Alexander Crummell was born in New York City to Charity Hicks, a free woman of color, and Boston Alexander, a former slave. According to Alexander'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, allowing their home to be used to publish the first African-American newspaper, Freedom's Journal.
After graduating high school, Alexander attended the Noyes Academy in New Hampshire until a mob opposed to the new black first-year students attacked and destroyed the school. Alexander then enrolled in the Oneida Institute in central New York, originally established for the education of Native Americans – it was there that Alexander decided to become an Episcopal priest.
After his ordination, Alexander went to England in the late 1840s to raise money for his parish by lecturing about American slavery. Abolitionists supported his three years of study at Cambridge University, during which time Alexander developed foundational concepts of pan-Africanism.
In 1853 Alexander moved to Liberia, where he worked to educate native Africans while trying to attract black Americans to sail to Africa on their colonial mission. Alexander lived and worked for 20 years in Liberia and appealed to black Americans to join him, but his ideas never gained wide support.
However, Alexander influenced Liberian intellectual and religious life, as a preacher, prophet, social analyst, and educator, proclaiming a special place for Africa, with its God-given moral and religious potential, in the history of redemption.
After returning to the United States in 1872, Alexander 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. Alexander served as rector there until his retirement in 1894. The church was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1976.
W. E. B. Du Bois pays tribute to Alexander with a memorable essay entitled "Of Alexander Crummell," collected in his 1903 book, The Souls of Black Folk.
Almighty and everlasting God, we thank you for your servant Alexander Crummell, whom you called to preach the Gospel to those who were far off and to those who were near. Raise up in this and every land evangelists and heralds of your kingdom, that your Church may proclaim the unsearchable riches of our Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
About Alexander Crummell
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