, Hargrave in 1873), and Grimké served as an agent for fundraising for the school and was studying in the Law Department while Hargrave was a student there. Grimké went on to Princeton for theological studies, while Hargrave stayed in the Theological Department at Lincoln, graduating in 1876. In 1877 Hargrave was ordained and began pastoring Knox Presbyterian Church in Baltimore, just down the road from Washington, D. C. A decade later, in 1887, Hargrave accepted a call to Louisville, to “the only colored Presbyterian church in Louisville,” where he was for the Moody meetings of 1888. Being the pastor of a Black Presbyterian church was a unique experience that both Grimké and Hargrave could relate to. In 1891, Hargrave was called to be professor of Christian Evidences and Pastoral Theology at Biddle University, the same year Grimké was also called to come to Biddle. Hargrave accepted the post, Grimké declined. A decade later, in 1904, Hargrave and Grimké were both involved in the Black protest over the eventual union with the segregationist Cumberland Presbytery. Hargrave died in 1907, while still serving as a professor at Biddle. Thus, his knowledge of, and resonance with Grimké’s protest of Moody was not accidental or happenstance, but generated from the fact that as Black Presbyterians, they shared a unique set of overlapping networks.

(On Hargrave, see “Lincoln University,” The College Courant 10.21 (1872): 251–52; “Commencement at Lincoln University,” Wilmington Daily Commercial, May 1, 1876; Minutes of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States, 1877; “Ministerial Personals,” The Christian Union (1887): 21; “Interesting Folks,” The Galion Daily Leader, October 3, 1891; Minutes – United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., 1901; “Union Question Will Be Keenly Discussed,” Wilkes-Barre Times, May 26, 1904; Presbyterian Church in the U. S. A. General Assembly, Minutes, 1907; Lincoln University, College, and Theological Seminary. Biographical Catalogue 1918 (Lancaster, Pa., The New Era Printing Company, 1918)

Ida B. Wells: “jim crow arrangements” (1893–94)

Ida B. Wells

Ida B. Wells was living in Memphis in 1886 the year of Moody’s segregated revival meetings there. That experience was significant enough to her that she recounted it seven years later, in 1893, when she travelled to England “to arouse public sentiment on the subject” of lynching (Alfreda M. Duster, ed., Crusade for Justice: The Autobiography of Ida B. Wells (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1972), 96). 

While in England, Wells was asked about D. L. Moody:

“The only other occurrence of special importance which happened during this trip had to do with the questions that were asked me after each lecture. Almost invariably, when I said that the Christian and moral sentiment of my own country remained silent in the face of these mob outrages, someone would ask, What about Rev. D. L. Moody and Miss Frances Willard? Both of these persons were well known and highly esteemed by the British people. Rev. Moody had visited and preached through­ out Great Britain on several occasions… My answer to these queries was that neither of those great exponents of Christianity in our country had ever spoken out in condemnation of lynching, but seemed on the contrary disposed to overlook that fashionable pastime of the South. I remembered very clearly that when Rev. Moody had come to the South with his revival sermons the notices printed said that the Negroes who wished to attend his meetings would have to go into the gallery or that a special service would be set aside for colored people only. I had noticed mention of this in colored newspapers printed in the towns where Rev. Moody had spoken. 

Not in one instance was there ever any word to show that Rev. Moody objected to this segregation. In every case he ap­peared and spoke to the segregated gathering. Perhaps he thought it better to put over the gospel in this left-handed way than not to preach to poor benighted Negroes at all. Or he might have thought that he would destroy his influence with the good southern white Christians if he attempted to rebuke their un­christian attitude. Whatever the cause, no Negroes had ever heard of Rev. Moody’s refusal to accept these jim crow arrangements, or knew of any protest of his against lynchings.”

Autobiography, 111–12.

It is interesting that Wells took note of the “colored newspapers” throughout the South that made public the Black protest. Even if the broader white world was trying not to pay attention, figures like Wells certainly were. 

The following year, in 1894, Wells took another trip to England and was asked about it again. Her comments were published in the United States in the Chicago Inter Ocean as part of an ongoing series which published letters from her during her travels:

“I have been asked as to the attitude of the Rev. Dwight L. Moody and Miss Frances E. Willard, both well known in Great Britain, on this subject of the Negro’s rights. I have been com­pelled in the interest of truth to say that they have given the weight of their influence to the southern white man’s prejudices. Mr. Moody has encouraged the drawing of the color line in the churches by consenting to preach on separate days and in sepa­rate churches to the colored people in his tours throughout the South.” 

Ida B. Wells Abroad,” The Chicago Inter Ocean, April 23, 1894.

Interestingly, in August 1894, while Wells was still in England, a meeting was held in Boston to protest lynching and “to sustain Miss Ida B. Wells, who has been in England, and has aroused public opinion there against lynching.” A number of Black figures attended this meeting, including Bishop Tanner of the A.M.E. Church, Archibald Grimke, and Rev. Francis Grimke. There is no record of Grimké speaking at the meeting, but you can hear strong echoes of his article “The Anglo-American Pulpit and Southern Outrages” (1893), in the words of Edwin G. Walker: “We would not be here at this time to hold up the hands of Miss Wells if the pulpit of this country was doing its duty on this question of murdering innocent men, women, and children in the south.”

(“They Protest in Mass Meeting,” The Boston Globe, August 30, 1894)

I can find no record (yet!) of Grimké and Wells meeting or interacting in person during this period. Wells did lecture in Washington D.C. in 1893, but there is no record that Grimké attended that meeting (“Lynching in All Its Phases,” The Washington Evening Star, Feb 2, 1893). Both Wells and Grimké were became close friends of Frederick Douglass (and his second wife Helen) but it is possible that they labored in the anti-lynching cause in their own cities and in their own ways. The story of Francis Grimké’s outspoken anti-lynching advocacy is too large to cover here, but is worthy of it’s own focused treatment, as others have started to do (see, eg, Malcolm S. Foley, “The Only Way to Stop a Mob: Francis Grimké’s Biblical Case for Lynching Resistance,” in Timothy Larsen, ed., Every Leaf, Line, and Letter: Evangelicals and the Bible from the 1730s to the Present (InterVarsity Press, 2021): 196–218).

The next time I can find Wells-Barnett’s and Grimké’s names together is in 1909 when, along with W. E. B. Du Bois and a number of other Black leaders, they called for conference which would lead to the formation of the NAACP (“To Discuss the Negroes,” The Boston Globe, February 13, 1909).

It is remarkable that so many Black leaders experienced D. L. Moody’s segregated revivals and commented so publicly on them. Frederick Douglass, Francis Grimké, Benjamin Tanner, Ida B. Wells, even a young W. E. B. Du Bois did not escape the experience. The “Jim Crow Revival” seems to have become a common part of the collective Black experience in America in the 1880s.

So far this series has focused on the Black protest to Moody’s segregated revivals, and attempted to center their voices. The concluding post explores briefly Moody’s legacy in white evangelical (and fundamentalist) spaces, much of which remains with us to this day [FORTHCOMING].


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