William McAfee

Physicist William McAfee (September 2, 1914 - February 18, 1990) was born in Ore City, Texas, where his father, Luther, was a mechanic, carpenter, and CME pastor.

Dr. McAfee was a mathematician and researcher at the United States Army Signal Corps Engineering Laboratories at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey for 42 years, first working on Project Diana which studied the Earth's relationship to the moon via radar signal echoing. He earned a BS in Mathematics from Wiley College, an MS from Ohio State University, and a PhD in physics from Cornell University researching on nuclear collisions with his advisor, Nobel laureate Hans Bethe. He also did post-doctoral work at Harvard on high-altitude nuclear explosions.

Dovey Johnson Roundtree

Dovey Johnson Roundtree (born April 17, 1914) was a noted civil rights attorney and WAAC Captain as well as being one of the first women ordained in the African Methodist Episcopal Church (1961). After the death of her father in the 1919 flu epidemic, her family lived with her maternal grandparents, Rev. Clyde and Rachel Graham in Charlotte, NC. Through her grandmother's involvement with women's clubs she met Mary McLeod Bethune when she was in seventh grade, and Bethune continued to be an inspiration to her throughout her life.

Roundtree attended Spelman College, graduating in  1938 and teaching for three years before Bethune selected her as one of forty women to comprise the first African American training class of WAAC officers. She served as a recruiter travelling across the South, where she endured being removed from a bus and also was forced under threat of arrest to give up her seat to a white male Marine. After the war she worked with A. Philip Randolph to make the wartime Fair Employment Practice Committee a permanent entity. During this work she met Pauli Murray who encouraged her to attend law school.

She was one of five women in her 1950 graduating class at Howard Law School; during her time she worked with Thurgood Marshall and other faculty members researching and preparing school desegregation cases which ultimately led to the 1954 Brown decision. She went into practice with Washington DC civil rights attorney Julius Winfield Robertson, and the firm took on the case of Sarah Keys vs Carolina Coach Company. Keys was a WAC private who had been forced to give up her seat much like Roundtree had, and her case challenged the right of a private bus company to impose Jim Crow laws on passengers travelling across state lines. After the case was dismissed by the DC Federal Court it was presented to the Interstate Commerce Commission which ruled in favor of the plaintiff in November 1955 based on the argument that Brown, which was decided by the US Supreme Court earlier that year, was applicable to transportation as well as education. However, it was not enforced by the ICC, and not put into practice until 1961 when Attorney General Robert Kennedy cited Keys v CCC in a Justice Department petition requesting that the ICC abide by the regulations it had approved six years earlier.

Roundtree is also noted for the successful defense of Ray Crump, an African American laborer charged with the 1964 murder of Mary Pinchot Meyer, a Washington socialite and alleged former mistress of President John Kennedy. After a lengthy presentation by the prosecution, Roundtree's defense only took thirty minutes. During that time she called three character witnesses and her only exhibit was Crump himself, who -- at 5'3" and weighing 135 pounds -- was five inches shorter and 50 pounds lighter than the assailant eyewitnesses had seen. (Read more about the Crump trial here.)

In addition to civil rights and criminal law, Roundtree also practiced family and ecumenical law as part of her ministerial duties at Allen Chapel AME. Even after retirement from her law practice in 1996 she continued to advocate for children and victims of urban violence through religious and legal organizations. She is one of the subjects interviewed in the National Visionary Leadership Project series of conversations with extraordinary African American elders.

Susan McKinney Steward

Susan McKinney Steward (March 18, 1847 - March 17, 1918) was the third African American woman licensed to practice medicine and the first in New York State. Her parents, Sylvanus and Anne Springstead Smith, were prosperous farmers in Brooklyn and she taught school for several years before enrolling in the New York Medical College for Women where she graduated as valedictorian in 1870. She operated a clinic in her Brooklyn home from 1870 to 1895, specializing in treatment of childhood diseases, and also had a lucrative practice in Manhattan. She was a founder of the Alumni Association of her alma mater and taught there as well as being active in many other professional and charitable organizations including the Women's Equal Suffrage League.

