Arthur Bunyan Caldwell.

History of the American Negro and his institutions; (Volume 4) online

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But he made wonderful progress in his studies and gradu-
ated at seventeen years of age in 1883. But Dr. Vass has
said that he could not learn at all until he first prayed to
God for ability and that his aptness afterward was a direct
answer to his prayer.

His mother was a member of the Missionary Baptist
Church, and his father was a deacon in the white Baptist


Church, and yet he was persuaded to join the Episcopalians
on account of the kindness and sympathy of his teachers.
But at sixteen years of age a man came to school by
name of Thomas Morrison, of New Hill, N. C., who made
a wonderful religious impression upon young Vass, and
about the same time he came across certain doctrinal tracts
issued by the Baptist Publishing House that made out so
strong a case in favor of the Baptists that Vass lost all
confidence in the doctrines of the Episcopalians, and this
paved the way to his conversion to the Baptist conception
of the new life, and he connected himself with the Baptist
Church in Raleigh, although he still studied and boarded in
the Episcopal Institution until he graduated more than a
year afterward. But of course it was not very pleasant for
him, but he nevertheless lived up to his convictions.

Dr. Vass had already begun to teach school in the
country at fourteen years of age, when he secured a second
grade certificate, and until he graduated he taught both in
the summer and during the winter months in the country to
secure means to assist in his education. After graduation
he was appointed to a position in the public schools of
Raleigh, but before he ever served he received an appoint-
ment to teach at Shaw University which he accepted.
Whil teaching the first year he took certain studies and
thus recsived an A. B. from Shaw University at the close
of that session. After continuing his literary work for
three years more he received his A. M. from Shaw Uni-

Dr. Vass says that from the time he entered Shaw
University campus a wonderful vision of a service on a
large scale for his people over a large territory came to him,
and he was impressed that his connection at Shaw was to
prove a mere training for the work which he felt would be
his life work. After teaching there successfully for nine
years, another great impression came to him that he must
be up and doing for the Master had need of him elsewhere.
About that time he received an appointment from the
American Baptist Publication Society, the exact date was
Dec. 17, 1892. His field was to be Maryland, Virginia,


and the District of Columbia, and he as to begin work at
pleasure. He finished that session and began his new work
June 1, 1893, with headquarters at Richmond, Va. He was
received gladly and achieved signal success on that field,
and his salary was raised several times and finally he ac-
cepted the district secretaryship of the Society for the
South, to begin work Jan. 1, 1896, with headquarters at At-
lanta, Ga. It was while serving in the service of the Publi-
cation Society that he accomplished his greatest work for
his people. He began his new work with very definite ideas
of what would be most helpful to his people, but before he
had time to carry out his plans he had to step aside from
his program to defend the Publication Society from what
he regarded as unjust attacks made against it on account
of their failure to allow colored men to write for its Sunday
School literature. Dr. Vass felt that his people ought to
be invited to write also, but he did not believe all the charges
that were lodged against the Society, and was man enough
to stand out and defend the Society even to his own per-
sonal disadvantage. It was not long before the attacks all
centered about Dr. Vass and at least two papers were
started to destroy his influence, and the issue became vital
in all the States, with the result that Dr. Vass soon grew to
be one of the best known characters in the Negro race in
this country. As soon as the people better understood him,
they discovered that he had been misrepresented in his per-
sonal attitude toward their new printing business and they
afterwards expressed high appreciation of him because he
stood in the breach at a time when the race prejudice of
the colored people was greatly stirred up against the white
people and made his battle upon the platform of co-operation
between the races, and it was upon the platform that he
finally won out over his opposers and today he is held in
high regard by those who formerly opposed him. In con-
versation with Dr. Vass the writer heard him remark that
he felt this great battle was God's way of introducing him
to his people so that the Bible work he was afterwards to
devote his life to might receive proper emphasis so as to
be the means of accomplishing the largest results. Today


what Dr. Vass stands for along Bible lines is known all
over the country, and importance is attached to it by thou-
sands of leaders of the race especially in religious work.
Dr. Vass filled out twenty-six years of service with the
Baptist Publication Society ,and in September, 1919, the
Sunday School Publishing Board of the National Baptist
Convention called him to the field secretaryship to continue
under its auspices and support the Bible work he has been
doing for so many years.

