Primary Resource

"No Action Taken: Lively Discussion of the Colored Pulpit-Press Controversy" from the Roanoke Times (May 29, 1891)

In this article, dated May 29, 1891, the Roanoke Times follows up on a controversy regarding the Roanoke Weekly Press, Roanoke's first black newspaper, which ensued when a correspondent criticized and ridiculed the area's colored pastors. The Roanoke Weekly Press is mentioned as having a subscription cost of $1.50.

Transcription from Original

No Action Taken

Lively Discussion of the Colored Pulpit-Press Controversy

Quite a crowd of laymen and several ministers of the colored churches assembled at High Street Baptist Church last night to an indignation meeting, as forecast in The Times of a few days since. Rev. W. W. Brown, the pastor, was made chairman, and A. F. Brooks, secretary.

The chairman read a call which was promulgated from the pulpits of the colored churches last Sunday, and said the call was made on account of the appearance of several criticisms of the colored ministers and church members which had been published in the Roanoke Weekly Press, over the signature of "Eye Opener," whose communications purported to come from Ballyhack. Following is the most objectionable of "Eye Opener's" strictures:

'* * * After the minister had ended his discourse and had pronounced the benediction, some Brother Brown began what he called 'a shout,' but could better bear the name of an African Palava. He started with a lot of rhymes. Just as one of the sisters was going out of the door he struck this portion of the shout: 'The lizard walked and the scorpion creeped, and the snake went up the mountains steep.' The sister turned around and said, 'Bless my soul, hold my shawl and let me trot that thing a little more.' I forgot to say, before reaching what has just been stated, that one of the brethren prayed a prayer in this same church, asking God to wheel the sinners like a rim and turn them like a top for Jesus' sake.'"

The Press of the 23d instant referred to a minister who preached in High Street Church in an "objectionable manner." He was Rev. Silas Smith, of Bedford City. The following reference is made by "Eye Opener" to his discussion of the text, "The Lord is a man of war; the Lord is His name:"

"* * * that many were convinced that the 'Lord was a man of war' by the wind-mill efforts of the right reverned gentleman to spin out the truths of his text, but alas, his anatomy was upset, his heels dangled in the air, and he retired until the 'sinews of war' were collected, crowned with a wreath composed of the finest beads of perspiration. Then came the distinguished representatives of all the churches except two, to chant a dirge at the digging of "Eye Opener's" grave. I believe all those gentlemen had long pants on, if not their heads on. * * *"

Rev. R. R. Jones, of the First Baptist Church, made a lengthy speech and was followed by Lawyer A. J. Oliver, who offered a resolution providing for the appointment of a committee of five disinterested persons, two to represent the ministers, two the paper and one the colored people at large, to arbitrate the matter in dispute with a view to a reconciliation.

The resolution was received and on motion of Rev. Carter, of South Boston, tabled. Then followed a lengthy discussion of the motion to adopt, Revs. Jones, Jeffreys, Brown, Patterson, Poindexter and Layman Zachariah Hunt and Charles Goldstein.

Finally Lawyer Oliver made a motion to take the resolution from the table and followed it with a pointed speech. The motion prevailed, but the adoption of the resolution was strenuously opposed by Rev. Jones and the other ministers.

Rev. Carter, who had an amusing tilt with Oliver about parliamentary usages, got the floor after repeated efforts and made a dignified and very eloquent speech in favor of dropping the controversy. He extolled the power of the press and said it could not be destroyed. It might be urgent and its correspondents untruthful sometimes, but it would live. If Eye Opener's motions were good God would be with him; if bad, conscience would reprove and God punish him. He moved to adjourn sine die ["without day": i.e., without assigning a day for a further meeting or hearing] and after Dr. Bolling, local editor of the Press, had been exonerated from responsibility for the articles of Eye Opener, the motion prevailed.

Rev. Jones stated that he had not waited upon the editor of the Press with a demand for the name of Eye Opener, and Lawyer Oliver said he was not present as counsel for the ministers nor to prosecute the editors or managers of that paper.

The discussions at times were spirited, but in the main dignified. Frequent efforts were made to get Editor Henry, of the Press, to say something, but beyond the statement that he had not been summoned to the meeting, and did not recognize its right to require him to violate journalistic confidence, he was silent.

Just before the meeting closed Rev. Jones said he proposed to say just what he pleased about the Press from his pulpit, and to hold himself personally responsible for his utterances. He thought the paper was doomed to a speedy demise.

Rev. Brown indorsed this opinion, and, like Rev. Jones, would use his influence against the paper. They had subscribed and paid for it because it was a negro enterprise. Rev. Jones said that he bought The Times regularly for the news, and read it with care and pleasure. It was a newspaper. He paid $1.50 for the Press, and it had gotten more from him than he would ever get from it.

B. Lacy Hoge, Esq., of Wright & Hoge, was present with a stenographer in the interest of the owners and editors of the Press.

Lack of space prohibits an extended report of the speeches, especially those of Revs. Jones and Carter, and Lawyer Oliver, all of which were particularly good and to the point.