Christian Recorder: October 24, 1878
Mr. Editor. – Owing to a severe attack of chills and malarial fever, which followed me for several days, I have been in no condition to write for some time. I will neccasarily, therefore, have to blend a short sketch of the Illinois and Missouri conferences together, as I was unable to write after leaving the Illinois Conference, till the present time. This will prevent an extensive notice of either, but, as this was done somewhat elaborately last year, it can be more readily dispensed with this year. I must, however, repeat my last year’s expressed opinion, that the Illinois Conference is composed of the finest looking set of colored men that ever assembled together. I believe that half the members will weigh from two hundred upwards, and those under will push it closely, and as for Revs. Henry Brown, W. C. Trevan and J. B. Dawson, nature can give no finer ornamentation to manhood.
Their legislation is almost as grand as their appearance. Rarely is a brother ever interrupted when he takes the floor. Each minister feels it to be good manners to sit and hear him through.
Should anyone attempt to interject a word, while a brother is speaking, you would hear a dozen voices saying, “don’t bother him, I want to hear what he has to say, sit down there, and have some politeness,” and the interrupter is bound to take his seat. Would to heaven our brethren had such respect everywhere for each other. We could do twice the work in half the time, and do it far more intelligently.
Elder Booth is regarded as the great scholar of this conference. As a preacher he is deep, polished; deals extensively in scientific lore, and presents his points in mathematical order.
Rev. J. W. Eads is considered the chief theologian of the conference. I heard the annual sermon preached by him, and, while it did not partake of any theological points of great depth, it was exceedingly eloquent.
Rev. J. W. Malone is one of the most humorous men in debate I ever listened to. He never seems to loose his temper; never gets irritated, and always resents attacks with some remark that will provoke laughter. But it is useless to continue with men, as there is too much merit to write about in one letter. The presiding elder question, which was under consideration, died without a struggle or a gape. I think it was not urged because it was thought Bishop Shorter would oppose it, but several believed it would add to the church numerically, administratively and financially. There will be a heavy fight made at the next General Conference to make the presiding eldership universal on our church, because of the cast amount of maladministrative complaints that come up to every conference. Our Bishops have such an enormous amount of territory to preside over that it is literally impossible for them to visit even the points where their presence is needed, and to offset this condition of things, the presiding elder a office ought to be made universal, and the ablest men of our church, north and south, placed in the said office, otherwise our next General Conference will be compelled to largely increase our episcopal force. The cant phrases that we are not able to support either class of these functionaries, is the barest wild jargon, for the impetus their presence would give to the church would more than pay quintuply.
The Illinois Conference held a yellow fever meeting and raised seventy five dollars for the sufferers, and sent the same to Elder Stringer at Vicksburgh, Miss., high and lofty eulogies were paid to the worth of Bishop Green and Elder Madison, who fell victims to the awful scourge.
Rev. Henry Depugh and his members at Alton, sustained the conference grandly. I have no words that can express my high estimate of brother Depugh; he is the embodiment of politeness and kindness; but I must here leave the Illinois Conference without doing it half justice.
From here I went to St. Louis Mo., spent several days with Rev. John Turner, his spirited lady, and kind people, but was out of full trim during my stay for either preaching or lecturing. I must close here by saying Rev. John Turner is one of God’s noblest pieces of workmanship; his church and people are literal prodigies. St. Paul is the queen church of the State, and the members of the same are extraordinarily progressive; they are destined to be the first people of the land, and the same may be said of the congregation of elder Sexton, in Carondelet, or South St. Louis.
From St. Louis I went in company with elder Turner, to Jefferson City, where the Missouri Conference met, which too was a grand assemblage. This conference has several of the most promising young men in it that I have met anywhere: young men whose natural abilities, combined with considerable culture, bid fair to be giants in our church. They are now practically treading upon the heels of Wilkerson, Turner, Dove, Loving, and Sexton. Indeed Gaines, Owens, Mitchell, Oaks, Gusley, Henderson, and others, are now formidable characters. In progressive measures Gaines leads the conference, but the conservative element is too strong for him yet, neither can his eloquence nor his logic make them venture too far from the old land marks. Elder Dove might be termed the bull dog of the conference. You can seldom arouse him, till some ignoramus attempts to break in, then he growls to the consternation of the uncultivated intellects, for he is determined to keep out men who won’t study and give evidence of promise and usefulness.
