September 10: Alexander Crummell, 1898

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About this commemoration

Born March 3, 1819, in New York City, Alexander Crummell struggled against racism all his life. As a young man, he was driven out of an academy in New Hampshire, dismissed as a candidate for Holy Orders in New York, and rejected for admittance to General Seminary.

Ordained in 1844 as a priest in the Diocese of Massachusetts, he left for England after being excluded from participating in diocesan convention.

After receiving a degree from Cambridge, he went to Liberia as a missionary. The African race, Crummell believed, possessed a “warm, emotional and impulsive energy,” which in America had been corrupted by oppression. The Episcopal Church, with its emphasis on rational and moral discipline, was especially fitted for the moral and spiritual regeneration of Afro-Americans. A model Christian republic seemed possible in Liberia. European education and technology, combined with traditional African communal culture, and undergirded by a national Episcopal Church headed by a black bishop, was the vision espoused by Crummell. He traveled extensively in the United States urging blacks to immigrate to Liberia and support the work of the Church there.

On returning to Liberia, he worked to establish a national Episcopal Church. Political opposition and a loss of funding finally forced him to return to the United States. He concentrated his efforts on establishing a strong urban presence of independent black congregations that would be centers of worship, education and social service. When southern bishops proposed that a separate missionary district be created for black congregations, Crummell created a national convocation to fight the proposal. The Union of Black Episcopalians is an outgrowth of that organization.

Crummell’s ministry spanned more than half a century and three continents. Everywhere, at all times, he labored to prepare his people and to build institutions that would serve them and provide scope for the exercises of their gifts in leadership and creativity. His faith in God, his perseverance in spite of repeated discouragement, his perception that the Church transcended the racism and limited vision of its rulers, and his unfailing belief in the goodness and greatness of black people are the legacy of this Afro-American pioneer.


Almighty and everlasting God, we thank thee for thy servant Alexander Crummell, whom thou didst call to preach the Gospel to those who were far off and to those who were near. Raise up, we beseech thee, in this and every land evangelists and heralds of thy kingdom, that thy Church may proclaim the unsearchable riches of our Savior Jesus Christ, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Almighty and everlasting God, we thank you for your servant Alexander Crummell, whom you called to preach the Gospel to those who were far off and to those who were near. Raise up in this and every land evangelists and heralds of your kingdom, that your Church may proclaim the unsearchable riches of our Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) 2:7–11, 17–18

James 1:2–5

Mark 4:1–10, 13–20

Psalm 19:7–11

Preface of a Saint (2)

Text From Holy, Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints © 2010 by The Church Pension Fund. Used by permission.

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9 thoughts on “September 10: Alexander Crummell, 1898

  1. “The Episcopal Church, with its emphasis on rational and moral discipline, was especially fitted for the moral and spiritual regeneration of Afro-Americans.” Are these Crummell’s own words? If not, perhaps a quote from him on the subject would be better. This sounds a bit smug.

  2. This is one of the many people in HWHM whose name should be listed in a (perhaps online) pronunciation guide. He’s been in the calendar for years, but I’ve never met anyone who was sure how his surname is pronounced. I can think of three pronunciations. Crumble without the b? Crew-MELL? CREW-m’l? Crum(b)-MELL?

  3. Here is a modern saint. Even with the modest info provided in the biography, it’s obvious he belongs. The propers (from LLF) are excellent and the new second reading seems appropriate,

  4. Though the only change was in the readings for Alexander Crummell, I have found his biography very confusing, in large part because I cannot follow the sequence of events as they relate to his life. Was he ordained before he went to Cambridge? [I assume the reference is to Cambridge University in England but that assumption should not be made. The reference to England is in the previous paragraph and one has to assume that the next paragraph refers immediately to the previous. Given the level of geography understanding that even college graduates have, please, never assume that someone knows where a place or university is located. This comment also refers to other biographies where places are mentioned with no state or country indicated.

    Alexander Crummell has no heading beyond his name. Priest is mentioned in his biography. Did he have a title in Lesser Feasts and Fasts and it somehow “got lost”?

    At the end of the second paragraph, there is a reference to his travel in the United States. When was this and how does this relate to his vision of Liberia?

    I was confused by the sequence of Alexander Crummell’s return to Liberia and the creation of the Union of Black Episcopalians.