Dr. Vass was married in June, 1885, to Mary Eliza,
daughter of Rufus and Nancy Haywood, of Raleigh, and
among the best colored people of Raleigh. Their union has
been blessed with six children, four of whom have passed to
Heaven, and only two remain, Maude Lillian, now the widow
of Lieut. Urbane F. Bass, M. D., who lost his life in France
in the World War. She makes her home at Fredericksburg,
Va., and has four children to mourn their father's death.
His son is Captain Rufus S. Vass, M. D., who served with
the medical corps in the U. S. Army in France, and is now
practicing medicine at Raleigh.

Dr. and Mrs. Vass were pupils in St. Augustine at the
same time ,and they married at nineteen years of age. Mrs.
Vass is a talented and noble woman.

In recognition of the successful work of Dr. Vass and
in recognition of his Bible scholarship, both Shaw Univer-
sity at Raleigh, and Livingstone College at Salisbury, con-
ferered upon him the honorary degree of Doctor of Divinity
in 1901. Unlike so many of his people, he has never con-
nected himself with any of th secret orders from a conviction
that' his calling required his undivided time and attention.

Simon Green Atkins

Occasionally one finds a man who is so competely iden-
tified with a cause or whose life is so closely intertwined
with the development of an institution that it is impossible
to tell the history of one without reciting the story of the



other. Such is the case with Prof. Simon Green Atkins and
the Slater Normal and Industrial School at Winston-Salem.
It would not be fair to either him or the institution to say
that he alone has been responsible for its success, for he
has had the support and co-operation of the best people of
both races. But it may be said and truly said that more
than any other man, it was his mind that planned and his
hand that executed while the work was still more or less
in the experimental stage.

To understand the man and his work, one must know
something of his origin, his training and his ideals. He
was born in the historic old County of Chatham, in the
midst of the war, on June 11, 1863. His parents were Allen
and Eliza Atkins. As a boy he worked on the farm and
developed the physical hardihood which has stood well the
strain of nearly half a century of hard work. Fortunately
for the boy his' home influence was good and begot within
the boy a selfrespect and a family pride which found ex-
pression in a simple, clean living, and led to a desire to
know something and to be something in the world. In this
conenction he recalls with gratitude the influence of his
parents' former master, Capt. E. Bryan.

When of school age he entered the local public schools
and was again favored by coming under the tuition of
such consecrated teachers as Mrs. Annie J. Cooper and oth-
ers who came out from St. Augustine's School to teach in
the rural schools during the summer. His public school
work was supplemented by private study till 1880, when he
entered the St. Augustine's School at Raleigh. Here he
came under the influence and teaching of that splendid edu-
cator, the late J. E. C. Smeeds, who was more concerned
about the content of education and the actual acquirement
of his students than he was about the titles or high sound-
ing degrees. Mr. Atkins completed the course at St.
Augustine in 1884. He began his work as a teacher early.
His first school was in his home county. While in College
his summer vacations were spent teaching in the rural
schools of Chatham and Moore Counties. Because he loved
his work, he was a successful teacher from the beginning.


Both as a student and as a teacher he attracted the attention
of Dr. J. C. Price, the founder of Livingstone College, and in
the fall of 1884 was engaged by him to take charge of the
Grammar School Department of that Institution. Here he
touched the lives of many students, since grown to manhood
and womanhood. He remained at Livingstone for six years
and was Treasurer of the College for the last two years.
During that period he did Institute work in the summer in
many of the counties of North Carolina and came to know
intimately the needs of the teacher as well as the student.

