Wednesday, August 3

Something to Bragg about

Those Episcopalians are on a roll! Two black men commemorated in one day!!

George Freeman Bragg, Jr., Priest, 1940
An historian whose work gives us invaluable insight into the early history of African Americans in the Episcopal Church, George Freeman Bragg served for 35 years as the secretary of the Conference for Church Workers Among the Colored People and authored important studies such as A History of the Afro-American Group of The Episcopal Church and Richard Allen and Absalom Jones.

The grandson of a slave, Bragg was born into an Episcopalian family in Warrenton, N.C. in 1863. As a young man he campaigned for the Readjuster Party in Virginia, which advocated for voting rights and state supported higher education for African-Americans. He was the editor of the influential black weekly paper The Lancet, which he renamed the Afro-American Churchman upon his entrance into divinity school in 1885. Through this paper, Bragg called attention to the fact that African Americans were treated as recipients of mission work but were not supported in raising up self-sustaining institutions that would have fostered their presence in the church.

George Bragg was ordained a deacon in 1887 in Norfolk, Va. He challenged the diocese’s policy of requiring black men to remain in deacon’s orders for five or more years, much longer than their white counterparts, and in 1888 he was ordained a priest. He served as the rector of St. James’ First African Church in Baltimore for 49 years, from 1891 until his death in 1940. He helped establish the Maryland Home for Friendless Colored Children, and did not cease in his advocacy for black Episcopalians and their full inclusion in the larger life of the church. He vehemently challenged the exclusion of African Americans from the church’s society for mission work. He was instrumental in fostering more than 20 priestly vocations in an environment in which black Episcopalians were often left to fend for themselves without the support and resources of the larger church.

Almighty God, we thank you for the strength and courage of George Freeman Bragg, who rose from slavery to freedom, documented African-American history, and helped to found the first advocacy group for black people. Grant that we may tell the story of your wondrous works in ways that proclaim your justice in our own time, to the glory of Jesus Christ; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

William Edward Burghardt DuBois, Sociologist, 1963
William Edward Burghardt Dubois was born in 1868 in Great Barrington, Mass. As a young man he had already developed a deep concern for the advancement of his race, and at 15, he began to advocate for black Americans in his capacity as the local correspondent for the New York Globe.

In 1896, following the completion of his doctoral degree, Dubois received a fellowship to conduct research in the seventh ward slums of Philadelphia. His work with the urban black population there marked the first scientific approach to sociological study, and for that reason, Dubois is hailed as the father of Social Science.

In 1903, while teaching at Atlanta University, he published his book The Souls of Black Folks, in which he outlined his philosophical disagreement with important figures such as Booker T. Washington, who argued that Black people should forego political equality and civil rights and focus instead on industrial evolution. DuBois believed instead in the higher education of a “talented tenth” whose education would naturally help other African Americans achieve.

In 1906, he sought others to aid him in his efforts toward “organized determination and aggressive action on the part of men who believe in Negro freedom and growth.” The result was the so-called “Niagara Movement” (named for the group’s first meeting site, which was shifted to Canada when they were prevented from meeting in the U.S.), the objectives of which were to advocate civil justice and oppose discrimination. In 1909, most of the group members merged with white supporters and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People was formed. DuBois advanced his causes, sometimes at odds with the white leadership of the NAACP, in the magazine Crisis.

A leading participant in several Pan-African meetings, DuBois renounced his American citizenship and moved to Ghana, where he died in 1963, on the eve of the March on Washington. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote of DuBois, “His singular greatness lay in his quest for truth about his own people. There were very few scholars who concerned themselves with honest study of the black man and he sought to fill the immense void.”

Gracious God, we thank you for the witness of William Edward Burghardt DuBois, passionate prophet of civil rights, whose scholarship advanced the dignity of the souls of black folk; and we pray that we, like him, may use our gifts to do justice in the Name of Jesus Christ our Liberator and Advocate; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God for ever and ever. Amen.

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