Introduction From: African and African Methodism: March 20, 1896

Introduction
From: African and African Methodism, by Alfred Lee Ridgel
Franklin Printing and Publishing Co.. 1896
March 20, 1896


The present age is not famous for deeds of dare and adventure; cheap notoriety, evanescent popularity and temporary honors appear to satisfy the ambition of the present generation. Inordinate selfishness has such a grasp upon the men of to-day, that one is rarely found who is willing to sacrifice his own ease and comfort for the good of others or for a name that will go down to coming ages. Merit, pure and simple, holds a secondary place in these times of scheme and artifice. If we look among statesmen, we find United States senators who have succeeded in getting rich through the issue of bonds upon imaginary stock and futures--actually buying up legislatures for a seat in that grave and venerable assembly, when they know they will not be able to make a speech upon any important question until they have hired some professional speech-writer to manufacture one for them and type-print it, so they can read it as any newspaper article.

Among the members of the lower house of Congress a dozen men, out of three hundred or more, make all of the speeches that have the tinge of statesmanship. The remainder are mere political harangues, made up of wit, humor and sarcasm. The judiciary of the country in the main are composed of failures in the legal profession, for the few able jurists are in such great demand that they are often able to make more out of a single case before the bar than the pay of the judge will amount to in a year, and sometimes in two years. A like imbecility and intellectual and literary impotency run through every grade of juridical and statesmanic scale till we reach the ordinary justice of the peace.

Our authors are more numerous than in any period since time began, but the trashy literature imposed upon the public shows to a demonstration that nine-tenths of them would be better employed reading books than in writing them. Great scholarship, deep reading, profound thought, synthetical and analytical power and systematization is too largely an adjunct of the past, for the reason that social intercourse with the giddy and the gay and the toddy-glass must be denied, and protracted application, as well as burning the midnight oil, is an essential prerequisite to literary excellence and distinction.

The same condition of things aptly applies to the ecclesiastical sphere. Ministers of the gospel in the main no longer hunger and thirst for a profound knowledge of the Bible and a thorough familiarity with theological lore. The chief aim is to squeeze by the committees on examination and get to be deacons and elders, regardless of the necessary qualifications to meet the requirements therewith connected. And if they can flaunt a diploma from some third-class institution of learning, they feign to be insulted if a committee should subject them to a reasonable examination; and when once admitted into the ministry, study and protracted meditation cease to be a virtue. A large majority appear to be ignorant of the fact, that true education requires a lifetime of hard study, and that wit, anecdotes, florid sentences and a few rhetorical embellishments are no test of profundity, either in a literary or an intellectual aspect. Thousands of gospel ministers seem to think they can trick and cunning their way to the hearts of the people, or to their attention at least, and finally to a seat in heaven, without half of the proficiency required of a blacksmith, or a carpenter, or in any other mechanical profession, because it involves talk, forgetful that when talk is defective, or trivial and light, that the people will fully realize it and grade their intelligence and ability accordingly. I know of ministers carrying the title of D.D. who will go to bed at the earliest opportunity and lie there till ten and eleven o'clock next day and complain about not having time to read. Such moral sluggards God never intended to be the directors of His people. Ministerial fitness and fidelity call for industry, patience, endurance, invincibility and consecrated devotion, as well as the sacrifice of self, in all the phases that involve the individual himself, or his family and domestic relations. And in as much as his calling is infinitely more lofty than the statesman, the jurist, the warrior, the explorer, the inventor, the discoverer, or any other pursuit or profession of a secular nature, so his sacrifices heroism, adventures and risks should be infinitely more stupendous and mighty, especially so as Christ Jesus our Lord has promised to be with him till the world shall end.

Among the ministry of African descent in the United States, where they are found in the largest numbers outside of Africa proper, profundity, thoroughness, self-abnegation and the spirit of sacrifice, are at a discount that is alarming, especially in the light of divine revelation. Few of the American Africans, or negroes, if you prefer the term, are willing to make any sacrifice in a physical or secular manner for the amelioration of our condition. No one appears to be willing to sacrifice life, money, or even risk any bodily comforts for the betterment of the masses. No self-protecting organizations exist, no secret pass-words, or forms of expression have been agreed upon as a call to rally to each other's defense when the bloody lynchers are doing their work of death and destruction among our people. And even when one would dare to enter a protest against existing evils, they will fly to the North and play the scullion through the day and write a tissue of abuses at night which is of no practical benefit. It is useless, however, to draw a picture of existing things in a material and moral point of view. The American black man is without a single hero. Indeed, the bulk of them have no proper conception of the meaning of the term.

