story untold ch 6

story untold ch 6 - The Slave WHO Founded a college Lucius...

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Unformatted text preview: The Slave WHO Founded a college Lucius Henry Holsey BLACK MEN AND WOMEN IN ATHENS HISTORY I had to walk the town to get up pupils for the school [Paine College]. uring his seventy eight years of life Lucius Henry Holsey rose from the depths of illiteracy and slavery to the highest levels of prominence in religion and education. When he first arrived in Athens in the winter of 1857, he was fourteen years old, the product of racially mixed parents, and “the property of Col. R. M. Johnston, a professor at the state college.” Holsey and his biographer, John Cade, point to his years of residence as a slave in Athens as one of the most important periods of his life.* The little college town and its institution of higher learning served as the primal catalytic agents in the crea- tion of Holsey’s desire to learn and his conversion to the Christian faith. The atmosphere of the city and the college created in Holsey what he later described as “an insatiable craving for some knowl- edge of books.” Although it was against the law for slaves to read and write, Holsey was prepared to take whatever risks might be necessary in order to learn. His first task was to obtain money for the books he needed. Holsey wrote, Such was the condition and feeling against the school that} had to pay the students fifty cents a day to attend. . . . had it not been for this strategy and cunning, there could not have been started Paine College in that city. Not a man who belonged to our church would help, but derided the movement, hissed it, and howled it to the ground. Lucius Henry Holsey 'John Brother Cade was a 1914 graduate of Knox Institute in Athens, and a 1915 gradu- ate of the printing department of the same institution. He served for many years as the chief registrar at Paine College in Augusta. A STORY UNTOLD I gathered and sold all the rags that I could, and sold them that I might get some money with which to buy books. After weeks of toil and intense vigilance in gathering and watching for rags that belonged to the first man that laid hands upon them, I had accumulated about thirty pounds. These I stuffed into the legs and seat of a pair of old white pantaloons, the cast off gar- ment of a large and long-legged man. At night after tea, I was allowed to “go downtown” for recreation. I hired a boy to help me carry the rags to sell them to the rag merchant. . . . The rags were sold and the money was mine. With the money, Holsey bought the books which he thought belonged in his basic library: “two Webster blue back spellers, a common school dictionary, Milton’s Paradise Lost, and a Bible.” Then, with the help of “white children and an old colored man,” Holsey began his lifelong task of self-education. He studied at night by the flickering light of the fireplace, or snatched moments here and there during the day in order to learn to read and write. In his autobiography, Holsey explains his surreptitious method of learning. Day by day, I took a leaf from one of the spelling books, and so folded it that one or two of the lessons were on the outside as if printed on a card. This I put in the pocket of my vest or coat, and when I was sitting on the carriage, walking the yard or streets, or in the dining room, I would take out my spelling leaf, catch a word and commit it to memory. At the age of fifteen, a significant event occurred in Holsey’s life: he was converted by Bishop Henry McNeal Turner, a promi- nent black clergyman and politician, and became a member of the Methodist church in Athens. Bishop Turner was a clergyman, politician, and early propo- nent of black nationalism who attracted huge audiences of whites and blacks throughout the Southeast as a traveling evangelist for BLACK MEN AND WOMEN IN ATHENS HISTORY the Southern Methodist Church. When Bishop Turner came to Athens, Holsey recalled he preached every night to appreciative congregations, and under his powerful sermons I experienced a change of heart, and became a zealous member of the church. For the rest of his life, as Holsey himself wrote, his history was “the history of the church of which I am a member. Its his- tory cannot be written nor its records compiled without me as one of the chief actors in its drama. . . ” In 1861, when Holsey was nineteen, the war that divided America and ultimately freed the slaves began, prompting Col. Johnston to move his family and his slave to Hancock County until the end of the war. After his emancipation, Holsey realized one of his greatest ambitions by becoming a licensed preacher for the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, in 1868. He was appoin- ted “senior preacher” in the Hancock Circuit which covered the entire county and included seven black churches. Unfortunately, Holsey’s voice was weak. As for the all- important “dramatics of preaching, he then had none.” People went to sleep during his sermons. They longed for the junior preacher, a Reverend E. B. Oliver, who possessed “a clear, loud, high, ringing voice [of] rare depths of pathos and sweetness”—the kind of voice which inspired congregations. One of the most difficult things with which I had to contend was to get from under the withering blight of his [Oliver’s] trumpet voice. . . . I could not move the multitudes to tears