A voice for racial harmony

Way Back When

Churchman: The Rev. George Freeman Bragg Jr. won respect from blacks and whites alike for his good works in Baltimore.

February 19, 2000|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

The Rev. George Freeman Bragg Jr., the rector of Baltimore's St. James' First African Protestant Episcopal Church from 1891 until his death in 1940, was described by a parishioner as being a "short, thin man, with a very soft voice."

Bragg may have been diminutive in stature, but he proved throughout his life to be a powerful voice and advocate for black equality and harmonious relations between the races.

Born in Warrenton, N.C., in 1863, he attended St. Stephen's Normal School and Bishop Payne Divinity School. In 1881, he was appointed a page in the Virginia House of Delegates, and a year later, began the publication of the Lancelot, a weekly.

In the mid-1880s, Bragg began publishing the Afro-American Churchman, which later became the Church Advocate.

Ordained in 1887, he was rector of a church in Norfolk, Va., and came to Baltimore in 1891 as rector of historic St. James' First African Protestant Episcopal Church, which was founded in 1824.

The church, first located at Park Avenue and Marion Street, was the first African-American Episcopal congregation to be established below the Mason-Dixon line.

The church relocated several times before moving in 1901 to Park Avenue and Preston Street. Three decades later, on Easter morning 1932, church members marched through the streets to the congregation's present home at Lafayette and Arlington avenues, on Lafayette Square.

Bragg was the founder in 1899 of the Maryland Home for Friendless Colored Children, which later became the Children's Home of Baltimore.

Besides being active in the ministry for more than 53 years, Bragg was the author of many articles and religious books, among them "The History of the Afro-American Group of the Episcopal Church," published in 1923, and his "Men of Maryland."

Published in 1914, "Men of Maryland" contains an excellent account of both free persons of color and slavery, an institution that John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, described as being "the sum of all villainies."

Bragg wrote, "As the result of many years of research and investigation, embracing various volumes, ecclesiastical journals, private letters, as well as information received from the lips of some of the characters mentioned, the author has accumulated considerable data bearing upon the lives of colored men, natives of the State of Maryland, which, in his opinion, ought to be known and studied by the rising generation of colored people of Maryland."

However, it was through his thought-provoking letters to newspaper editors that Bragg was able to reach a different audience.

In 1925, when Frederick Douglass High School was dedicated, Bragg wrote to The Sun, "The formal dedication of the Douglass High School today marks a period of great advance and progress in the political emancipation of the colored race and increasing interracial cooperation."

When Gov. Albert C. Ritchie convened the Interracial Commission to improve the welfare of the black community in the 1920s, Bragg observed, "With such a large colored population, for the most part in its religious and social institutions living as a race apart without such a point of sympathetic contact, friction, misunderstandings and, sometimes bitterness must multiply and increase.

"The season through which we are now passing would intimate that we must find some practical way to emphasize and interpret the `law of love' between the races."

At Bragg's death in 1940, an Evening Sun editorial said, "A man of quiet manner and great dignity, he earned the confidence of his own people and of the white people of the community, and he was always assured of a respectful hearing.

"In spite of the many opportunities for misunderstanding, the White and Negro populations of Baltimore have managed to live together with a minimum of friction.

"In the achievement of this fortunate circumstance, Dr. Bragg had a large and important part."

Sun Library researcher Dee Lyon contributed to this article.

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