Birthday of Daniel Payne

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Born on this day in 1811, Daniel Alexander Payne became an important force in the African Methodist Episcopal Church as well as the President of Wilberforce University in Ohio. He was born to parents who were part of a small community of free blacks residing in Charleston, SC. Both of his parents died before adulthood, which meant that his great aunt took over his upbringing. He was educated by the Minors’ Moralist Society and self-taught to a significant extent. At age 18 he opened his first school. Following the Nat Turner Rebellion in 1831, South Carolina passed restrictive laws limiting not only slave rights but also the rights of free blacks. In 1835 teaching literacy to either free or enslaved black people was outlawed, becoming punishable by fines and imprisonment. This forced Payne to close his school and he soon after left Charleston and moved to Philadelphia. Payne attended a Lutheran Seminary there for sometime, but dropped out due to eyesight troubles. In 1840 he founded another school and two years later joined the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME), viewing black churches as a powerful force toward fighting slavery and racism. He was instrumental in shaping a program of studies for AME ministers including English grammar, geography, math, ancient and modern history, history of the church and theology. He strongly believed that ministers needed to be educated and literate in order to help lift up their parishioners and set an example. In 1852 he was elected and consecrated as a Bishop in the church. Four years later, he, along with three other African-Americans, was part of the founding board of directors for Wilberforce University, making it the first historically black college that includes blacks among the founders. Many of the students by the onset of the Civil War were the mixed-race children of white southern plantation owners and farmers, who could not receive an education in the South. Wilberforce had to close temporarily for a year during the Civil War due to budget problems. In 1863 the AME bought the school outright and that same year Payne became its president, making him the first black president of a college in the United States. In 1865 he traveled back to the South for the first time since he left, working in Charleston to establish an AME church there. A year later the congregation totalled 50,000 members. He helped spread the AME denomination throughout the South, it’s numbers increasing consistently throughout Reconstruction. He remained president of Wilberforce until 1877 and passed away in 1893.

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