|CHAPTER XV. -- MY EXPERIENCE AT DR. TAYLOR'S CHURCH, NEW YORK, AND ELSEWHERE--THE GENERAL CONFERENCE AT NASHVILLE--HOW I WAS TREATED AND HOW IT ALL CAME OUT--HOW THINGS CHANGE.|
I think it was in October, 1870, or 1871. It was when Miss Sarah Smiley, the Quakeress, was very popular. She was giving Bible readings at that time in different churches--Dr. Cuyler's Church in Brooklyn, at the Methodist Churches, and others. I was holding meetings at Twenty-fourth Street Methodist Church, with Rev. Dr.--, and Miss Smiley was giving a series of Bible readings at Dr. Taylor's Church at the same time. Some ladies at Brooklyn, who had been attending the Twenty-fourth Street Church, came one evening and said to me, "Oh, Amanda Smith, have you been to hear Miss Smiley at Dr. Taylor's Church?" And I said, "No."
"Well," they said, "she is to be there to-morrow afternoon, and it is to be her last Bible reading. It is on such a subject," naming the subject. "Oh, yesterday it was grand. I thought of you, and wished you were there. So I made up my mind I would come and tell you to-night, and maybe you could go to-morrow afternoon."
I was not holding afternoon meetings, only evening meetings, myself, so I thanked them very kindly and thought I would go and hear Miss Smiley. So I did. I went early. There was quite a company gathered, though it was a half hour before the time. A number of gentlemen were present, and ladies whom I had met, some at Ocean Grove, others at Dr. Palmer's Tuesday meetings, and some of these ladies said to me, "Now, Amanda Smith, while we are waiting it would be nice if you would sing."
The "Winnowed Hymns" were very popular then; they were
The Lord blessed the singing. When I got through with one piece, they asked me to sing something else. They made the selections; I do not remember just now what they were, but I sang another piece. And while they were selecting another piece, I said, "I think I had better not sing any more just now," and asked the Lord to help me and not let me be singing when Miss Smiley came in. I thought she might think I had put myself forward. And the Lord saved me from that mortification.
The ladies were still urging me, and said they knew Miss Smiley would be rather pleased. But I did not feel so. So Miss Smiley came in when there was no singing going on. A minute or two later, as they were urging me so, I presume I would have been singing. Oh, how glad I was that the Lord had kept me.
Miss Smiley got through with her Bible reading beautifully. It was very interesting, and everybody seemed to enjoy it. The gentlemen came up and shook hands with me, and thanked me for the singing. The ladies who were in thanked me for the singing, and as I was very near Miss Smiley, I thanked her for the address and told her how much it had helped me, but I thought she seemed rather cool. Then I was frightened, and sorry I had said anything to her.
By and by I saw a lady, tall, with black hair and a very sallow complexion, and a tremendous air, and a countenance not brightened by sweetness--but still, she passed. I saw this lady go up to Miss Smiley and begin talking to her, and I saw Miss Smiley shaking her head; but I did not know what it meant.
I did not rush out through the ladies; I quietly waited and kept behind, so as not to be in the way; and after this lady turned away from Miss Smiley, she looked at me with a scowl and a look of contempt on her face. She stepped inside of a pew and beckoned me and said, "Come here, come here."
So I went up to her with all the smiles and grace I was capable of, and she drew herself up in the most dignified manner and said, "Who told you to come here?" And she said it in such a tone that it frightened me. It went all over me, and I began to stammer--a thing I never do--and I tried to think of the name of the lady who had asked me--for I knew her very well--but to save me her name would not come. She was at the meeting, but had got to the door, and was speaking to some one; and I looked round and said, "Mrs.--, Mrs.--." but I could not think of the name. I told her some ladies had told me about Miss Smiley's meeting, and I thought I would like to come and hear Miss Smiley.
"Well," she said, "we have invited Miss Smiley here."
"Oh," I said, "I beg your pardon, madame."
"Never mind, pass right out, pass right out," she said, waving her hand toward the door.
"Oh," I said, "Madame--" and she said, "Pass out, pass out," and she drove me away.