like the junior preacher, although it 'was understood by the people that I was “the deeper reasoner,” as they used to say, but was “no preacher.” Holsey was determined to overcome his problem. He asked himself: What shall I do to make it [his voice] thunder, scream, screech, howl, or roar as did the junior preacher?. . . A STORY UNTOLD I often spent an hour in the woods, and from a pine stump, serving as a temporary pulpit, I would take the text to be used on the next Sabbath, and from it preach in a loud voice. . . . This practice helped me wonder- fully, and soon I began to thunder and rattle like the other big preachers. Five years after Holsey was licensed to preach, he became—at age thirty—“one of the youngest men ever elected bishop in any age or church.” The General Conference of the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church elected and consecrated him bishop in extra- ordinary session in Augusta, in 1873. Three years later, Holsey helped to organize the African Methodist Episcopal Church, South, as a separate entity. He was also responsible for compiling a hymnal and a manual of discipline for the church. In 1881, the thirty-eight-year-old bishop was awarded one of Methodism’s highest honors. While attending an Ecumenical Coun- cil meeting in London, Holsey “preached in City Road Chapel, the distinguished Mother of Methodism, from the same little box pul- pit from which John Wesley preached the gospel of free grace.” But the establishment of Paine Institute in Augusta was Holsey’s foremost accomplishment in education. The thirty-nine- year-old Holsey went before the bishops at the General Confer- ence of the Methodist Episcopal Church and presented an urgent plea for the establishment of a college for the express purpose of educating black preachers and teachers. He felt this was the job of the church, since the state provided primary instruction for black children. The institute was incorporated a year later in 1883, and later renamed Paine College. It remains, almost one hundred years later, as a monument to Holsey and the many people, both black and white, who have contributed to its growth. In 1897, the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church appointed him to go on a nationwide speaking tour to raise funds for the BLACK MEN AND WOMEN IN ATHENS HISTORY erection of “a suitable school building” on the Paine College cam pus. The black and white audiences he spoke to saw before them 3 slender, tall, handsome man in the traditional dark suit and cleri cal collar. He had fair skin, a lofty forehead framed by auburi hair, and looked out at them with “clear and penetrating” brown eyes. At first Holsey was disheartened by the lukewarm reception: he received in surrounding states. But his luck turned when he re turned to the Classic City he had left as a slave. As bishop of th( Colored Methodist Episcopal Church, he was summoned tc address the North Georgia Conference and had, as his biographei puts it, “his most single success in the matter of collecting mone) for the Paine Institute.” The New York Independent gave the following account 01 Holsey’s presentation to Athens citizens in December of 1897: The call was for $1,000 at least, and $1,526 Was raised. . . . Is it not something that such a man as Holsey is the product of Southern Civilization and Southern Methodism?—The Negro, said he, is here to stay; he has been, and is now, a strong factor in the civi- lization of this country. Holsey himself was encouraged by the generous response of his home town. He wrote, “This collection. . . was a record smasher and is the highest collection made by our church. It was simply phenomenal. . . .” In an article for the Gospel Trumpet, he concluded, Everywhere among the Southern Methodist people, there is a new awakening and a sincere desire to help the Afro-Americans to rise from the darkness of the past. Two years after this record-smashing collection, Haygood Memorial Hall, “a substantial four story” brick structure, was occupied on the Paine campus. The building was an Augusta land- mark for about seventy years until it was destroyed by fire in the A STORY UNTOLD summer of 1968. It has since been replaced by a new multimillion dollar structure christened Haygood-Holsey Hall. Ironically, Holsey Hall—named in honor of Paine’s founder and formerly the oldest building on the school’s campus—had to be razed in order to make room for the new structure. A firm believer in education for blacks, Holsey also had a. hand in establishing three other schools: Lane College in Jackson, Tennessee; Helen B. Cobb Institute in Barnesville, Georgia; and Holsey Industrial Institute in Cordele, Georgia. Although Holsey was the principal organizer of Paine College, an institution that has served as a model for racial cooper- ration in the South for nearly a century, he was a separatist throughout his adult life. He believed the only salvation for the black man in America was his complete physical separation from the white race. As early as 1866, when he was only twenty-three years old, he was advocating the migration of “Afro-Americans” as he called the black people, from among white Americans, particularly in the South. He also realized that some southern whites would be more willing to contribute funds to educational institutions which were preparing their graduates to return to Africa. He stated the basis of his beliefs in