The Sage of Tawawa: Reverdy Cassius Ransom, 1861-1959

The Sage of Tawawa: Reverdy Cassius Ransom, 1861-1959

The Sage of Tawawa: Reverdy Cassius Ransom, 1861-1959

The Sage of Tawawa: Reverdy Cassius Ransom, 1861-1959


In The Sage of Tawawa, Annetta L. Gomez-Jefferson offers Ransom as a symbol of an era and a larger movement and recalls him to be a man of deep faith and conviction. Educated at Wilberforce University in Ohio (after losing his scholarship from Oberlin College for protesting the segregation of the campus dining halls), Reverdy Cassius Ransom worked with and for the African Methodist Episcopal Church. His duties saw him run for Congress, be elected bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, serve as editor of the A.M.E. Church Review, and serve as church historiographer. In July 1941, Ransom received a letter from President Roosevelt appointing him to the Volunteer Participation Committee in the Office of Civilian Defense.


by Dennis C. Dickerson Department of Research and Scholarship, A.M.E Church

Annetta Gomez-Jefferson has chosen a model modern minister, Reverdy C. Ransom, to demonstrate how twentieth-century African American clergy confronted the many challenges that faced black people in the urban/industrial era. Ransom, born nearly forty years before the turn of the century, fashioned ministries that addressed various issues that most black preachers had avoided or neglected. As a pastor, general officer, and forty-eighth bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, he pioneered black church involvement with the social gospel, helped to revive the protest/political tradition in black leadership, and spearheaded ecumenical cooperation among the historically black denominations.

Educated at Wilberforce University and Oberlin College in the late nineteenth century, Ransom was assigned to congregations in urban/industrial areas in Pennsylvania and Ohio. In these settings he contemplated what initiatives black ministers and black churches should develop to serve their working-class parishioners. As a result, he became a convert to the social gospel. While working in Chicago in 1900, he left a prestigious pulpit to form an innovative Institutional Church and Social Settlement that offered programs in job placement, a day nursery, youth activities, and social betterment organizations for men and women. After Ransom was elected editor of the A.M.E. Church Review in 1912, he established in 1913 in New York City the Church of Simon of Cyrene, a mission that resembled his Chicago congregation. Unlike most ministers, he became a familiar figure among the gamblers, prostitutes, and drunkards. Some responded, reformed, and adopted healthier life-styles. Ransom, though one of the few black preachers who fully embraced the social gospel, pioneered a paradigm of urban ministry that succeeding generations of clergy extensively emulated.

Ransom grew to ministerial maturity during the age of Booker T. Washington. The Tuskegeean’s emphasis on accommodation to white supremacy, economic development, and industrial education undermined earlier efforts at black protest and political activities derived from the Reconstruction era. When W. E. B. DuBois and William Monroe Trotter challenged Washington’s conservative leadership, Ransom joined them in the fledgling Niagara Movement. At the group’s 1906 gathering at Harpers . . .

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