In 1890 Mr. John J. Blair invited him to come to Win-
ston-Salem. This resulted in his being made Principal of the
Depot Street Graded School, which position he held from
1890 to 1895.

Winston-Salem is an industrial center. At that time
the colored population was living in a congested area and
was not encouraged to buy homes. He found, only one two-
story house among them. He saw that health, sanitation,
education and progress depended on better housing condi-
tions and home owning ,and began the agitation which re-
sulted in such marked improvements along these lines in
recent years. From the beginning of his work at Winston-
Salem he has had the support and co-operation of the best
white people of the town.

When the section of Winston-Salem known as "Colum-
bia Heights" was being developed, he suggested to the pro-
moters the wisdom of opening it up for colored people.
After mature consideration they decided to do so and Prof.
Atkins, early in 1892, moved out to what has since become
a most attractive residence section. Other colored people
followed so that need of a school on that side of town was
soon felt. Prof. Atkins continued his work at Depot Street
School. In 1893 his board added an assembly hall, a library
and an office to his public school building. This was in the
midst of the panic year.

The little school at Columbian Heights was begun in
1892-93. The next year it was enlarged. In 1895 Prof. At-
kins resigned his position in the public school to devote him-
self fully to the work of developing what has come to be


known as the Slater Normal and Industrial School. In
twenty-five years the school has come to be recognized by
the leaders of both races and by the State as one of the
worth while institutions in that section. It is perhaps more
nearly an indigenous institution than any other school of
like size for colored people in the South. From the begin-
ning the affairs of the school have been handled by a local
board who have shown their faith in the institution and
their faith in Prof. Atkins by their works. A field man
was employed and the school grew in students, in equipment,
in resources, and in favor with the people. The State Legis-
lature, in 1895, appropriated a thousand dollars on condition
that the friends of the school would raise as much. It was
done and a new building erected with bricks made by the
students and completed with materials purchased largely on
Prof. Atkin's own personal responsibility. Having put his
hand to the plough, he would not look back. When con-
fronted by difficulties, he worked all the harder and when
seemingly insurmountable obstacles blocked his way he
prayed and went forward. For let it be said here that from
boyhood he has been a devout Christian. His life in the
community has always been such that he has been able to
secure a patient and sympathetic hearing from the leading
lawyers, bankers, and business men of the town. They
bear willing testimony to his ability as an educator and to
his worth as a citizen.

Space will not permit tracing out in detail year by year
the progress of the school. From small beginnings it has
grown to an enrollment of two hundred and fifty in the ad-
vanced grades and four hundred in the lower grades. The
plant has developed from one to a group of well equipped
modern brick buildings valued at $100,000. The faculty
consists of twenty teachers. The finances of the school
have grown in proportion to its needs. The State has shown
greater and greater liberality as the State Board of Educa-
tion has recognized the character of the work done. The
General Education Board has also made liberal donations
to the work, while the citizens of Winston-Salem have been
ready to lend a hand.


For twenty years Prof. Atkins was Secretary of Edu-
cation of the A. M. E. Zion Church and from 1904 to 1912
was released from the work at "Slater" for the field work
of this board. He is held in high esteem by the leaders of
his church and was in 1916 offered the presidency of Living-
stone College, Salisbury, N. C, the leading College of the
A. M. E. Zion Church. He has traveled extensively in
America and has a good working knowledge of every sec-
tion of the country.

On Sept. 3, 1889, Prof. Atkins was married to Oleona
Pegram of Newbern, N. C. Mrs. Atkins was educated at
Scotia Woman's College, Concord, N. C, and is herself an
accomplished teacher. Se has entered into the plans of
her husband with sympathy and enthusiasm.

Thomas Thaddeus Taylor

Rev. Thomas Thaddeus Taylor now (1919) stationed
at Rockingham, is one of the strong men of the A. M. E.
Connection in North Carolina. He brings to bear on his
work a fund of experience gained by study and work in
various sections of the country North and South. Through
the years he has toiled patiently and has risen steadily in
power as a preacher, and in the esteem of his brethren.
He is a native of the sister State of Tennessee, having been
born at Somerville in that State on Dec. 30, 1875. His
parents were Solomon and Susan (Person) Taylor.

