Saturday, June 14, 2014

This Week in Texas Methodist History   June 15

Celebrate Juneteenth!

Juneteenth is the holiday which commemorates the announcement of the Emancipation Proclamation by General Gordon Granger in Galveston on June 19, 1865.  The day is celebrated by orations, parades, picnics, and religious services.  That is appropriate since one aspect of freedom was the right to organize one’s religious life.  

The Methodist Episcopal Church South in Texas in the 1840s and 1850s appointed some of its preachers to “African Missions” throughout the two annual conferences of the era.  It was also common for Methodist churches to hold services for whites on Sunday morning and slaves on Sunday afternoon.  There are a few examples of the two races worshiping at the same hour as at Marshall where whites sat on the ground floor and African-Americans in the balcony.  

I have been able to find references to at least five enslaved African-American who were licensed as local preachers (two in Liberty, two in Brazoria, and one in Brenham.).  Unfortunately they remain anonymous.  The only name we have is “Uncle Mark” who preached in Washington County.  

Freedom resulted in a grand blossoming of religious life among African-Americans in Texas.  Within a decade of freedom, there were autonomous African-American congregations of the MEC, AME, AMEZ, and CME denominations.  Many Baptist Churches were also founded during Reconstruction.  

The earliest reference I can find for a white Methodist preacher continuing to preach to a mixed race congregation after Juneteenth comes from the Bellville Countryman, July 1, 1865, 

Rev. Dashiell preached at this place in pursuance of his regular appointment on Sunday, 2nd inst. In the evening of the same day, he preached to the freedmen.  There were a good many white people present.  It was an excellent discourse, appropriate to their new condition. . . .Mr. Dashiell is a favorite with all classes and denominations.

Just a week after Juneteenth Benjamin Dashiell* preached to a mixed race congregation at Bellville, but the dream of a truly inclusive church was not going to occur for another century.  The MECS, stunned by the defection of legions of its newly-freed African-American members, created new conferences for the ones who stayed.  Those conferences became the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church South, then the Colored Methodist Episcopal, and eventually the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church.  The MEC created a bi-racial Texas Conference, but that lasted only one quadrennium.  (see post for May 25 below) 

Juneteenth was a glorious day, but the struggle for full inclusion in the promise of America was entering a new phase.  

*Dashiell was born in Maryland in 1831.  His family came to Texas in 1837, but he returned to Maryland for his education.  He was admitted to the Texas Conference in 1852 and served various charges including Richmond, Gonzales, San Marcos, LaGrange, and Chappell Hill.  

He was associated with Soule University in Chappell Hill, but since the school had closed, he preached at Bellville.  After the war, he served as Presiding Elder of the Chappell Hill District.  

Dashiell was a tragic figure.  He developed a tumor on his leg, and underwent several unsuccessful, painful surgeries.  He preached while leaning on crutches.  He died in 1882 three months before Robert Alexander also died after being subjected to numerous surgeries.  Both preachers are buried in Brenham. 


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