Some of the ladies were passing, and they said, "Oh, my, this is too bad."
"What is the matter?" another said. And another, "Oh, that is a shame." "What is it?"
By the time I got to the door there was so much sympathy and pity for me that they almost killed me. I cried, almost to convulsions. I was nearly dead. If they had not pitied me and seemed to feel so sorry for me, I could have got on well enough.
I went up to Sixth avenue and got on the car, and some of the ladies got on the same car; and they sat down beside me and tried to comfort me, and they made it worse. I was ashamed of myself, but I could not help myself. It seemed to me I had lost all control of my feelings. I cried about that thing for about two days, every time I thought of it. And it made quite a stir. The ladies came from downtown to see me about it, and to inquire about it. And I prayed so much for the woman, for I thought she needed to be prayed for, and I did pray for her with all my heart. So I think that she got the worst of it in the end!
Sometimes people say to me, "Oh, Amanda Smith, how very popular you are."
"Yes," I say, "but I paid for it." I paid a good price for my popularity. I don't know whether the lady is living or dead. I
Again, it was in 1870 or 1871, when my dear friend, Mrs. Hannah Whitehall Smith, was holding those marvelous Bible readings in Germantown and Philadelphia that God blessed so wonderfully. I had often heard them spoken of, and read of them, and thought how I would like to go; but then I did not know whether they would allow colored persons to go. The Lord often would send me around among white people where there was a good meeting going on, that I might learn more perfectly some lesson from His Word.
One day I was on my way to West Philadelphia when Mr. Robert Pearson Smith, who had been off in California, doing some evangelistic work, I believe, and had got home just a few days before, got on the car, and after he had sat down a little while he looked over and recognized me. He came and said, "I think this is Amanda Smith?" I said, "Yes." He took a seat by me, and did not have any fear or embarrassment from my being a colored woman. How real, and kind, and true he was. He said, "Amanda Smith, has thee attended any of the meetings that my wife, Hannah, has been holding?"
"No," I said, "I have thought I would like so much to go, but I did not know if they would allow colored persons to go."
"Oh, yes, Amanda," he said, "there would be no objection to thee going, and I think thee would enjoy the meeting very much. God has wonderfully blessed Hannah, and scores of ladies of rank have been led to consecrate themselves to the Lord, and have realized great blessing. She will hold a meeting at 1018 Arch street, on Friday. Thee must go."
I thanked him very kindly, and told him I would do so.
"Now," I thought to myself, "the Lord has answered my prayer, and opened the way for me, and no doubt He has some blessed lesson to teach me from His Word; for Mrs. Smith is such a wonderful Bible teacher."
So I looked forward to Friday with great delight. When the day came I got ready and went, prayerfully. But somehow I seemed to have a little trembling come over me as I neared the corner of Tenth and Arch streets; and I said to myself, "I wonder
Then I began to pray more earnestly that the Lord would help me and lead me. Sometimes these feeling of sadness, though unexplainable, are the omen of a great blessing from God; at another time they may indicate disappointment and sadness, so that in either case God permits them, and prepares the heart by prayer to receive the blessing, or to endure the sorrow or disappointment. Praise His name for this.
Just when I was about to turn the corner, I saw two ladies coming. I knew them, and they were on the way to the meeting. I thought, "I will let them pass, and I will follow close on behind, and go in just when they are fairly in." I always tried to avoid anything like pushing myself, or going where I was not wanted. And then I knew how sensitive many white people are about a colored person, so I always kept back. I don't think that anybody can ever say that Amanda Smith pushed herself in where she was not wanted. I was something like the groundhog; when he sees his shadow he goes in; I always could see my shadow far enough ahead to keep out of the way. But I thought as Mr. Pearson Smith had so kindly told me that it would be all right for me to go to this meeting, that I would not be intruding; no, certainly not. When these ladies got up to me, they stopped, and spoke to me very kindly; they said, "Well, Amanda Smith, how does thee do? Is thee going to the meeting?"
"Yes," I said, "I have heard and read a good deal about the meeting, and I thought I would go to-day."
I saw they looked a little nervous or queer, so I said to them, "I met Mr. Pearson Smith the other day, and he told me to go; there would be no objection, and the meetings were very wonderful in blessing, and he thought I would enjoy them."
"Well, Amanda," one of the ladies said, "the meeting will be very full to-day, and there will be a great many very wealthy ladies in from Gemantown, and West Philadelphia, and Walnut Hills, and the meetings are especially for this class, and I think thee had better not go to-day; some other day would be better for thee." And then they politely bowed, and went on.
I never said a word. I was dumbfounded; and there I stood. I thought, "How is this? I have been praying about this meeting ever since I saw Mr. Smith, and I have been expecting a real
Now I felt in my heart it was right to do this instead of going back home. I did so. "And after all it may be I may hear the word the Lord has for me; for He meant something by my coming." So I slipped in quietly and stood at the door; there were a number of others standing up. Just as Mrs. Smith was in the midst of her good Bible address, sure enough the Lord had a message for me, and I got a great blessing as I stood at the door. Praise the Lord!
And now, the change is, instead of Amanda Smith, the colored wash woman's presence having a bad effect on a meeting where ladies of wealth and rank are gathered to pray and sing His blessing, they think a failure more possible if the same Amanda Smith, the colored woman, cannot be present. This is all the Lord's doings, and marvelous in our eyes.
At the close of this meeting as the ladies were passing out, one and another came to me and spoke to me, and shook hands; "Why, this is Amanda Smith."
"Why, this is Amanda Smith."
"Oh, here is Amanda Smith; why didn't you sing?" And another, "Oh, I have heard you." And another, "Oh, I wish you had sung such a piece." And another, "Why didn't you speak?" And another, "I have heard you sing such a piece at Ocean Grove at such a time, or at Round Lake." I was glad of this, for I thought, "After all, I have not spoiled the spirit of the meeting."
But then, I was not so well known then, and many people were shy of me, and are yet. But I belong to Royalty, and am well acquainted with the King of Kings, and am better known and better understood among the great family above than I am on earth. But I thank God the time is coming, and we "Shall know each other better when the mists have rolled away." Hallelujah! Amen.
In May, '70, or '71, the General Conference of the A. M. E. Church was held at Nashville, Tenn. It was the first time they ever held a General Conference south of Mason and Dixon's line. I
The election of delegates to the General Conference the next year was a very prominent feature of the Conference; of course every minister wanted, or hoped to be elected as delegate. As I listened, my heart throbbed. This was the first time in all these years that this religious body of black men, with a black church from beginning to end, was to be assembled south of Mason and Dixon's line.
But the great battle had been fought, and the victory won: slavery had been abolished; we were really free. There were en thusiastic speeches made on these points. Oh, how I wished I could go; and a deep desire took possession of me; but then, who was I? I had no money, no prominence at that time, except being a plain Christian woman, heard of and known by a few of the brethren, as a woman preacher, which was to be dreaded by the majority, especially the upper ten. Fortunately I had a good friend in Bishop Campbell, knowing him so well years before he was elected to this office. Also Bishop Wayman, Bishop Brown, and Bishop Quinn, were friends of mine. I believe I always had their sympathy and friendship. But there was no opportunity for me to speak to them personally. So I ventured to ask one of the brethren, who had been elected delegate, to tell me how much it would cost to go to Nashville; I would like to go if it did not cost too much.
He looked at me in surprise, mingled with half disgust; the very idea of one looking like me to want to go to General Conference; they cut their eye at my big poke Quaker bonnet, with no a flower, not a feather. He said, "I tell you, Sister, it will cost money to go down there; and if you ain't got plenty of it, it's no use to go: "and turned a way and smiled; another said:
"What does she want to go for?"
"Woman preacher; they want to be ordained," was the reply.
"I mean to fight that thing," said the other. "Yes, indeed, so will I," said another.
Then a slight look to see if I took it in. I did; but in spite of it all I believed God would have me go. He knew that the thought of ordination had never once entered my mind, for I had received my ordination from Him, Who said, "Ye have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that you might go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit might remain."