Much might be said about the Missouri Conference, and nothing to disgrace, but time will not permit. Suffice it to say they are heavy men, well proportioned physically, intellectually and religiously, and in a few years will be one of the ablest conferences in our connection. Yet I must say, with due regard to Wilkerson, Dove, Turner, &c., that the Missouri Conference ought to be larger than it is. There are enough people in the State to have had two conferences as large as the one they have. Passing through different towns, where the M. E. Church has flourishing churches, I found we did not have a member, at least so it was reported to me. But the truth of the matter is, our church is losing the spirit of missions. I see it and I feel it to my heart, and others are seeing it too. The truth is, some of our conferences are held and the entire business is dispensed without ever recurring to new work at all. It is almost unfashionable to speak of it, and as for foreign work, it is never though of. Bishop Shorter says Brother Mossell and wife are at the point of starvation in Hayti, and as for Africa, her appeals to her more enlightened descendents, especially to our church is virtually responded to by telling her millions to go to hell. Instead of trying to encourage our young men and ladies to go there in considerable numbers and build up a few settlements, and lend a helping hand toward christianizing those people, they are advised to shun Africa and as they would a continent of hobgoblins, and even God is virtually charged with folly for making such a despicable place, and populating it with a people so monstrous and abnormal; a people that deserves no pity, no sympathy, no gospel, no Christ, no salvation, no God. I would as soon be Benedict Arnold as the utterer of some remarks I have heard and read about Africa, by her own descendants. But I must leave this subject, as my soul is tired when I think of some of our blind would-be leaders.
The people of Jefferson City, as in Alton, took fine care of the conference. Elder Henderson deserves great credit for the tact he displayed he displayed in managing his conference responsibilities.
One of the most aristocratic churches of the M. E. Church South, in the State, had our conference to fill its pulpit, and the Governor of Missouri was a listener, as well as a member of said church. While at Alton, Ill., the M. E. Churches did notice us, much less invite the Negro ministers to fill their pulpits. Besides, the ministers of the M. E. Church South, including the presiding elder, visited our conference; spoke words of cheer, and bade us God speed. I could not but note the contrast. Illinois, formerly a free State, with an abolition church, snubs us, while, Missouri, a slave State, with a pro-slavery church, holds out the hand of greeting, and invites us into her pulpits. I had to ask if it was possible that those who struggled hard for our enslavement, were going to be the chief actors in our elevation. Such, I believe, is the omen of the times. Our conference was snubbed last year in Illinois, at Galesburg, the same way by the same church.
My next point was Louisiana, Mo., where I spent a few days with Rev. Birl Mitchell, his estimable wife, and almost incomparable members. Brother Mitchell is a coming young man. The church he has built there within the last year speaks in terms of the highest commendation. He has a small but a fine class of members.
From here I went to Hannibal; was the guest of James Clay; lectured for Elder Wilkerson to a crowded house. It is scarcely necessary that I should say the Wilkerson is a giant in intellect and model in Christianity.
The learned Prof. J. N. Pelham is still here, doing honor to our race as a public instructor, assisted by several competent teachers, one especially Miss Louisa Gordon, who is a rare specimen of fine culture and ladyhood. Her politeness and general urbanity, blended with fine attainments, will carry her to success and honor, where scores of other self inflation will go to wreck.
I next went to Quincy, but, as elder Trevan was absent, I passed on to Keokuk, Iowa. Spent a few days with that polished gentleman and Christian, Rev. J. B. Dawson. Visited the palace of Rev. W. A. Dove, who lives in superb grandeur, and spent a pleasant time. I found more wealth and colored aristocracy in Keokuk than in any place I ever visited, for its size. Our church here is a grand structure; and will be palatial when completed. I must refer to some of these places again, as this letter is already too long.
Oct. 5, 1878.