an article in The Atlanta Constitution in 1899. Each year the racial differences are rendering it more and more impossible for the whites and blacks to occupy the same territory, and there is nothing for the black man to do but to move or remain here as an oppressed and degraded race. “America is not the final place, not even a good place for the Negro,” Holsey said at an Emancipation Proclamation Day cele- bration at Sparta in 1866. He prophesied that Africa would some- day command a position of prominence in world affairs and that, BLACK MEN AND WOMEN IN ATHENS HISTORY because of the efforts of some “great and good men, this country is fitting the Negro for his fatherland in Africa. . . .” In fact, as his biographer writes: He predicted a future where the dark continent will be equal to any other. In vision he saw the busy world of Africa engaged in mining and manufacturing . . . and that if the Afro-American continues to increase in civi- lization, he will return to Africa and claim it for Christ. Many whites readily accepted the idea of black emigration to Africa because it was, to them, an easy and sure answer to the problems of integration. Besides, Holsey defended his philosophy against its detractors by pointing out that Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Daniel Webster, and Athens native Henry Grady had previously expressed similar beliefs. But by 1898, Bishop Holsey realized that the exodus to Africa was a remote possibility at best. He therefore began to advocate a compromise plan: the creation of a black nation some- where in the United States, “possibly in Oklahoma or New Mexico.” It is “impossible for the two separate and distinct races to live together in the same territory in harmonious relationship,” Holsey said in a speech before a church congregation in Washington, DC. Because of the “infinite volume of racial preju- dices,” he called on the federal government to set aside “some territory or parts of the public domain for the specific purpose of forming a state or states for qualified Negro American citizens.” His separatist beliefs antagonized those, black and white, who believed that America was the rightful home of the black man and that black and white could live side by side. John Cade suggests, then refutes, the contention that Holsey’s philosophy caused a rift between himself and the white administration at Paine College. But Holsey maintained his beliefs until he died at the age of seventy-eight. “The Union of States will never be fully and perfectly recemented. . . until black Ham and white Japheth A STORY UNTOLD dwell together in separate tents,” he wrote toward the end of life. He states his belief again in this excerpt from his unpublished: -_ autobiography: . . more than fifty years ago I . . . asked for a state or states in the union of states for the colored race. Ever since that time I have not only marked the trend of events but I have never dropped the thought out of my mind for a day . . . and I have seen nothing in the evo- lution of the decades to change my views then expressed. Fifty-four years have passed away since freedom was declared to the four million slaves . . . [they have] all the versatile and dominant elements to respond to the greatest demands and the highest calls. This being the case, the colored race will never be satisfied or rest in peace until it is allowed the same rights of full citi- zenship that other races enjoy. Hence, the conflict will continue and racial antago- nisms and bitterness will grow larger, deeper, and broader, until the whole hemisphere of the civic state will be filled with conflicting and contending forces; and the black man will be the extreme sufferer. Holsey remained physically active throughout his long, pro- ductive life even though he suffered from consumption. As a young cleric, he usually walked to other cities and towns, with the aid of his ever-present cane, when his religious duties required him to travel. Even in his later years he often disdained the luxury of horse-powered transportation. At his death in 1920, the following eulogy was published in The Christian Index: He could make smart men go back to their books and fools take to the woods. He could lay any man on his dissecting table and hold him up piece by piece. . . . He cared not much for chasing rabbits; he liked the trail of deer or bear or even lions. Haygood Hall at Paine College A STORY UNTOLD Paine College President Dr. Julius Scott made the followiri observation: " It was Bishop Holsey’s vision and committment to higher learning that served as the genesis for the crea- tion of this institution. He was without any doubt the person most singly responsible for the creation of Paine College. The chaplain of Paine College, Dr. Maurice Cherry, called him “a person of great vision and. . . far ahead of his times. '31 was perceptive, analytical and hard-working.” _. I' But perhaps the most poignant epitaph was written by‘ Bishop Holsey himself when he said: ‘ ‘ From youth until the present, life has been an unremit- ting struggle and a perpetual series of trials and con- flicts. I have helped every man, woman, and child thatI could, and have tried to bear the burdens of others as the scriptures direct. ...
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story untold ch 6 - The Slave WHO Founded a college Lucius...

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