Churchiologically, the same condition of things exists. The only aspiration for fame, honor and immortality that exists to an insignificant exception is at the expense of others. Many of the pastors will build large churches on credit and have their names engraved on the corner-stone, and hasten away for another minister and the congregation to pay the debt. Those who aspire to distinction in the ranks of the ministry, do so almost invariably through the votes of others, seeking to be elected to the Bishopric, or to some general office, instead of aspiring to distinction by writing hymns or learned works on Theology, Astronomy, Geology, Geography, Chemistry, Intellectual and Moral Philosophy, or delivering a series of lectures on Ancient History, or delving into the labyrinths of Archaeology and establishing the claims of nature to the primitive color of man, and showing through it that all men started black and remained so till God said, "Let there be white," just as He said "Let there be light."

No honors conferred can equal those that come through merit, but meritorious honor and distinction are at a low ebb among negro ecclesiastics, because it involves, as we have said before, an amount of labor, patience, self-abnegation and sacrifice, which is foreign to the age, and especially to the American black man.

Rev. A. L. Ridgel, A.B., Presiding Elder of the Liberia Annual Conference of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, however, is one of the amazing few who has had the courage and the dauntless invincibility to break through the lethargic environments and proclaim himself a hero, not by words, but by works and noble deeds. Nearly four years ago, single and alone, amid discouragements and the condemnation and jeers of his brethren, he surrendered his pulpit at Newport, Arkansas, and turned over a splendid congregation into the hands of his presiding elder for him or the Bishop to fill, and began to travel and collect money and means to enable him to go as a missionary to Africa. I need not describe what he had to contend with, for the book you will read, after glancing at this introduction, will describe it too well for our credit and the honor of our common Christianity. Elder Ridgel stands without a peer among the young men, not only in the A. M. E. Church, but of any church manipulated and managed by members of our race. Since he has been in Africa he has had to battle with poverty, look starvation in the face, fight with maladies indigenous to a strange country, contend with a tropical fever, and bear the abuse, misrepresentation and vilification by those behind from whom he expected sympathy, prayers, support and words of comfort and cheer. But, like a man of valor and a hero as he is, he bore it all and stood like an impregnable wall, preached the gospel with a power and eloquence that has enabled him to take hundreds into the church and enlarge the boundaries of the connection, and at the same time write scores of letters for the press of the country describing the resources of Africa and the possibility of our church; also preparing booklets for publication, editing a paper with an extensive circulation, which is read upon three continents, and now he gives the world a decent volume, which for size, diction, rhetoric, thought, logic, philosophy and learning will be read and admired by tens of thousands. There are chapters in this volume, the subjects of which are treated with an ability that would not reflect upon Lord Macaulay himself. This production alone will immortalize the name of Elder Ridgel, should he never write another. Not only for its chaste diction, terse and pointed sentences, wide reading and commendable learning, but the question will rise in the future, how he could command himself, utilize the severe ordeal through which he has passed and concentrate his intellectual powers to discuss such grave questions as he has raised and treated with such consummate ability. The reader will find a vein of philosophy in his treatment of the dissimilarity between the African autochthons and the African Americanized, which, we venture to say, has never been brought out by any of the writers of the present generation. He shows beyond question that none of the proletaneous divisions of the Africans can equal in manhood instincts those upon their native soil, for the reason, as we have said a thousand times, their environments tend to dwarf them and in every instance they will be successful. Subjugation begets degradation, and degradation begets treachery and racial infidelity, as is verified in the treachery of the Irish and Polanders, which abound with traitors toward each other, and will as long as they are the victims of subjugation by other nationalities.

We are glad that Dr. J. M. Conner was kind enough to furnish a sketch of Brother Ridgel's life, for if he is true to himself in the future, as he has been in the past, the world will need this information when he shall have paid the debt of nature; for the history of Sierra Leone and of Liberia with their religious achievements can never be written up without incorporating the name and labors of Rev. A. L. Ridgel. And yet his career has virtually just commenced; where it will end can only be determined by that God who can read the future. Trusting that this book will be an inspiration to the men of the present day and millions who are sleeping in the womb of the future, and that its contents may evolve great and mighty men and women from the descendants of Africa, we ask upon this effort the blessings of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost.

Fraternally,

H. M. TURNER.

Atlanta, Ga., U. S. A., March 20, 1896.