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Ira AldridgeIra Aldridge
Charles C. AndrewsCharles C. Andrews
Samuel E. CornishSamuel E. Cornish
Alexander CrummellAlexander Crummell
Henry Highland GarnetHenry Highland Garnet
James McCune SmithJames McCune Smith
John TeasmanJohn Teasman

Alexander Crummell

I saw Alexander Crummell first at a Wilberforce commencement season, amid its bustle and crush. Tall, frail, and black he stood, with simple dignity and an unmistakable air of good breeding. I talked with him apart, where the storming of the lusty young orators could not harm us. I spoke to him politely, then curiously, then eagerly, as I began to feel the fineness of his character,—his calm courtesy, the sweetness of his strength, and his fair blending of the hope and truth of life. Instinctively I bowed before this man, as one bows before the prophets of the world.
—W. E. B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk

Like Henry Highland Garnet, Alexander Crummell embraced the controversial belief that African Americans could, and should, return to Africa to colonize the nation of Liberia. The son of a slave father and a free mother, Crummell was born in New York City in 1819. Crummell was educated at the New York African Free School, and, as was the case with other graduates of the school, Crummell had difficulty gaining access to higher education. He attended schools in New Hampshire and Oneida, New York. He was ordained a minister at the age of 25. Unfortunately, race excluded him from equal commerce with white clergy in the United States, and he moved to England, where he received a degree at Queens College, in Cambridge.

Crummell spent over twenty years as a missionary to Liberia. In doing so, he occupied a thorny position—he came from a land which discriminated against his race, armed with the very beliefs in African inferiority that had made his own life so difficult. As a Christian minister, he sought to “civilize” Africans by bringing them Christianity to replace their own native customs and religious practices. In 1880, Crummell founded a school and a church in Washington, D.C.

Alexander Crummell

Portrait of Alexander Crummell, c. 1890s. Photographer unknown.

Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations