Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The Rev. Mr. Fenwick fails to turn the other cheek

This continues a brief series of posts begun Tuesday with "The Rev. Mr. Fenwick confronts S.S. King's racist screeds."

The Rev. Louis M. Fenwick was, during 1888, the pastor of Chariton's African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) congregation, acting under appointment from the Iowa Conference of the A.M.E. Church to serve primarily black residents of its Chariton, Osceola and Bedford Circuit. Fenwick apparently lived in Osceola, a central location, and thus like many other preachers of the time was a circuit-rider.

During late winter, 1888, Fenwick had baptized and welcomed into membership in Chariton two residents of the white community, thus attracting the attention --- and spleen --- of Samuel S. King, editor of The Chariton Democrat, owned and published by Smith H. Mallory, Lucas County's major mover and shaker of that time.

Two stories penned by King and  loaded with racist scorn, published in The Democrat of March 8 and April 12, followed. 

On May 3, the editor of The Chariton Herald opened the top position on his local news page to the Rev. Mr. Fenwick for the following rebuttal, published under the headline "A Cutting Rebuke Administered by the Pastor of the Colored Church."

Editor Herald --- For the benefit of all concerned please allow me sufficient space to briefly respond to the brutal attack made by Mr. Mallory's Democrat upon the colored Society in Chariton, which came under my observation. In his issue of March 8th, Mr. Mallory's editor made a very dastardly thrust at us, but not being satisfied with that, he struck a second blow in his issue of April 12th.

In his first article he says we are a set of "gibbering idiots" and thereby shows the malignant spirit which prompted him. We are as far from the asylum as is Mr. Mallory or his employee. In the second article he calls us "niggers."

We would ask the would-be gentleman to explain to us what a nigger is. We never saw one unless he is one, and we are led to believe that he is as niggardly a man as Chariton affords, or he would not try by slanderous insinuations to injure a helpless people.

Mr. Mallory, the abusive slurs upon our people, in your Democrat, alre unmanly, sir! It would take the magic pen of DeQuincy to write the history of such an unruly dispositioned and unchristian man.

I repudiate with scorn, sir, the implication made in your last article, viz., that the church has precipitated the separation of Mr. Isaac Irwin from his family. We have the same right to receive white people into our church that the whites have to receive our people into their church. I have noticed with keen interest that nearly every one that has alluded to the subject in public has shot as far wide of the truth in the matter as the East is from the West.

Our church, which is the vanguard of our advancement, must be located wherever we find our people, and our church at Chariton , like other places, is where the atmosphere is poisonous with the noxious sentiments of negrophobia. Isolated as it is at Chariton it has a severe fight to continue its advance in refinement already begun. She sometimes is made to bleed under the barbed arrows of ignorance and prejudice that are constantly fired at her. Our people must have at least one impregnable citadel of gentility, one refuge where we can be safe from the carpings of ignorance, the brutal sneers of ruffianism and the villainous denunciations of black-guards.

It is painful to even common self-respect, to see a man holding the position of an editor wilfully prostitute his calling to such a low plane of degredation, as to fling vile epithets against a feeble church, struggling in its proverty to accomplish what little good it can in the world. The Democrat's tirade sounds more like the ranting of a maniac than the studied sentiment of a person possessing a sound mind. We have been made to suffer an unblushing wrong by the pen of this Democratic cur that barks for Mr. Mallory, but in the future we shall endeavor to follow the example of the man kicked by the jackass --- consider the source. (signed) L.M. Fenwick


As you might expect, Mr. King felt compelled to respond --- and did so in The Democrat of May 10. But the response was brief, buried at the bottom of Page 2 and loaded with almost incomprehensible sputtering, as follows:

The Boodle editor of the Blackmailer has so nearly exhausted his stock of Billingsgate and blackguardism that he got a new hand to shovel in a few cart loads last week. An Osceola nondescript named Fling Wing, or Gin Sling, or Fen Wick, or --- no matter about the name ---- you know who we mean --- that rain-bow-legged fellow, the cross between an Albino and Ourang Otang that preaches to the colored people. From the Boodler's standpoint he really improved the Blackmailer, because its improvement consists in the greatest amount of filth in the smallest possible space. Fling Wing says the Democrat has attacked the Colored church. Why no, Gin Sling, it is only you we have a supreme contempt for. Ta-ta, Fling Ling.

Charming fellow, that Mr. King. 

After this, the waters calmed and the Rev. Mr. Fenwick did, indeed, turn the other cheek and consider the jackass source thereafter.


The Rev. Mr. Fenwick continued to serve his Chariton and other south-of-Iowa parishioners until 1889, when he was reassigned after two years to another A.M.E. Iowa Conference circuit, where he continued to flourish. Chariton's A.M.E. congregation continued to flourish, too --- until the black population thinned as younger people moved elsewhere in search of opportunity.

I'll have one more post devoted to Fenwick. The preacher had a major secret that really wasn't a secret at all, but it attracted nationwide attention some 20 years after he left Chariton behind. More about that next time.

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