She studied music as a child and from her teenage years she was organist and choir director at Siloam Presbyterian Church and Bridge Street AME Church in Brooklyn. She was also active in mission work at Bridge Street and president of the local chapter of the Women's Christian Temperance Union. Her first husband was Rev. William G. McKinney, an Episcopalian priest. After he died, in 1896 she married AME pastor Rev. T. G. Steward who was chaplain of the 25th Infantry Buffalo Soldiers. The couple lived in Montana, Nebraska, and Texas before settling in Ohio where both taught at Wilberforce University.

Read more about Dr. Steward here

Ida B. Wells-Barnett

Journalist and anti-lynching activist Ida B. Wells-Barnett was born in Holly Springs, Mississippi six months before President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. She was raised in the Methodist Episcopal Church, and her father was on the Board of Directors of local MEC-affiliated Shaw College (now Rust College) which Ms. Wells attended until the death of her parents during the yellow fever epidemic forced her to work as a teacher to support her brothers and sisters. Teaching in a segregated school system, she earned $30 a month while white teachers were paid $80.
She and two younger siblings moved to Memphis in 1883, where she joined the AME church and often taught children's Sunday school. She began to write for African American newspapers, becoming a co-owner and editor of an anti-segregation newspaper, the Free Speech and Headlight. She spoke out against the lynching of three friends and urged black Memphis residents of leave town, saying, "There is, therefore, only one thing left to do; save our money and leave a town which will neither protect our lives and property, nor give us a fair trial in the courts, but takes us out and murder us in cold blood when accused by white persons."
The newspaper offices were destroyed by a white mob in 1892, and she relocated to Chicago where she published a pamphlet entitled "Southern Horrows: Lynch Law in All Its Phases" that was widely circulated at the World's Columbian Exposition in 1893. She spoke regularly in Europe against lynching and found that audiences there were more easily convinced of the reality of the situation than those in the United States. Another booklet on lynching, "Red Record", was published in 1895 which included vivid descriptions of two lynchings and perhaps the first compilation of lynching statistics.
A free download of "Red Record" is available at Project Gutenberg
Read more about Ida B. Wells here

Evelyn Gibson Lowery

Evelyn Gibson was the daughter of Rev. Dr. Harry Gibson, president of the Memphis NAACP, and the wife of Rev. Dr. Joseph A. Lowery, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). She founded SCLC/Women's Organizational Movement for Equality Now (W.O.M.E.N) to promote the rights of women, children, and families. She also worked to develop coalitions among a broad range of women's groups locally and internationally. She also created the "Drum Major for Justice Award" honoring individuals with exceptional contributions to freedom, justice, and equality.

Joseph Lowery

Rev. Dr. Joseph E. Lowery took part in many of the major events of the Civil Rights Movement, beginning with organizing state-wide support for the Montgomery bus boycott while he was pastor at Warren Street Methodist Church in Mobile, Alabama. He was a founder of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and served as its third president (after Martin Luther King and Ralph Abernathy) from 1977 to 1997. He participated in the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and led the Selma-to-Montgomery march for voting rights. Ebony Magazine named him one of the 15 best black preachers, describing him as "the consummate voice of biblical social relevancy, a focused voice, speaking truth to power.”
Dr. Lowery gave the benediction at President Barack Obama's inauguration in 2009. Read the text and see the video here…/rev-lowery-inauguration-benedi.h…

Vashti Murphy McKenzie

Rev. Vashti Murphy McKenzie was consecrated the 117th Bishop of the AME Church in 2000, the first woman to hold this position. She currently presides over the Tenth Episcopal District, which encompasses the state of Texas.