I spoke to some of the good sisters who were expecting to go; they said they did not know what it would cost. So I went home, and prayed, and asked the Lord to help me; and the conviction that I was to go deepened, and yet it seemed so impossible. Just before the Conference closed I ventured to ask another good brother, who had been elected delegate, and whom I knew very well, and he was so nice, I thought he would tell me. "Brother S.," I said, "how much do you think it will cost?" This was the uppermost thought then--the cost to go to Nashville. "Oh, my sister," he replied, "I don't know; it will take all of a hundred dollars;" and with a significant toss of the head shot through the door, and I saw him no more till I met him next year at Nashville; and that was a surprise, but he managed to speak to me, as we both stopped at the Summer House, and sat at the same table.
I was quite a curiosity to most of the visitors, especially the Southern brethren, in my very plain Quaker dress: I was eyed with critical suspection as being there to agitate the question of the ordination of women. All about, in the little groups that would be gathered talking, could be heard, "Who is she?"
"What does she want here?"
"I mean to fight that thing."
"I wonder what day it will come up?"
Of course, I was a rank stranger to most of them; the bishops, and all those whom I did know, had all got there before me, and were settled, and I was not going to trouble them for anything. Then those of the ladies whom I knew, wives of ministers or bishops, were dressed to the height of their ability; I could not rank with them; so I was all alone; "And His brethren did not believe in Him." "The servant is not above his Lord."
No one but God knows what I passed through the first three days. God, in answer to prayer, had marvelously opened my way
Before I left New York for Nashville, I had heard that the bishops were to have a certain number of tickets at reduced rates: so I wrote Bishop Campbell and asked him if he would get me a ticket. About two weeks after, he was passing through New York, and called to see me, and explained the matter. How very kind he was. God bless his memory. I gave him the money--thirty some dollars--and in a day or two he sent me the ticket. Now I thought I was all right, and so thanked the Lord. He had answered prayer up to this time in all that I had asked.
I was expecting when I got to Philadelphia to find several ladies who had told me they were expecting to go without fail but when I got there, there was but one lady--Sister Burley--and her husband; there were about twenty or thirty preachers, and just two ladies.
Poor Sister Burley was glad I was going, as she was alone; and I was glad she was going, as I was alone. She and I kept together as much as her husband would allow her; Brother Burley was a remarkably selfish man, and stout accordingly; if he dropped his handkerchief his wife must be by him to catch it before it touched the ground, or pick it up immediately, or get him a clean one.
Of course, I was only a visitor. We arrived three days before the opening of the Conference. This was to give all the delegates time to get in. I thought I would have no difficulty in getting a place to stop, and, perhaps, it would not have been so bad if I had been more stylish looking.
We arrived, I think, about two P. M. Friday; we were driven to a large church where tickets were given with the name and address where each one was to stop, Now, there were five or six ladies, but none whom I knew; they seemed to eye me sharply, but took no further notice; by and by, plans were settled, and two or three of these ladies, and six or eight ministers got in a 'bus and were taken to their places. I inquired of those who had charge, but they said they only had the names of those who were delegates. Poor me; I almost cried, and was tempted to wish I had not come.
Sister Burley felt sorry for me, and asked her husband if he could not help me; but he said I ought not to have come without knowing something about things before I came.
"That is so," I replied; "but I am quite prepared to pay for my board, if I can find a boarding house."
By this time the 'bus was there again, and the next crowd were off to their lodgings; a few minutes more and another 'bus came, and my only friend, Sister Burley, was gone. It was then almost five o'clock; the 'bus came the last time; the man asked me where I was going; I told him I did not know.
"This is the last load, and you had better get in; I take these people to the Sumner House; when you get there they might be able to tell you where to go."
I thanked him, and got in. When we got there I saw Mrs. Sumner and told her how it was; she said they were full, but if I would put up with it she would do the best she could. God bless her. I thanked her, and thanked the Lord. She was so kind and motherly.
Now, all that time no one had paid the slightest attention to me, any more than if I had not been in the world; they were all strangers to me, and full of excitement; so I was quite alone.
