Henry Highland Garnet served in Jamaica, Liberia, New York & Pittsburgh; 1842 – 1882

Henry Highland Garnet. Born into slavery in Maryland in 1815, Garnet and his family escaped to New York City when he was nine years old. In New York City, Garnet attended the African Free School. In the 1830s, Garnet continued his education at several institutions. He eventually ended up at the Oneida Institute in Whitesboro, New York, finishing his studies in 1840. He became a Presbyterian minister and served as the first pastor of the Liberty Street Negro Presbyterian Church in Troy, New York, beginning in 1842.

His “Call to Rebellion” speech in 1843 encouraged slaves to rebel against their owners. In 1850, Garnet traveled to England and Scotland, where he spoke widely against the practice of slavery. He also supported allowing blacks to emigrate to other lands, such as Liberia in Africa, a country made up mostly of freed slaves. In 1852, Garnet traveled to Jamaica to serve as a missionary. Ill health forced his return to the U.S. in 1855, where he continued his work in the abolitionist movement. In 1856, he served as pastor of the Fifteenth Street Presbyterian Church in Washington, DC.

On February 12, 1865, while in Washington, Garnet made history when he was chosen by President Abraham Lincoln to speak to the House of Representatives—making him the first African American to preach a sermon in the U.S. House of Representatives.

In 1868, Garnet was appointed president of Avery College in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Later he returned to New York City as a pastor at the Shiloh Presbyterian Church (formerly the First Colored Presbyterian Church, and now St. James Presbyterian Church in Harlem).  

Fulfilling a longtime dream, Garnet traveled to Africa in 1881, appointed as the U.S. Minister to Liberia. He died in 1882, a few months after his arrival. Garnet was given a state funeral by the Liberian government and was buried at Palm Grove Cemetery in Monrovia.

The humblest peasant is as free in the sight of God as the proudest monarch that ever swayed a sceptre. Liberty is a spirit sent from God and like its great Author is no respecter of persons.” 

Henry Highland Garnet

Althea & Alonzo Edmiston served in Congo; 1902 – 1937

Althea Brown was born in 1874 in Alabama. Her parents were emancipated from slavery, and she was raised on her father’s farm in Mississippi.
She attended Fisk University, graduated in 1901.

Althea was commissioned as a missionary in 1901 by the Southern Presbyterian Church. She sailed for the Congo in 1902 and worked at a mission station run by William Henry Sheppard – another Black American Missionary.

In 1904 Alonzo Edmiston joined the mission. The next year, he and Althea got married and moved in together. They had three children. At the American Missionary Association of the Congregational Board in the East in 1906, Althea Edmonton spoke. She also spoke at Fisk University, where she gave the commencement address in 1921, and at the Missionary Conference of Negro Women in 1922. (1935). In 1922, the Edmistons worked at Mushenge, where the Congo’s royal family lived and worked together. In the future, they worked with Lulus, the Zappo Zaps, and the Luba people, among other groups of people. At the Mutoto Girls’ Home, Althea Edmiston was in charge for three years, and she was in charge of the day-school system for four more years.

Altheas’s work was as a nurse and also in the area of linguistics. Her work was excellent because she did linguistics without prior training. She ensured that a grammar and dictionary resource was published in the local Bushong language. Liturgical and educational materials were translated by Althea so that there was a small library printed for her students to read in their own language.

Alonzo Edmiston taught agriculture and maintained a boys’ home as part of the Morrison Bible School. “Am still busy getting things in order and getting business in shape to open the Agricultural School next month,” Edmiston wrote in his diary entry for July 12, 1918. “16 or 20 boys of the farm have already given their names to come in after this month is finished. I see great things in front of us for the work. Still there is no end to the hard work to be done to get the work started and keep it going”.

Althea passed away June 9, 1937 in Mutoto. Her illness was sleeping sickness and malaria.

At the end of 1940, Alonzo Edmiston came home from the mission field and settled in Selma, Alabama. For the next ten years, he kept talking about foreign missions at churches, schools, and colleges in the South. On December 5, 1954, he passed away.

Two books that tell much of the story:

A Higher Mission: The Careers of Alonzo and Althea Brown Edmiston in Central Africa

Louise (“Lulu”) Cecilia Fleming served in Congo; 1887 – 1899.

Lulu was born in 1862 as a slave in Florida. In 1887 she became a missionary teacher in Congo. The school had 49 students, and many of them came to Christ through Lulu’s ministry to them. The students were introduced to Jesus because of Lulu’s ministry to them.

This seems a poor report…and perhaps many may think the work almost discouraging, but to us whom God has given the privilege to labor here it is very encouraging. [It] fills us with unspeakable joy. “

Lulu combined her teaching with weekend evangelistic work in the towns, and within a year, she had learned Kikongo and no longer required a translator. When Lulu saw that women needed to be reached, she began making home visits while urging the mission society (American Baptist Foreign Mission Society of the West) to send more women.

In 1891 Lulu returned to the USA as a student at the Women’s Medical College in Philadelphia; Lulu returned to the Congo in 1895 as a medical missionary.

Known as Dr. Fleming, she was stationed at Irebu, further up the Congo River, where she needed to learn a different language. The power of Dr. Fleming’s ministry came from her identification with those among whom she served. The Baptist Missionary Magazine described her as “particularly successful in winning the hearts of the Congo people, putting herself in close touch and sympathy with them.” 

She passed away in 1899 from complications from African sleeping sickness.