Before entering the ministry, Bishop McKenzie had a career in journalism, beginning with the family-owned newspaper, the Baltimore, Afro-American, which was founded by her great-grandfather, John Henry Murphy. Her grandmother, Vashti Turley Murphy, was a founder of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. and Bishop McKenzie now serves as National Chaplain of the sorority.

Read more about her here

Jarena Lee

Jarena Lee (1783 - 1855?) was the first woman authorized to preach by AME Bishop Richard Allen. He originally denied her request, to which she replied. “If the man may preach, because the Savior died for him, why not the woman, seeing he died for her also? Is he not a whole Savior, instead of half of one?” Eight years later when a guest preacher at Mother Bethel was unable to go on with his sermon, Mrs. Lee rose from her seat and continued. Bishop Allen then agreed to her request, and her journal notes that in one year she preached 178 sermons and traveled 2,325 miles.
This journal, The Life and Religious Experience of Jarena Lee, was published in 1833, making her the first African American in the United States to publish an autobiography. Read an excerpt here

James Lawson

Rev. James Lawson, a third-generation Methodist pastor, was a leading tactician of the Civil Rights Movement. He took part in CORE's early Freedom Rides in the late 1940s and served 14 months in prison as a conscientious objector during the Korean War. After his release he was a missionary in India where he learned Gandhi's principles of non-violence.
A seminary professor at Oberlin College introduced him to Dr. Martin Luther King, who urged him to come South, saying "We don't have anyone like you down there." Lawson transferred to Vanderbilt University in Nashville where he was the southern director for CORE and trained SNCC activists (including Diane Nash and James Bevel) in nonviolent resistance. In 1962 he began serving as pastor of Centenary Methodist Church in Memphis and was chairman of the 1968 Sanitation Workers' Strike which Dr. King was participating in at the time of his assassination.
Click here for the UMC News Service "Following MLK's Dream" segment on Rev. Lawson…/the-rev.-james-lawson-sharing-mlks-dre…

Rosa Parks

Rosa Parks (February 4, 1913 - October 24, 2005) was  a lifelong member of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. 
We all know the basics of Mrs. Parks's story but while researching her today I found a couple of interesting things Before she worked as a seamstress in a department store in Montgomery she was a housekeeper for Clifford and Virginia Durr and four days before her historic refusal to "move to the back of the bus" she attended a meeting led by activist Dr. T. R. M. Howard addressing what steps could be taken in the wake on the Emmitt Till murder earlier in August of that year. The meeting was at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, pastored by recent Boston University seminary graduate, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (From Wikipedia, admittedly not an always reliable source, but I've never found a historical entry there that wasn't verifiable in other places.

Even more -- Resources for Remembering Rosa Parks and Other Prophets from the UMC Discipleship Ministries…/resources-for-remembering-…

Anna Arnold Hedgeman

Through her position with the National Council of Churches, Anna Arnold Hedgeman was able to recruit 40,000 northern protestants -- most of whom were white -- to join the March on Washington For Jobs and Freedom in 1963, and was part of A. Philip Randolph's planning committee for the march.
Dr. Hedgeman was also a co-founder of the National Organization of Women, the first woman and the first African American in the New York City Mayor's Cabinet under Robert F. Wagner, Jr., Executive Director of Harry Truman's presidential campaign responsible for securing the black vote, and Assistant Dean of Women at Howard University.
A life-long Methodist, she was a graduate of Hamline University in St. Paul, Minnesota, and taught English at Rust College in Holly Springs, Mississippi. Truly an unsung hero in the Civil Rights Movement. Read more about her here

