This Far by Faith




About the Series

People of Faith Daniel Payne

Albert Cleage James Cone Warith Deen Mohammed Thomas Dorsey Frederick Douglass Olaudah Equiano Prathia Hall Daniel Payne Howard Thurman Sojourner Truth Henry McNeal Turner Denmark Vesey Cecil Williams

Daniel Payne

Illustration of Daniel Payne "When God has work to be executed he also chooses the man to executeit. He also qualifies the workman for the work. Frederick Douglass was fitted for his specialty; Daniel Alexander Payne for his. Frederick Douglass could not do the work which was assigned to Daniel Alexander Payne, nor Daniel Alexander Payne the work assigned to Frederick Douglass." --Daniel Alexander Payne, in declining the offer for the position of public lecturer for the Ant-Slavery Committee

Throughout the 19th century, pro-slavery arguments hinged on the idea that African-Americans lacked the capacity to be fully equal American citizens. Bishop Daniel Alexander Payne worked his entire life to disprove that theory.

Payne became the premier bishop of the AME Church and was in some ways the most influential African-American Christian in the 19th century. He worked as a teacher, a minister, wrote the first history of the AME Church, and founded Wilberfource University, the first black owned and operated institution of higher learning in the country.

For half a century, Daniel Payne worked to make Africans fit for America. He worked as a minister, wrote the first history of the AME church, founded Wilberforce University, and served as bishop of the AME church. Payne lived in a time when the black race was on trial. Throughout the 19th century, pro-slavery arguments hinged on the idea that African-Americans lacked the capacity to be fully equal American citizens.

"No single individual, with the possible exception if Richard Allen himself, did more to shape the trajectory and tone of African Methodism." --James Campbell, Songs of Zion

Payne was born in 1811 to Methodist parents in Charleston, SC. Payne's family was part of the "Brown Society" elite, so distrusted by Denmark Veseyas he planned his rebellion. As a boy, Payne studied by candlelight. He taught himself mathematics, physical science, and classical languages. In 1829, he opened his first school, but six years later, South Carolina forbade the education of blacks, so it closed. Payne fled to the North to pursue an education with the Methodist Episcopalians. They were willing to offer it on the condition that he join their field mission in Liberia. He declined and instead joined a Lutheran Seminary, although his failing eyesight forced him to drop out. He joined the AME church in 1841.



Most ministers in the antebellum U.S. had no formal education. Black schools were shackled by poverty and a paucity of trained teachers. Payne wanted to correct this. He set himself two tasks: "to improve the ministry; the second to improve the people." He introduced resolutions requiring church leaders to study English grammar, geography, arithmetic, ancient history, modern history, ecclesiastical history, and theology. Educated ministers, he said, would lift "the mass of general ignorance" from the black community. In 1863, he persuaded the AME church to purchase Wilberforce, a school established in 1856 by the Methodist Episcopal Church for Negro children.


In the church battles between emotionalism and "order," Daniel Payne represented the latter. Writing his memoirs, he recounted his revulsion at the bush meetings then common among slaves. "After the sermon they formed a ring, and with coats off, sung, clapped their hands, and stamped their feet in a most ridiculous and heathenish way. I requested the pastor to go and stop their dancing. At this request they stopped their dancing and clapping of hands, but remained singing and rocking their bodies to and fro. This they did for about fifteen minutes. I then went and, taking their leader by the arm, requested him to desist and to sit down and sing in a rational manner…he said, 'Sinners won't get converted unless there is a ring.' Said I, 'You might sing till you fell down dead, and you would fail to convert a single sinner, because nothing but the spirit of God and the word of God can convert sinners.' These meetings must always be more damaging physically, morally, and religiously than beneficial. How needful it is to have an intelligent ministry to teach these people who hold to this ignorant mode of worship the true method of serving God."


In April, 1865, as the Union flag was raised over Fort Sumter, South Carolina, nine missionaries sailed into Charleston Harbor. Bishop Daniel Payne led this group, returning home for the first time in thirty years. That night in Charleston's Bethel Church, Payne and his fellows, including a minister named R.H. Cain (who later represented Charleston in the U.S. House of Representatives) held services for the first time in more than 40 years. Within a month, they had organized, established the relevant committees and associations, and sent missionaries off to the southern countryside. A year later, the church had already drawn some fifty thousand congregants throughout the South.


Payne felt that his mission was to elevate a people from slavery. He decided that the church needed more "civilized" music. He disparaged the spiritual hymns and what he called "cornfield ditties," which were the legacy of slavery. Often, congregations would take popular tunes from the era and sing religious words with them. To Payne this was unacceptable. One of Payne's favorite hymns in the AME hymnal was a hymn called "Whiter than Snow," whose lyrics included the line "Wash me from sin, wash me whiter than snow." Bishop Henry McNeal Turner considered this song to be an abomination. Bishop Turner felt it tantamounted to African-Americans asking God to make them white. Whenever Turner heard that song being sung by congregations, he would demand that they stop. For Turner this was one more way that African-Americans had been trained to hate themselves.


Wilberforce began as a joint venture between the AME Church and the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, as an offshoot of the peculiar institution of slavery: it was where southern planters sent their mixed-race offspring to study, since those with black skin were forbidden to learn in the South. Six years later, when the Civil War took away the school's patrons, Payne convinced the church to buy the school for the cost of its debt. On the night that Lincoln was assassinated, a bitter white southern sympathizer burned Wilberforce to the ground. Bishop Payne led the effort to rebuild it. He became its president and ran the school until 1877.


Payne argued against the proponents of African Immigration using the Bible. Bishop Turner said, "look at the book of Exodus — the Israelites freed themselves from oppression — so can we." Payne responded, "No, Exodus was a one time historical event, and 19th century African-Americans are mistaken to believe that story in the book of Exodus applies to them. He feared that the AME church would fritter away its missionary dollars on "Don Quixotic notions of ecclesiastical imperialism." "To God alone can we look for protection," he wrote. "Emigration to Africa... I cannot endorse."