John Edward Bruce, Edward Wilmot Blyden, Alexander Crummell, and J. Robert Love: Mentors, Patrons, and the Evolution of A Pan-African Intellectual Network

By Crowder, Ralph L. | Afro-Americans in New York Life and History, July 31, 1996 | Go to article overview

John Edward Bruce, Edward Wilmot Blyden, Alexander Crummell, and J. Robert Love: Mentors, Patrons, and the Evolution of A Pan-African Intellectual Network


Crowder, Ralph L., Afro-Americans in New York Life and History


John Edward Bruce, Edward Wilmot Blyden, Alexander Crummell, and J. Robert Love: Mentors, Patrons, and the Evolution of A Pan-African Intellectual Network

In July 1880 William Coppinger, Secretary of the American Colonization Society (ACS), assembled his staff to meet Edward Wilmot Blyden, the President-elect of Liberia College, Vice-President of the ACS, and the leading advocate of "Negro emigration to Africa." Blyden's name had been a topic of discussion throughout Washington's colored elite; for in the prior two weeks, he and his close friend, John H. Smyth, the United States Minister to Liberia, had had several interviews with American politicians and officials, including President Rutherford B. Hayes and his private secretary, Colonel W. K. Rogers. Blyden had unsuccessfully lobbied Hayes and members of his cabinet to finance the relocation of Blacks to Africa.(1)

While visiting the District, Blyden met several Black leaders at James Wormley's Hotel, "the home for leading Black members of Congress" and Blyden's temporary residence. Most of these leaders were anti-emigrationists, but he considered them "intelligent members of Washington's mulatto aristocracy." The group included Frederick Douglass; Reverend Francis Grimke, pastor of the Fifteenth Street Presbyterian Church; Richard T. Greener, Dean of Howard University's Law School; and John Wesley Cromwell, lawyer, historian, and editor of the People's Advocate. He spent his private hours with two "pure Negroes" who supported emigration: Robert Brown Elliott, a treasury agent and former South Carolina Congressman; and Alexander Crummell, pastor of St. Luke's Episcopal Church and a close friend of Blyden's.(2)

John Edward Bruce, an aspiring twenty-four year old journalist and newly employed clerk for the ACS, closely followed these discussions. Bruce had recently published The Sunday Item while serving as a correspondent for a sting of Black newspapers. The assignment with the ACS supplemented his earnings as he struggled to solidify a career in journalism.(3)

When Coppinger introduced Blyden to Bruce, he described his assistant as "a young man we all think a great deal of in this office...and he is very...interested in Africa." Bruce was thrilled to meet the distinguished African leader, who shared both his passion for race pride and his distrust of mulatto leadership, and who also considered Negro history to be central to any analysis of racial problems. This brief encounter grew into a close friendship that lasted until Blyden's death in 1912.(4) How did Bruce's association with Blyden influence his life? What forces drew their careers together as each man matured? Did Blyden's association with Alexander Crummell create an opportunity for Bruce to cultivate a patron in the Black elite? How did Bruce refine his intellectual and philosophical skills as a result of his friendship with Blyden, Crummell, and their African lieutenants? This article will address these questions and provide an analysis of Bruce's relationship with this network of nineteenth century Pan-African intellectuals.

Edward Wilmot Blyden (1832-1912)visited the United States eight times between 1850 and 1896, for a total residence of three years in America. During this period, he was the best-known African leader in America, but he was always as a controversial and outspoken advocate of Black emigration. His frequent stays in the West allowed him to develop close ties with Black leaders and influential whites. He dedicated his life to the belief that "the American Negro had an important part to play in the colonization and `redemption' of Africa." This commitment encouraged his long-term involvement with the ACS as well his participation in public debate over the appropriate course for Black education, and it provided the basis for a close relationship with Martin Delany, Henry Highland Garnet, and Alexander Crummell. Since these men belonged to a circle of emigrationist and Black history advocates and had contributed to Bruce's intellectual growth, it is not surprising that Blyden would establish contact with Bruce. …

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