Paul Robeson

Actor/singer Paul Robeson was raised in Methodist parsonages by his widowed father, AME Zion pastor Rev. William Drew Robeson. The younger Robeson often preached in his father's absence. sang in the church choir, and learned Latin and Greek from his father. His older brother Benjamin was a long-time pastor of the first AME Zion church, Mother Africa, founded in 1796 in Harlem.
Paul Robeson, a Rutgers graduate, put himself through law school by playing professional football but soon left his law practice for a stage career. He was one of the most successful American actors of the 1930 and 1940s, best known for his roles in the movie Showboat and in the play Othello which still holds the Broadway record for most performances by a Shakespearean play. His career was cut short by repeated investigations during the McCarthy era of his suspected Communist ties and his criticism of the United States in its treatment of African Americans.
Watch Robeson's performance of Ol' Man River from Showboat and read this excellent biography

Sojourner Truth

Through her work as an itinerant Methodist evangelist beginning in 1828, Isabella Baumfree (who changed her name to the more descriptive Sojourner Truth in 1841) met lecturers on abolition and women's rights. She joined in their cause and soon incorporated many of their visions into her sermons and speeches.
She is most widely known for her 1851 speech "Ain't I a Woman" given in 1851 at the Ohio Women's Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio. When this speech was transcribed by Frances Dana Barker Gage and widely distributed twelve years later, it was written in the dialect of a southern African American. Sojourner Truth was in fact born 50 miles west of New York City and spoke only Dutch until she was nine, and the original title was "Aren't I a Woman?" Both versions can be seen here.

Jessie Daniel Ames

Born in Palestine, Texas, Jessie Daniel Ames was a leader in the state's women's suffrage movement and a founder of the Texas League of Women Voters in 1919. Active in her Women's Society of Christian Service group in Georgetown, she also served on the Board of the Women's Division of the Methodist Episcopal Church - South and as Director of the Texas Council of the Commission on Interracial Cooperation (CIC).
She was named National Director of the CIC in 1929 and relocated to Atlanta, Georgia, where she founded the Association of Southern Women for the Prevention of Lynching.
Read more about Mrs. Ames at the Texas State Historical Association website

Leontyne Price

As a young girl, Leontyne Price (1927- )  was a choir member and accompanist at St. Mark Methodist Church in Laurel, Mississippi, and returned at the height of her career to sing at the dedication on the new church building in 1962. Both her grandfathers were Methodist ministers.
Inspired by attending a Marian Anderson concert at age 9, Ms. Price prepared for a career in music at Wilberforce College and Julliard, and her first starring role was in an international tour of Porgy and Bess in 1952. She sang in the title role of NBC's presentation of Tosca (1955) and soon became the first internationally acclaimed African American opera performer, appearing in Aida at La Scala in Milan and as Cleopatra in Antony and Cleopatra at the dedication of the New York Metropolitan Opera's new building in 1961.

She sang at both Lyndon Johnson's inauguration and at his funeral. During her career she earned over twenty Grammy Awards and was one of the most widely recorded opera singers. She retired from opera in 1985 but continued to sing in concerts and recitals until 1997.
Hear Miss Price sing O Holy Night

Charles A. Tindley

Rev. Charles Tindley (1851-1933) is best know for writing the hymn "I'll Overcome Someday" which was adapted into the civil rights anthem "We Shall Overcome" byparticipants at the Highlander Folk School. Five of his hymns are included in the United Methodist Hymnal.
Rev. Tindley did not attend seminary but was self-taught, learning Greek by correspondence and Hebrew from a local synagogue. He was ordained an elder in 1889 and in 1902 appointed pastor of Philadelphia's Bainbridge Street Methodist Episcopal Church where he had once served as an unpaid janitor. Under his leadership the church grew to over 10,000 members was was renamed Tindley Chapel after his death.
A list of Charles Tindley's hymns

Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander

Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander (1898 - 1989) was one of the first African American women to earn a PhD (in economics from the University of Pennsylvania, 1921), and the first to enroll in Penn Law School, as well as the first to graduate (1927) and to be admitted to the state bar. Her father, Aaron Albert Mossell II, was the first African American male Penn Law graduate, and her uncle, Nathan Francis Mossell, was the first to graduate from Penn Medical School. Another uncle was the noted painter, Henry Ossawa Tanner. Her grandfather, Rev. Benjamin Tucker Tanner, was an A.M.E. bishop and the founding editor of the A.M.E.'s Christian Recorder.
Dr, Alexander and Raymond Pace Alexander formed one of the first husband-and-wife law firms in the country, specializing in civil right cases, including cases that led to integration of public schools in and near Philadelphia. She also served as Assistant City Solicitor, was named to President Truman's Commission on Civil Rights, and was the first national president of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority.
I found many articles out there in cyberspace about what she and her extended family accomplished, but not any single one seemed to cover it all. So, I'm sharing the one I enjoyed the most.…/sweet-sadie-sadie-tan…/

Richard Allen

Richard Allen (February 14, 1760 - March 26, 1831) founded the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME). He began attending Methodist Society meetings in Delaware as a young enslaved man and after buying his freedom became an itinerant evangelist. He "qualified as a preacher" at the 1784 Christmas Conference in Baltimore (the founding of the Methodist Episcopal Church in North America) and soon began serving at St. George's MEC in Philadelphia but was limited to preaching at the 5:00 AM services.
White church leaders were dismayed at the growth in African American membership, which soon surpassed the segregated seating available. When Allen and fellow preacher Absalom Jones were asked to move during prayer while sitting in a whites-only area, they left St. George's and formed the Free Africa Society (FAS), a non-denominational mutual aid society. The FAS became primarily affiliated with the Episcopal Church, but Allen remained Methodist, saying "I was confident that there was no religious sect or denomination would suit the capacity of the colored people as well as the Methodist; for the plain and simple gospel suits best for any people."
He then founded Mother Bethel AME, originally affiliated with the MEC, but in 1816 met with leaders of other African American congregations to form the AME and was elected its first bishop. Read more about the AME here

Sara Bass Allen

Sara Bass Allen (1764-1849) married founding AME Bishop Richard Allen in 1802 after the death of his first wife, Flora. The couple had six children, and in addition to household duties Mrs. Allen was active in the AME. as well as in the Underground Railroad work that the couple did.
She is best known for organizing the women of the church because "the bedraggled appearance of the ministers at the AME Church's first annual conference inspired her to organize the Daughters of Conference, officially designated in 1827. These AME women mended the garments of the ministers, gave them food, and provided them with the material support they needed to survive." After her death the Daughters of Conference was renamed the Sara Allen Women's Missionary Society. She is buried alongside her husband at Mother Bethel AME in Philadelphia.

James H. Cone

James H. Cone, widely known as the father of Black Liberation Theology, attended Macedonia AME Church as a child and is currently an ordained AME minister. His theology grew out of the disconnect he observed in graduate school between the white theologians he studied (his doctoral dissertation at Northwestern was on Karl Barth) and the realities of everyday life in Black America at the height of the Civil Rights Movement.
He summarizes this in one statement from his second book, A Black Theology of Liberation (1970), "Either God is identified with the oppressed to the point that their experience becomes God's experience, or God is a God of racism." Further, during his first teaching position at Philander Smith College in Little Rock, he observed, “What could Karl Barth possibly mean for black students who had come from the cotton fields of Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi, seeking to change the structure of their lives in a society that had defined black as non-being?” (God of the Oppressed, 1975).
Although his framework is built on the context of racism, the Black Power Movement, the Black church experience (including spirituals), and the writings of Henry McNeil Turner and W. E. B. Du Bois, it is based on oppression as much as ethnicity, "Being black in America has little to do with skin color. Being black means that your heart, your soul, your mind, and your body are where the dispossessed are." (Black Theology and Black Power, 1969).
Dr. Cone has written twelve books to date, including The Cross and the Lynching Tree (2014), and is currently the Charles A. Briggs Distinguished Professor of Systemic Theology at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, a position he has held for the last 30 years.