I would walk out in the afternoon alone, and to and from church alone. Several times I got ready in time and called at the parlor and asked if any of the ladies were ready; "not yet," was the usual answer; so I would walk on. After awhile, in the greatest style, would come these ladies with the good brethren.
The early mornings and the evenings were quite pleasant; so Monday evening, about six o'clock, I thought I would take a little walk; and, without knowing it. I got on the street leading to the Fisk University. As I walked on I saw a lady coming toward me; she began to smile; I thought, "I ought to know that face, but who is it?" She came up to me and said:
"Is not this Mrs. Amanda Smith?
"Yes, "I said.
"Oh, how do you do?" she said; "I'm so glad to see you. We just got home a few days ago, and we were talking about you last night; we were all in the parlor having a little sing, and we were speaking of the piece you sang with us in Music Hall, Boston."
"Oh," I said, "the Jubilee Singers." Just then I recognized
"Yes," she said, "we are just out such a place; and you must come out and see us. Professor White is going to invite the Conference out on Wednesday, and you must come."
This was Miss Ella Sheppard, now Mrs. Moore, wife of the faithful pastor of Lincoln Memorial Church, Washington, D.C.
When the time came there was quite an excitement about who was going. Carriages were engaged; I offered to pay for a seat in one, but there was no room; I sent out and ordered my own carriage, and paid for it myself.
While I was getting ready, a certain brother took a lady and put her in my carriage; when I went out to get in, he said, laughingly, "Mrs. Smith, Miss So and So and I want to go, and as you have room in your carriage, I thought we would get in;" but neither of them offered to pay a cent. I had half a mind not to allow it; but it was a good chance to return good for evil.
When we got there the good brother, being a minister, took his lady and passed quite up in front and was seated. I took a seat where I could get it, back in the congregation. One or two of the bishops were on the platform, together with a number of ministers, and the fine choir of the Jubilee Singers.
The meeting was opened in the usual way--an address by one of the bishops, then a song by the choir, singing as they could sing. Miss Sheppard spied me in the audience, and told Prof. White. He looked and looked, and could not see me at first. Then he went and spoke to Miss Sheppard again. Then she pointed out the plain bonnet. Then he spied me and quickly came down and shook hands, and was so glad. They all looked astonished. Holding me by the hand, he escorted me to the platform and introduced me to the large audience, who, in the midst of overwhelming amazement, applauded. Then the good professor told how they had met me in Boston, and how I sang the grand old hymn, "All I want is a little more faith in Jesus," and what a burst of enthusiasm it created. And of all the surprised and astonished men and women you ever saw, these men and women were the most so.
While he was making these remarks, I prayed and asked God to help me. Then he said, "I'm going to ask Mrs. Smith to sing that same song she sang at Boston, and the Jubilee Singers will join in the chorus."
If ever the Lord did help me, He helped me that day. And the Spirit of the Lord seemed to fall on all the people. The preachers got happy. They wept and shouted "Amen:" "Praise the Lord!" At the close a number of them came to me and shook hands, and said, "God bless you, sister. Where did you come from? I would like to have you come on my charge." Another would say, "Look here, sister, when are you going home? God bless you. I would like to have you come to my place." And so it went. So that after that many of my brethren believed in me, especially as the question of ordination of women never was mooted in the Conference.
But how they have advanced since then. Most of them believe in the ordination of women, and I believe some have been ordained. But I am satisfied with the ordination that the Lord has given me. Praise His name!
I had no trouble after I had Prof. White's and Prof. Spence's kind recognition, and I had the pleasure of spending a week or more at the University with those good people. And as I would talk at several of the meetings, the Lord blessed the dear teachers and students. I also spent a week at Dr. Braden's. They were very kind, and the Lord gave us blessing in some meetings. They have done, and are doing, a grand work among my people. May God bless them all.
I give this little story in detail, to show that even with my own people, in this country, I have not always met with the pleasantest things. But still I have not backslidden, nor felt led to leave the church. His grace has ever been sufficient. And all we need to-day is to trust Him.
"Simply trusting every day,
Trusting through the stormy way,
Even when my faith is small,
Trusting Jesus, that is all."