Coming Out of the Dark
In the year 1909, leaders of the Georgia C.M.E. Church and local ministers, including Rev. P.W. Wesley of Lovett, Georgia, and lay leaders of the Church established the Harriett Holsey Industrial Institute in Dublin. The school was named for Harriett Holsey, wife of Bishop Lucius H. Holsey, one of the founders of the school. This is the story of Bishop Lucius Holsey, who in conjunction with such Methodist ministerial icons including the Rev. Henry M. Turner, led their people out of the depths of despair of the abolition of slavery and the horrors of the post war South into the bright new days of the Twentieth Century.
Lucius Henry Holsey was born into slavery on a farm near Columbus, Georgia on July 3, 1842. His owner, James Holsey, was also his father, whom Rev. Holsey described as " a gentleman of classical education, dignified in appearance, and lacking the ability to shine his own shoes or saddle his horse." His mother, Louisa, was the mother of fourteen children, Lucius, being the oldest. Holsey was sold to T.L. Wynn of Sparta following his father’s death in 1848. After Wynn’s death, Lucius became the property of Col. R.M. Johnston, with whom the young man had a close relationship. In his eight years with Col. Johnston, who was a professor at the University of Georgia, Lucius was introduced to education and religion, both of which had a profound influence on his life. He was impressed with the sermons of Rev. H.M. Turner, who became one of the greatest African-American ministers in our country’s history. In his later years, Bishop Holsey saw slavery as "a blessing in disguise to me and to many - a link in the transactions of humanity, which must have a great bearing on the future."
Holsey took up sharecropping on a "one-horse farm" in Hancock County after his emancipation. His wife Harriett washed clothes for the students, who lived in Col. Johnston’s boarding house. Then, the calling came. It was always there since his youth, but Lucius felt the urgent need to proclaim God’s truth. It was February 1868. Bishop George F. Pierce, a historian and sage of Methodism in 19th Century Georgia, examined Lucius with difficult questioning and pronounced him ready to become a minister of the Methodist Episcopal Church South - whites and blacks were members of the same church then. Holsey already knew Bishop Pierce, who had reared his wife Harriett before giving her to his son-in-law, a Mr. Turner. The couple were married in the Bishop’s home on November 8, 1862. Bishop Pierce’s wife and daughters spared no expense in elaborately decorating their home and lavishly preparing a splendid meal for the Holseys and a host of their friends and relatives.
Holsey, who considered himself an inferior preacher because of his low decibel voice, traveled the Sparta Circuit until 1869, when the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church of Georgia held its first conference in Augusta. Bishop Pierce assigned Rev. Holsey to his first church, Andrew Chapel, in Savannah. Holsey was forced to leave the church when the A.M.E. Church took control of Andrew Chapel. The trustees of Trinity Methodist Church allowed him to preach to the colored Methodist citizens of Savannah in the church library. The wealth of Savannah allowed Holsey to start reading again, learning about anything he could. After sixteen months, Holsey returned to Sparta to attempt to find his direction in life. He found it.
In 1871, Rev. Holsey was appointed to Trinity Methodist Church in Augusta, the largest church in the conference. In the 1873 General Conference of the C.M.E. Church held in Holsey’s home church, the delegates elected Rev. Holsey one of the three Bishops of the Church. Holsey drew the area of Texas, Alabama, Arkansas, and Tennessee. Despite his annual salary of eight hundred dollars, Holsey and his family of fourteen struggled just to survive, recycling cinders to build fires with and going hungry many nights.
In 1869, Bishop Holsey first advocated the establishment of a school for training ministers for the Church. For nearly fourteen years, Holsey lobbied church leaders in Georgia and around the Southeast for their support of his plan. In 1883, The Paine Institute, now Paine College, was established in Augusta with the help of Holsey’s old friend, Bishop Pierce. Bishop Holsey continued to actively support the school for the remainder of his life.
Bishop Holsey was often called upon to represent Georgia in national conferences. He served for more than twenty years as Secretary of the College of Bishops. Holsey compiled the first hymnals and manual of discipline for the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church. In 1881, he represented the C.M.E. churches of the United States in an Ecumenical Conference in London, England, where he preached from the same pulpit where John Wesley, the founder of Methodism in America, once preached. In 1882, Bishop Holsey was the first African-American to attend the Annual Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, held that year in Memphis, Tennessee. He wrote a paper for the Centennial Conference of the Methodist Church in America in 1884. In 1891, he attended the same conference in Washington, D.C..
Holsey found himself embroiled in a controversy on the direction of the church for the last several decades of his life. As for politics, he thought ministers ought to stay out saying, "We must make no stump speeches and fight no battle of the politicians. We think it better to let the dead bury the dead, while we follow Christ," Holsey proclaimed. Despite his disdain for politics, Holsey found himself drawn into a battle with other church leaders. Being somewhat of a conservative and being the son of a white man, Holsey urged cooperation with the white Church - a position not taken by Bishop Henry Turner of the African Methodist Episcopal Church.
Bishop Lucius Henry Holsey died in 1920. In reflecting on his first thirty years in the Church, Holsey said " The Colored Methodist Church in America has a remarkable career....Green from the fields of slavery, raw in the experiences of church tactics, in membership and ministry, without houses of worship or literature, with many of its organizing feats being performed out of doors and under trees, it overcame difficulties that made it more than an experiment. Being in the dews of its youth, it has not yet attained its destined dignity and power for those among the colored race. But it is advancing in every department. During his fifty years in the ministry, he led his people through the bad times and the good times. His life and his teachings, without a doubt, rank him high as one of the most important and influential Christian leaders in Georgia history.