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Holsey, Lucius Henry(1842–1920) - Bishop, Service as Bishop, Chronology

church methodist episcopal georgia

In his early youth Lucius Henry Holsey felt compelled to enter the ministry. Fulfilling this desire, he converted to the Methodist religion and rose through the ranks as pastor, delegate, elder, and bishop. He served as the fourth bishop of the Colored (now Christian) Methodist Episcopal Church. With dedication to the services of the church Holsey served in that position for almost fifty years. He was an advocate for both religion and for the education of freed slaves. His influence and commitment to the black community remained steadfast throughout his lifetime.

Holsey was born July 3, 1842 near Columbus, Georgia. His parents were Louisa, a slave woman of pure African heritage, and James Holsey, her slave master. After the death of his father, Holsey was separated from his mother and became the property of James Holsey’s cousin, T. L. Wynn in Hancock County, Georgia. A few days prior to his death, Wynn allowed Holsey to choose his next owner; he requested Richard Malcolm Johnston, a planter and an educator. When Johnston accepted a position as an English professor at the University of Georgia and relocated to Athens, Holsey accompanied the family to serve as the house servant, carriage driver, and gardener. He lived with the family from 1857 until the abolition of slavery.

As a fifteen-year-old slave, Holsey could not receive an education, but his thirst for knowledge and initiative allowed him other avenues for learning. His first collection of books consisted of two Webster blue back spellers, a common school dictionary; John Milton’s Paradise Lost ; and a Bible, which were acquired by collecting and selling rags to a junk house in the city. These books constituted his library, which he thoroughly studied in order to master reading and writing.

On November 8, 1862 Holsey married Harriett Turner, a fifteen-year-old servant who lived in the home of George Foster Pierce. Pierce was a bishop of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South (now United Methodist Church). The couple was favored by the bishop who presided over their elaborate wedding at his residence. Their union produced fourteen children but only nine of them survived. To make a living, Holsey farmed on land given to him by his last owner, Richard Malcolm Johnston. During the Civil War, Johnston had returned to Hancock County to open and direct a boarding school named Rockby Academy. Harriett Holsey provided laundry services for the students at the academy.

Bishop Pierce assisted Holsey in his desire to become a minister in the Methodist Church. In 1868, Holsey received his license to preach and was assigned to the Hancock circuit in Georgia. A year later he was ordained an elder during the Colored Conference of Georgia. He was elected as a delegate to the first General Conference when the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church in the United States became a separate denomination from the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. It was during this conference that Holsey was appointed to be the pastor of Trinity Colored Methodist Episcopal Church in Augusta, Georgia. This church was in the forefront of the conference, and Holsey served as the pastor for two years and four months.

In 1873 at the General Conference assembly in Augusta, Georgia, the thirty-year-old Holsey was elected a bishop. Holsey played a significant role upon his election by assisting the presiding Bishop Miles with the preparation of the bishop’s message and assuming leadership roles in other works of the conference. He was ordained bishop by Miles and assisted by an honored guest, Bishop George Foster Pierce.

With a fixed salary of $800 Holsey was assigned to serve in Texas, Arkansas, Alabama, and Tennessee. The first ten years was a struggle for the Holsey family. There was little or no way to organize the charges whom he served. The necessities of life, including food, shelter, and clothing, were almost out of reach for the family. The family vegetable garden prevented starvation. The family of eleven resided in a two-room house that was heated with coal. Holsey did not complain about his family’s plight, but he believed that with faith and determination, his struggles would be rewarded.

Service as Bishop

As a bishop, Holsey traveled and ministered throughout the southern states, expressing a keen interest in the establishment of the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church in America. This denomination was organized in 1869 as a method to separate the black and white worshippers and attract the black Methodists who attended Southern white churches. As the leader of this denomination, Holsey recruited Georgia black Methodists to join. Other congregations in Georgia were founded under his leadership. Holsey served as the secretary of the College of Bishops for over twenty years. He was also the statistician and the corresponding secretary for the denomination during those years.

As bishop, Holsey continued to serve the denomination conscientiously, and in 1881 he was selected as a delegate to represent the church at the Ecumenical Conference in London, England, making him the first and only representative from the denomination to function outside the United States.

In 1882, Holsey and other leaders of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South and the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church founded Paine College located in Augusta, Georgia. He had advocated that the school be established to train black teachers and preachers to address the educational and spiritual needs of freed slaves. However, Holsey faced much opposition from other blacks who did not approve of such an establishment. He nonetheless refused to give up in the face of opposition and continued his crusade to establish the school. Holsey traveled throughout the states and made many speeches explaining his ideas. At the General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South approval had been given in 1881 for the school to be established. The school commenced a year later with approximately thirty students. It was noted that Holsey gave the school its first $100. Holsey became the first vice-president of the board of trustees at Paine College. He also founded Lane College located in Jackson, Tennessee, the Holsey Industrial Institute in Cordele, Georgia, and the Helen B. Cobb Institute for Girls in Barnesville, Georgia.



Born near Columbus, Georgia on July 3


Marries Harriett Turner


Receives license to preach


Ordained as an elder


Elected as the fourth U.S. bishop of the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church


Founds Paine College


Compiles and publishes Songs of Love and Mercy


Revises A Manual of the Discipline of the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church in America


Publishes Autobiography of Bishop L. H. Holsey


Dies on August 3

Holsey revised The Book of Discipline and its companion The Manual of Discipline in 1894. These served as guidebooks for governing the administration of the Methodist Episcopal Church. In 1898 Holsey published his autobiography The Autobiography of Bishop L. H. Holsey , which included sermons, addresses, essays, and a volume of poems. The General Conference granted him the authority in 1891 to compile the hymnal of the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church in America. The hymnal, Songs of Love and Mercy , was published in 1904. For many years, Holsey was the editor-in-chief of the periodical, The Gospel Trumpet , the church paper.

During the late nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century, Bishop Henry McNeal Turner of the African Methodist Episcopal and other African American ministers started a “Back to Africa Movement.” This movement would entice African Americans to leave the United States, settle in parts of Africa, and regain their civil rights. They would conduct their own government and business affairs among themselves. Numerous leaders in the church balked at this movement, but in 1895 and 1896 two ships arranged by Bishop Turner sailed African Americans to Liberia to start a new way of life. Bishop Holsey and some other African American leaders had a different separatist idea: they advocated that the federal government create a separate state from Native American territories for African Americans. Even though this movement supposedly promised African Americans equal status with whites the idea was met with much skepticism.

Undaunted by opposition to his views on separation of the races, Holsey continued to work with black and white church leaders. His lifetime achievements, along with his skills of leadership, influence, and commitment, were interwoven throughout the Atlanta black community. Holsey died in 1920.

Holy Family [next] [back] Holsey, Albon L.(1883–1950) - Organization executive, writer, Begins Work at Tuskegee Institute, Chronology, Writes Numerous Publications

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