    It seems as though Alexander Crummell was is Liberia on several occasions but that his work there was unsuccessful.

    For many persons “in the pews” who are not from the New York City area, this biography may be the one and only time they learn about Alexander Crummell. Do not weight the biography down with dates, but PLEASE provide some better signposts for the sequence of events in his life that the last paragraph which extols the virtues of this man. I realize that a ministry of more than 50 years and “three continents” can be hard to summarize in one page. But I think this biography could be written much better.

  5. In this bio (from Lesser Feasts and Fasts 06) are these examples: Afro-Americans, black bishop, ‘… blacks to immigrate to Liberia …’, black congregations, Black Episcopalians.
    Now that we are reviewing all of the bios, HWHM’s bios should utilize consistent words to reference races and groups of persons.

    3rd paragraph: ‘When Southern bishops proposed …’ I believe that ‘Southern’ should be capitalized. These are not just Bishops who lived in some southern area; they lived in the South. And, ‘He died in 1898.’ statement needs to be added.

  6. There should be a sub-heading under the caption on the page listing the Propers. Perhaps “Priest and Anti-Racist”, or “Priest and Leader in the struggle against Racism”. That’s a bit long-winded, but I believe these subheadings should try to indicate the reason why we choose to select such persons as saints worthy of inclusion in our calendar.

    In line 2 of the first paragraph, after “man” I would add “of color”; this is desirable for those not initially aware of why he suffered such discrimination in his early adulthood.

    (Since we have just read that he has gone to England, in this instance I believe the word “Cambridge” is clear enough to refer to the university “across the Pond”.)

    In line 2 of the second paragraph, should we use the phrase “the African race”? The idea that there’s a “white race” and an “African race” is dated, simplistic, and inadequate. It may be accurate to state that Crummell believed that, but I see no need to perpetuate the concept. Why not simply “Africans”?

    To avoid ignorant criticism, would it be helpful in line 6 of the second paragraph to insert “the people then known as” before “African-Americans”, putting that out-of-fashion name in quotation marks?

    In line 11 of the second paragraph, substitute “emigrate” for “immigrate”. (If Crummell had been writing in Liberia, “immigrate” would be correct, but since he was in the United States “emigrate” is the correct form.) (I write as an immigrant who emigrated from the UK–and who also understands the etymology of those words…)

    In line 6 of the third paragraph, I recommend an upper case “S” for the first word, The adjective is not a purely geographical term, but also reflects the culture which resulted in the Confederacy, earlier in the nineteenth century.

    In line 2 of the fourth paragraph, substitute “black” for “his”, to avoid the patronizing white attitude exemplified by the phrase “a credit to his race”.

    In line 7 of the fourth paragraph, substitute “leaders” for “rulers”, please!

  7. In line 7 of the last paragraph (it’s the fifth, by my count), let’s be specific: make it neither “rulers” nor “leaders” but “bishops.” If I remember rightly, the House of Bishops was still insisting that the separation of the races was a valid theological position that the church must respect in 1958.
    In the paragraph before that one, Crummel’s organization didn’t just “fight” the proposal for a “separate and unequal” missionary district. They DEFEATED it, despite the fact that a majority of the bishops at the 1883 General Convention voted for it. Another case where it wasn’t the bishops who were leading the church in the paths of righteousness. And to save Googling homilists considerable trouble, shouldn’t the proposal be identified by name by which it is generally known, the “Sewanee Canon,” after the place where it was drafted? Or at least give the date, as it took seventy years to finally get this kind of thing out of our system.
    It may be just me, but the very last line (“the goodness and greatness”) makes Crummell sound like an early Afro-supremacist, which I don’t think he was.
    Despite their loss at General Convention, most Southern diocese instituted their own separate structures for black parishes over the next decades. The Diocese of Arkansas founded its “Afro-American Convocation” in 1903. The name was changed to “Colored” in 1920 and then to “Negro” in 1939. We seem to have come full circle on nomenclature. Nevertheless, HWHM needs to pick one term for black people and stick with it, if only to make it easier to change when the times shall alter.
    One final thought: if Crummel and Demby are in, what about Southern Virginia’s James Solomon Russell?

  8. Re: subtitle in HWHM.

    LFF 06 has this subtitle for Alexander Crummell: “Priest, Missionary, and Educator’.
    It is missing in HWHM.

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