Young Taylor had a taste of farm work as a boy. His
schooling in Tennessee was confined to the public school
near Somerville. Later on going to Texas he attended the
Fort Worth schools for two years and after deciding to
enter the ministry did three years of College work at Paine
Colllege, Augusta, Ga. This was supplemented by instruc-
tions from private teachers, especially along Theological
lines. So it will be seen that Rev. Taylor is a man of lib-
eral education.



He was converted at the early age of twelve and al-
most from boyhood was inclined to the ministry. When
finally he was ordained and joined the Conference and did
his first work in the North. He entered the Conference at
Newark, N. J. Soon after that he was transferred to the
Western North Carolina Conference and except for occa-
sional evangelistic work, for which he seems peculiarly
gifted, has confined his efforts to the South. Since com-
ing South he has served the following circuits and stations ;
Kings Mountain one year, Gastonia Station three years, re-
paired the church ; Lincolnton two years, built parsonage ;
Mooresville, two years, repaired the church and improved
the grounds. He is now in his second year at Rocking-
ham, where a new parsonage and commodious brick house
of worship have been erected, which when completed will
have a value of twenty thousand dollars. He entertained
the W. Central Annual Conference this year, Nov. 19, 1919.
Rev. Taylor has had a fruitful ministry. He is cordial in
manner, a pleasing but forceful speaker. Physically he is
a man of commanding appearance and dignified bearing.

He has been twice married. His first marriage was
on Sept. 6, 1900, to Jennie E. Cole, of Elberton, Ga. The
following children are by that marriage: Susie M.
Thomas T„ Jr., Walter C, Jeannette, Ethel M. and Julian
C. Taylor. Mrs. Taylor passed away Dec. 15, 1915. Subse-
quently Rev. Taylor was married a second time to Miss Lil-
lian B. Isaachks, of Gastonia. They have one child, an

He is a Republican in politics and among the secret
orders belongs to the Odd Fellows, though he can hardly
be said to be active in either.

As he looks back over his life, he attributes his success
largely to the influence of his parents. His mother, a
sainted woman, died when he was but a boy, but left him
in the Lord's hands.

He has been a delegate to two General Conferences of
his church.

In his reading, he is partial to Poetry and Biography.


He takes a delight in studying the lives of great men and
the causes for their greatness. Rev. Taylor believes that
man is man the world over, and that he is the same in
heart and purpose, needing the common acceptance of the
Word of God for his elevation. He believes, further, that
there will be no permanency in Democracy nor human free-
dom in the sense that the world is looking for them, until
it comes through national consecration of purposes and in-
ternational bending and blending of governmental will to
the Will Divine, and all center on Calvary and get light
from the Cross and therefrom be actuated and governed by
the mandates of the Gospel of the Son of God. That God
must be the rightful Father of universal brotherhood and
that the brotherhood must be of one mind and one heart,
living within the circle of the Golden Rule.

Allen Abram Smith

It is fortunate for church and for State that when an
emergency arises in either, there is usually some hard-
working, practical, efficient man who can step into the gap,
pull things together and lead to better conditions. Such a
man is Rev. Allen Abram Smith now (1920) head of the
McDaniel Normal and Industrial School, a Baptist Institu-
tion at Kinston. Without going into the early history of
this school, it may be said that Dr. Smith has done more than
any other man to put the institution on a firm foundation.
He has presided over it for five years. In that time the en-
rollment has grown to 175 and requires a faculty of six
teachers. It is now not so much a question of securing pu-
pils, as of providing equipment for their accommodation.

