Friday, October 12, 2012

This Week in Texas Methodist History October 13

Texas Christian Advocate  Slams Integrated Epworth League Meeting in Toronto, October 1897

As regular readers of this column will know, the Epworth League was an organization of Methodist youth in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  Both the northern and southern branches of Methodism embraced the League, and international conventions of the League were one of the few associations that occurred between the MECS and MEC.   The 1897 convention of the Epworth League met in Toronto.  The presence of African American and European American Leaguers mingling on an equal basis infuriated the editor of the Texas Christian Advocate who wrote that it would be better to dissolve the League rather than allow mixed race assemblies. 

The TCA editorial, laced with the paranoia and racism of the time read in part

During the International Epworth League Conference in Toronto the negro (sic) was very much in evidence. This was a great pleasure to our Northern Methodist friends,  They puffed him to the fullest extent possible.  They congratulated all concerned that his presence was not challenged and that he enjoyed all the spiritual and social equality desirable.

His appearance on the platform was the occasion for enthusiastic applause.  He came in and went out a welcome guest, as free as the freest.  The question of social equality was not raised.   The Negro came, saw, and conquered.  The racial problem was solved; Southern prejudice was disarmed; caste was dead.

What are our Southern Leaguers to do about it?  If our young people mingle freely with the negro in Epworth Conference, why should not the older sort associate with him on terms of equality in society and the church?  If a little of the thing is good, then more is better.  If social equality is good for the League, it is good for the whole country. In this conference the principle of white superiority was entirely ignored.  Nothing remains but to carry out the social equality of the negro to its logical results. 

Can not our Southern Leaguers see that the International Conference is being exploited by shrewd Northerners in the interest of social equality?  The great conference proposes to teach this leveling doctrine by both precept and object lesson.  The prejudiced Southerner must take his medicine.  The negro shall come to the front.

. . . We would infinitely prefer to see the International League wiped out forever than to have the social equality proceedings of Toronto duplicated.  .. . Let the Leaguers look to it.  They have been unwittingly entrapped, but we believe that they will extricate themselves right speedily and guard against similar violations of the social code

The Advocate editor  in 1897(and presumed author of the unsigned editorial) was T. R. Pierce (1853-1909), grandson of the illustrious Lovick Pierce and nephew of Bishop George Pierce.  His intemperate invective against the northern church creates some irony.  His grandfather was known to have such a peaceful spirit that after the Civil War Lovick Pierce was sent by the MECS to the MEC General Conference as a peace emissary.  The Wikipedia entry for his uncle mentions the bishop's "irenic spirit."  

At least some African-American Texans were prominent at the convention included the Rev. Frank Gary (1862-1907) a member of the Texas Conference of the MEC appointed to Galveston.  

The Southern Epworth Leaguers did not take Pierce's advice and desert the International Epworth League.   For many MECS Leaguers, such conventions were the only occasions in which they participated in a bi-racial event with equality of the races and provided a very small crack in the color line.

Unfortunately the social code of segregation of the races continued decades after the Toronto Epworth League Conference of 1897.  .  


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