In Memoriam: Charles Harris Wesley

By Harris, Janette Hoston | The Journal of Negro History, Spring 1998 | Go to article overview

In Memoriam: Charles Harris Wesley


Harris, Janette Hoston, The Journal of Negro History


Outstanding historian, noted scholar, distinguished educator, counselor, ordained minister, pianist, athlete, singer, poet, actor are descriptives which portray the life of Charles Harris Wesley. Dr. Wesley received his early education in Louisville, Kentucky's public schools. He continued at the Preparatory School of Fisk University, and then graduated from the University as an exceptional student with an unusual talent in music. He developed an excellent baritone voice, which led him to sing with tenor Roland Hayes and the Fisk Jubilee Singers. He performed in several operas and musical comedies. Wesley was a star debater and a quarterback on the Fisk football team who also gave a major speech to his graduating class. His excellent college record qualified him for induction into Phi Beta Kappa retroactively, when Fisk was granted a charter from Phi Beta Kappa. The school selected all those persons who graduated with honors as inductees. Wesley received the Bachelor of Arts degree from Fisk University in 1911, at the age of 19. He received a Master of Arts degree in history and economics from the graduate school at Yale University in 1913. Immediately following graduation, Wesley began a teaching career at Howard University, with an initial appointment as instructor in History and Languages. He later advanced to the ranks of Professor and Head of the Department of History. He also served as Director of the Summer School, Dean of the College of Liberal Arts, and Dean of the Graduate School.

Wesley married Louise Johnson in 1915 and to this union two daughters, Louise and Charlotte, were born. His daughter, Louise, an opera singer, passed on April 29, 1950. Charlotte became an outstanding concert pianist. In 1925, Wesley received the Ph.D. degree in History from Harvard University, becoming the fourth African-American to do so in the field of history. For more than seventy-three years he would chronicle the African-American experience in Africa and America. Dr. Wesley was ordained an African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) minister in the Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C. He was awarded the Doctor in Divinity degree in 1928 by Wilberforce University. For nearly ten years, Dr. Wesley pastored the Ebenezer and Campbell A.M.E. churches in Washington, D.C. In the A.M.E. Church, officials bestowed upon him the title of Presiding Elder. In this position, he set a record of overseeing approximately 25 local churches for a period of ten years. He also served as Director of Music, church leader, Assistant to the Bishop and Church Historian. He was once a finalist for the position of Bishop in the A.M.E. church.

Eight universities sought Wesley's leadership for their presidency; he became the president of two. He was sought, in 1920, for the presidency of Edward Waters College, in Florida, at the age of 29. In 1926, he was a finalist for the presidency of Howard University. In 1937, he requested that he not be considered for the presidency at Lincoln University in Missouri and declined confirmation as president elect at Morgan State College in Baltimore, Maryland. He was also considered the top candidate for the presidency at Fisk University in 1946.

Wesley was selected President of Wilberforce University in Ohio in 1942.

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