Reference Entry

Brawley, Edward McKnight

Sandy Dwayne Martin

in African American National Biography

Published in print January 2006 | ISBN: 9780195301731
Brawley, Edward McKnight

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Baptist minister, educator, and editor, was born in Charleston, South Carolina, the son of free African American parents, Ann L. (maiden name unknown) and James M. Brawley. Brawley's parents took a keen interest in the education and professional development of their son, providing him private schooling in Charleston, sending him at the age of ten to Philadelphia to attend grammar school and the Institute for Colored Youth, and apprenticing him to a shoemaker in Charleston from 1866 to 1869. He enrolled as the first theological student at Howard University for a few months in 1870 but then transferred to Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, in January 1871. The first African American student at Bucknell, Brawley completed his education with the encouragement and financial support of a white couple named Griffith and with his own work teaching vocal music and preaching during school vacations. The white Baptist church in Lewisburg with which he had affiliated ordained him to the ministry the day after his graduation, 1 July 1875; he was examined by a board composed largely of professors and other learned individuals. In 1878 he received an AM from Bucknell and, in 1885, an honorary doctor of divinity degree from the State University in Louisville, Kentucky.Brawley's first marriage in 1877 lasted only a year; his wife, Mary W. Warrick, and their baby both died. His second marriage, to Margaret Dickerson in 1879, produced four children; one of them, Benjamin Brawley, became a renowned historian and author.Immediately after Brawley left Bucknell, the predominantly white, northern-based American Baptist Publication Society (ABPS) appointed him as a Sunday school missionary, or agent, for his home state of South Carolina. There he found little organization among the black Baptists. He set about establishing new Baptist associations and reorganizing existing ones, as well as encouraging the founding of Sunday school conventions at the state Baptist regional or associational levels. After two years the first statewide Sunday school convention among African American Baptists was held, with Brawley serving as corresponding secretary and financial agent. Brawley also helped black Baptists organize African missions, and South Carolina sent its first missionary, Harrison N. Bouey, to Africa in the late 1870s. Not only did Brawley strengthen denominational structures in the state but he also raised considerable funds for Benedict College in South Carolina.Eight years of strenuous work in South Carolina took their toll on Brawley's health. Following his doctor's advice despite the ABPS's strong desire that he continue his duties, in 1883 Brawley traveled to Alabama to assume the presidency of Alabama Baptist Normal and Theological School (later Selma University), a position that he had declined several times before. Once again Brawley's service was successful. He upgraded the school's standards and collegiate rank, and the first class graduated in May 1884. Fiercely committed to education, Brawley, like many other early educators both black and white, gave as much as half of his income to needy students.With his wife's health in decline, Brawley returned to South Carolina after two years to preside over a school that he had helped to establish, Morris College. In 1912 he assumed the pastorship of White Rock Baptist Church in Durham, North Carolina. Around 1920 he became professor of biblical history and evangelism at Baptist-supported Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina, serving there until his death.Brawley was highly valued as a speaker and lecturer. He was also an accomplished writer and editor. At different points in his career he edited the Baptist Pioneer in South Carolina, the weekly Baptist Tribune, and the monthly Evangel. Ever concerned about raising the educational standards of both ministers and the laity, he wrote Sin and Salvation, which focused on evangelism, and his most significant work, The Negro Baptist Pulpit: A Collection of Sermons and Papers (1890; repr. 1971). Of the twenty-eight sermons and addresses in the latter work, Brawley authored four. Throughout his career he also published numerous sermons, speeches, and addresses.In addition to his church, educational, and publishing work, Brawley left a theological and philosophical legacy of one committed to uplifting the African American race by moral and spiritual education. Furthermore, Brawley passionately supported cooperation with sympathetic whites as a way to advance the race, believing that all racial sentiments should be subordinate to the greater principle of building up American Christianity. That position often placed him at odds with African American leaders who were increasingly restless with the racial parochialism and paternalism of their white benefactors. Whereas some African American Christians, including Brawley, emphasized the necessity of continued white financial assistance, the more independent complained of the stifling effect that these whites had on the development of racial responsibility and self-respect. Nonetheless, Brawley's contributions to denominational organization, church leadership, education, and publishing left an impressive mark on American religious history.

Reference Entry.  872 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History

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