A Higher MissionThe Careers of Alonzo and Althea Brown Edmiston in Central Africa

A Higher MissionThe Careers of Alonzo and Althea Brown Edmiston in Central Africa

Kimberly D. Hill

Print publication date: 2021

ISBN: 9780813179810

Publisher: University Press of Kentucky


Throughout the first three decades of the twentieth century, alumni and students from historically black colleges and universities contributed to the American Protestant mission movement in West Africa. Those contributions extended beyond the manual labor endeavors promoted by Booker T. Washington and the Phelps Stokes Fund; African American missionaries also adapted classical studies and self-help ideology to a transnational context. This book analyzes the effects and significance of black education strategies through the ministries of Althea Brown and Alonzo Edmiston from 1902 to 1941. Brown specialized in language, music, and cultural analysis while her husband engaged in preaching, agricultural research, and mediation on behalf of the American Presbyterian Congo Mission in what became the Belgian Congo. Personal and professional partnership motivated the two missionaries to interpret their responsibilities as a combination of training from Fisk University, Tuskegee Institute, and Stillman Institute. Each of these institutions held a symbolic meaning in the contexts of the Southern Presbyterian Church and European colonialism in Africa. Denominational administrators and colonial officials understood African American missionaries as leaders with the potential to challenge racial hierarchies. This perception influenced the shifting relations between African Christians and black missionaries during the development of village churches. The Edmistons’ pedagogical interest in adapting to local conditions encouraged Presbyterian converts and students to promote their interests and their authority within the Congo Mission. At the same time, occasional segregation and expulsion of African American missionaries from overseas ministry enabled them to influence early civil rights activities in the American South.