Reference Entry

Brawley, Edward McKnight

Sandy Dwayne Martin

in Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience, Second Edition

Published in print January 2005 | ISBN: 9780195170559
Brawley, Edward McKnight

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Edward McKnight Brawley 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 having him apprenticed 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; he transferred to Bucknell University in 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 his own work teaching vocal music and preaching during school vacations. The white Baptist church in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, with which he had affiliated, ordained him to the ministry the day after his graduation, July 1, 1875; he was examined by a board composed largely of professors and other learned individuals. In 1878 he received the A.M. 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 organized black Baptist denominational work. 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 aided in efforts among black Baptists to organize for African missions, with South Carolina sending its first missionary, Harrison N. Bouey, to Africa in the late 1870s. Not only did Brawley strengthen denominational structures in the state; he also raised considerable funds for the support of 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 he had declined several times previously. Once again Brawley's service was successful. He upgraded the school's standards and collegiate rank, graduating the first class in May 1884. Fiercely committed to education to the point of personal sacrifice, 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 declining, after only two years Brawley returned to South Carolina to preside over a school 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 until his death.Brawley was highly valued as a speaker and lecturer. In addition, he was 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. Always 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 other sermons, speeches, and addresses.In addition to his church, educational, and publishing work, Brawley left the theological and philosophical legacy of one committed to uplifting the African American race by moral and spiritual education that spoke to heart and mind. Furthermore, Brawley passionately supported cooperation with sympathetic whites as a means to advance the race, believing that all racial sentiments should be subject to the greater principle of erecting 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 of these whites 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.  901 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History

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