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Culp, Daniel Wallace(1845–?) - Educator, editor, minister, physician, Chronology, Edits Works by Black Writers

johnson university culp’s school

Although information on Daniel Wallace Culp is scanty, he was a versatile man who prepared himself to serve as an educator, editor, minister, and physician. At some point he became involved in politics, but the extent and success of his work in that arena are unknown. An author as well, Culp compiled a collection of essays by African American writers, published as Twentieth Century Negro Literature (1902).

Culp was born a slave in Union County, South Carolina. Clearly, education was important to him because he pursued a college degree. In 1876, he was the first and only student to graduate from Biddle University, the forerunner of Johnson C. Smith University, in Charlotte, North Carolina. That same year, Culp enrolled in Princeton Theological Seminary and also studied philosophy, history, and psychology at the university. However, according to the title page of his book, Culp only held degrees in medicine, the A.M. and M.D. degrees. Soon after his arrival at Princeton, he learned that his schoolmates were prejudiced against black people. Those from the South were particularly annoyed by his presence and left college immediately in protest. However, apparently they were persuaded to return to school.

Within three years, Culp had created friendships among both university and seminary students, including those from the South who had protested against his presence. Fellow students must have respected Culp’s excellent performance. In 1879, Culp graduated from the seminary and began work immediately as pastor under the Freedmen’s Board of the Northern Presbyterian Church. He held the pastorate for several years and worked in different states as well. One of these states was Florida, where he settled in Jacksonville and was pastor at the local black Presbyterian church. Culp was also appointed principal of the state’s largest black school, Stanton School, located in Jacksonville. Here, young James Weldon Johnson (1871–1938) encountered Culp. Johnson, who later criticized Culp’s performance at the school, went on to become one of the nation’s black luminaries, recognized for his work as writer, activist, diplomat, critic, educator, lawyer, and editor.

Chronology

1845?

Born in Union County, South Carolina

1876

Graduates from Biddle University, Charlotte, North Carolina

1879

Graduates from Princeton Theological Seminary; pastors Presbyterian church in Jacksonville, Florida; becomes principal of Stanton School

1880

Enrolls in University of Michigan medical school

1891

Graduates from Ohio Medical University

1902

Publishes Twentieth Century Negro Literature

Jacksonville held a ceremony to honor the life of President James A. Garfield, who was assassinated on July 2, 1881. On the day after his funeral, exercises were held in the city under the auspices of federal officeholders, who asked Culp to give the opening prayer. Culp was an unseasoned speaker and gave a lengthy, boring prayer that lasted from thirty-five to forty minutes. In his book Along This Way , Johnson wrote about Culp: “He stammered terribly, but the length of this particular prayer could not be charged to the impediment in his speech.” Rather, Johnson believed that Culp had seized the opportunity to try to impress certain leading citizens of Jacksonville. “I have heard some queer prayers but never any one prayer in which so wide a range of topics was introduced,” he continued. Johnson called prayers such as the one given by Culp “officious” and “pompous.”

As a teacher and principal, Culp was hardly any better. He was a poor administrator as well. Stanton was loosely run, sort of a “go-as-you-please institution,” wrote Johnson. In fact, many parents removed their children from the school and sent them elsewhere for their education. Johnson’s father wanted to do so but his mother, who was the school’s assistant principal, protested. Thus, Johnson remained at Stanton, but he and other students there “dawdled away” their time while in Culp’s class. “He seemed to have no definite plans about graduating us,” wrote Johnson. As the situation worsened, parents demanded a change, resulting in Culp’s dismissal. Culp’s formal education, however, was far better than that of his replacement, William Artell, who lacked a college education altogether.

Gradually, Culp lost interest in teaching and perhaps the ministry as well; he became interested in the health problems of blacks and then began to study medicine. He enrolled in the University of Michigan but some time later transferred to the Ohio Medical University. In 1891 he graduated with honors.

Edits Works by Black Writers

Culp’s only known book, Twentieth Century Negro Literature: A Cyclopedia of Thought , was published in 1902 in Toronto, Canada; Naperville, Illinois; and Atlanta, Georgia. The work covers a variety of topics relating to African Americans and is written, it claims, by “one hundred of America’s Greatest Negroes.” The title page lists Culp as “an author and lecturer, etc.” The book is illuminated with one hundred photo engravings.

Culp’s work served as an important source of information and images of black men and women during the time. In addition to the articles given on then-timely subjects, a biographical sketch—many times with a photograph—accompanies each article. Among those included are North Carolina legislator John P. Green, emigrationist and AME church leader Henry McNeil Turner, educator and college president John Wesley Edward Bowen, educator and journalist Josephine Silone Yates, activist and women’s rights leader Mary Church Terrell, educator and women’s rights activist Mary Burnett Talbert, sociologist and writer Kelly Miller, college president and Greek scholar William S. Scarborough, and writer George Marion McClellan. There are others of similar stature as well as lesser-known figures.

In Along This Way , James Weldon Johnson described Culp as “a slender young man of medium height … [who was] pure black.” Culp’s photograph, published in his own work, bears out Johnson’s description. Culp deserves further study if for no other reason than that his single known contribution to early African American literature is important.

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about 4 years ago

Dear Sir,

I found this article interesting but not very kind. As the wife and mother of the last two direct descendants of Daniel Wallace, Walter C. Gantt and Walter S. Gantt, I would have enjoyed reading an article that did not build up and tear down in the same script.
Nevertheless, we are proud of him.

Phyllis C. Gantt