Uncommon Valor: A History of Race and the Holiness Movement

Uncommon Valor: A History of Race and the Holiness Movement

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Before the dawn of the Holiness movement, churches in the Wesleyan tradition struggled to include all races in their churches. Warren Maye has now written a book, Soldiers of Uncommon Valor, which sheds light on this phenomenon as The Salvation Army labored to remain true to its commitment to Blacks despite societal norms.As a result of writing his book, Maye has been approached by Nazarenes who have raised general questions about the history of race and holiness denominations. Here are some of the questions Maye has addressed:

How are the histories of people of African descent in The Salvation Army and those in other holiness denominations similar?
Because of missionary outreach overseas beginning in the 20th century, holiness denominations were significantly influenced by waves of Caribbean immigration to the U.S. Many Caribbeans left their island homes to start new lives in Europe, Canada, or the U.S.In 1914, Caribbean immigrants founded Miller Memorial Church of the Nazarene in Brooklyn, New York (now Community Worship Center). In The Salvation Army, other islanders made their way to corps, or churches, already established in Black communities in the north and south. Today, I've met several Caribbean-born Nazarenes who were descendents of Salvationists.

How do the histories of Blacks in The Salvation Army and those in other holiness denominations differ?
Holiness denominations typically sent missionaries overseas and did not focus on urban and rural areas where African Americans lived. After time, through the early 1920s to the 1940s, Caribbean immigrants wanted to work alongside these missionaries in the U.S. This forced open the door and most Black holiness churches came into being. In contrast, William Booth's protégés came from England to establish the first outposts among African Americans as early as 1872. On March 10, 1880, in New York City, George Scott Railton, a British-born Salvation Army officer, held an open air meeting in which he boldly proclaimed, 'We are honored today to be the only white people in whose company, whose platforms, whose operations, colored people have had the same welcome as others. If they will not join themselves with other races, we will go farther still, and there will be found officers ready to leave off association with their own race in order to rescue those of another.'That promise was celebrated with passionate worship and soul-stirring African American gospel music.

Many officers in the formative years of Black churches were from the Caribbean. Do you think it is significant that they were not of traditional African American origin?
I think it is significant that so many of these Black leaders were not African Americans. Captain S. W. Brathwaite was a Black man who was a former Methodist pastor from British Guyana. In the 1880s he was appointed to lead the 'Great Colored Campaign and Combined Attack on the South' in an attempt to fulfill the Salvation Army's promise of racial and ethnic pluralism. As an immigrant, he offered a much needed freshness to the cause that most Civil War-weary African Americans lacked. After 400 years of slavery and oppression, many of these Blacks just wanted to leave the plantation, find long lost family members, and work their '40 acres and a mule.' Reforming what many Blacks perceived at this point to be a White organization was not their primary objective.

Even more significant was the fact that Brathwaite was an immigrant. The process of leaving his home country and settling in another changed him. As he grew more successful, he became part of a distinctive strain, a risk taker who was focused on an agenda that was different than that of the indigenous people around him-or even the ones he had left behind in Guyana.

When some 88 African Americans emigrated to the continent of Africa in 1822 and ultimately founded the nation of Liberia, they were transformed too. These people who had once been considered less than human, were now purchasing land, building fortifications for protection, retaining a culture that they had brought from the U.S., and growing in numbers.

Warren L. Maye is editor and contributing writer for Good News!, The Salvation Army's eastern territory monthly news magazine, as well as contributing editor and writer for Priority!, a quarterly magazine about the Army's ministry. He and his wife, Marilyn, are members of Bronx Bethany Church of the Nazarene in New York.

Holiness Today, November/December 2008