Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Rev. Mr. Fenwick confronts S.S. King's racist screed

Smith H. Mallory
Back in 1887, a young and charismatic preacher named Louis M. Fenwick was appointed to serve Chariton's struggling African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) congregation. 

The congregation was very poor and had developed some years earlier among a growing number of black people, largely Virginians and Missourians, who had settled in Chariton after being brought unsuspectingly to Lucas County by the Whitebreast Coal & Mining Co. to break strikes by white miners at Cleveland, some five miles to the west.

Fenwick had been named by the Iowa Conference of the A.M.E. Church to serve the Chariton, Osceola and Bedford Circuit, which meant he also preached and tended to parishioners in those cities and other places in between, including Cleveland.

His efforts in Chariton were very successful --- the congregation grew and among other achievements, Fenwick launched a fund-raising drive among white congregations across the county which responded generously and helped him raise the necessary funds to build Chariton's first A.M.E. church building --- on West Court Avenue, where Carpenters Hall currently is located.


The Rev. Mr. Fenwick's success brought him into direct conflict, however, with Samuel S. King, a young man native to England and protege of Smith H. Mallory (above at left) --- then Chariton's major mover and shaker --- who was editor of The Chariton Democrat, which Mallory had purchased during 1885.

Mr. King was, according to a later editor of the Herald-Patriot who noted his death during 1924 in Eatonville, Washington, "a man of considerable ability and a good scholar but detracted from his usefulness and influence by his erratic disposition." He also was a racist, responsible for some of the most extremist screeds ever published in Lucas County, surpassing those even of copperhead John V. Faith, who had founded the first Democrat back in 1867.


During late winter of 1887, as the A.M.E. congregation grew, it attracted the attention of Mrs. Isaac Irwin, who was white, and her daughter --- who were duly baptized there, and joined. That outraged both the husband and father --- and S.S. King, who published the following in his Democrat of March 8 under the headline "Poor Ike's Trouble":

"Hold on there till I give you some news," rang out the clarion notes of Mr. Isaac Irwin and smote our gentle ear. 

We paused. "I've got some startlin' news," continued Isaac. "I joined the other day down here at the Methodist; wanted the old woman to join with me. She wouldn't do it, and now her and the girl have both joined the blankety blank nigger church and been baptized. It's goin' to raise ---- in our family if I am a Christian. I'll never go to heaven under heaven if I got to go there through a nigger church and don't you forget it."

And then Ike gave expression to some forcible language that would cause one not conversant with the facts to doubt the genuineness of his conversion.

But Isaac, this is the natural results of these high-protective, prohibition, woman-suffrage republican doctrines. Under their teachings, a woman thinks she has a right to stray off from the fold where her husband worships and "join a nigger church," if she wants to. She's bound to show her independence in spiritual as well as temporal things. These pernicious political teachings, under which your family has lived, have brought about all this trouble, Isaac. If these teachings are not checked, in a few short years your wife will have the right to come and snatch you away from your worship at the Methodist altar and plant you down in the midst of a lot of gibbering idiots and compel you to lead the services of the nigger church. The corrupting tendencies of the times must be checked, Isaac, or the liberties we fought and bled for will be lost.

Such reckless severance of the family ties as this, Isaac, would have been impossible under the good old democratic dispensation. Society would have frowned in down. But now they pile up blasted hopes, ruined homes and broken hearth-stones on our crushed hearts and we have no redress. Stick to the Methodist Church and the democratic party, Isaac, and a time may come again when it will be unpopular for white women to join "nigger" churches, contrary to the wish of their husbands.

A month later, in his edition of of April 12, Mr. King followed up with this paragraph in The Democrat:

Poor Ike Irvin's troubles increase, and will probably go on and on forever. His family disagreement was on religious matters. Ike had joined the Methodist Church and his wife and daughter the "Nigger Church." Unpleasantness ensued and a separation has resulted. Ike has "shucked" himself of all responsibility and declares the "niggers" must support his family, as he will do so no longer. It is a shame that an old soldier who fought for the flag should be treated thus. But it is the natural result of republican teachings."


A couple of things to keep in mind here.

Three weekly newspapers were published in Chariton at this time. The Patriot and The Herald were aligned with the Republican party, then the more liberal party on racial matters. The editors of neither engaged in race-baiting nor threw the "n" word around in their columns.

Smith Mallory, like S.S. King a staunch --- although considerably more refined --- Democrat, had propped The Democrat up by purchasing it in 1885 in large part to further his own political aspirations. In other words, Mr. Mallory subsidised Mr. King and was content, it seems likely, to have him express sentiments publicly in a manner he would never consider himself.

Whatever the case, Chariton's black community at this time had an eloquent spokesman in the Rev. Mr. Fenwick. He was outraged by King's editorial liberties and, after The Herald opened its editorial columns to him, responded with a blistering rebuttal to both Mr. King and Mr. Mallory. I'll tell you more about that --- and a little more about the surprising Rev. Mr. Fenwick --- tomorrow.

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