Dr. Smith was born near Mt. Olive in Dublin Co., in
1864. His father, who passed away before the boy could
remember, was Abram Smith, and his mother before her
marriage was Jennie Kornegay. He was reared on a farm
and as a boy went to school first at Mount Olive and later al




Goldsboro. After that he went to the Normal School at
Fayetteville for three years, where he came under the tui-
tion of that great teacher, Dr. E. E. Smith, whose life and
example have inspired so many colored youth. He then
spent two or three years at Shaw University and with this
equipment began the active work of life.

He was converted, and identified himself with the Bap-
tist Church when about eighteen years of age. Even be-
fore that time — in fact, almost from boyhood — he felt that
his work would be that of the ministry. In 1882 he was
licensed to preach by the Mt. Olive Baptist Church and or-
dained to the full work of the ministry five years later.
The first church to call him to the pastorate was the Best
Grove Baptist Church near Goldsboro, which he served con-
tinuously for a quarter of a century. Here a new house of
worship was erected. The next church to call him was the
First Baptist of Clinton, where a new house was built and
where he preached for twenty-one years. In another field,
Augustus Chapel, near Dudley, a new building is now being
erected. He served Holly Green Church, near Genoa, ten
years and made extensive repairs. He has also been
preaching for the past two years at Patterson Chapel, in
Lenoir Co.

For more than thirty years, Dr. Smith has been offi-
cially identified with the Bear Creek Association. For 25
years he was Secretary of that body and seven years ago
was elected Moderator. He is also the organizer and Mod-
erator of the Western Union Association, over which he has
presided for twelve years.

Before coming to Kinston, he was for ten years en-
gaged in educational work in Wayne Co. along with his
ministerial duties. During the McKinley and Roosevelt ad-
ministrations he was Postmaster at Mt. Olive for four years,
and was for a while engaged in the trucking business in
Wayne Co. This was while he remained at Mt. Olive.

Five years ago a situation developed at the associa-
tional school at Kinston which demanded the administra-
tion of a strong, progressive man. The brethren turned to


Dr. Smith, and, fortunately for the institution, he saw his
way clear to accept the principalship and has since resided
in Kinston.

He is a Republican in politics and still keeps in touch
with the party organization. He is this year (1920) a dele-
gate to the National convention at Chicago. Though not
active in the secret orders, he was at one time identified
with the Pythians, Odd Fellows and Gideons.

While devoting his time and talents largely to the min-
istry, he is a business man of good ability and has consider-
able investments in both Wayne and Lenoir Counties.

Dr. Smith is a leader and not a follower. He rather
prefers to create opinion than to wait to see what public
opinion happens to be. Accordingly, while living in Wayne
Co., he began a publication, "The Voice," which ran for a
couple of years. At another time he edited the "News and
Guide," a Republican paper which was published for several

He is a prominent member of the State Baptist Con-
vention and is one of the Vice-Presidents of the Lott Carey

On April 12, 1895, Dr. Smith was married to Adella
Kate Wynne, of Mt. Olive. Mrs. Smith is a woman of
rare accomplishments, having been educated at Scotia Semi-
nary, Concord, and was a teacher. They have five children :
Eva E., Mabel Y., Clyde V., Vivian I. and Talmadge G.

Dr. Smith is a forceful and convincing speaker and has
the confidence of the brotherhood in a large section of
North Carolina.

He attended the Republican National Convention as Al-
ternate in 1888.

Emanuel Montee McDuffie

It is a far cry from the little cabin in the black belt of
Alabama to the head of a great industrial educational in-
stitution. Yet President Emanuel Montee McDuffie, Prin-
cipal of the Laurinburg Normal and Industrial Institute has
covered the distance while still on the sunny side of forty
and has filled the years between with helpful service to
his race. He has done more, for in working out his own
success he has pointed the way by which any boy of vision
and energy can make a place for himself. Such men are
the greatest asset of the race. While laying the founda-
tions and building their own successes, they become the
examples and the benefactors of other struggling youth
whom they help up from places of poverty and obscurity
to positions of large service and usefulness.

Prof. McDuffie's story cannot better be told than in
his own modest language. He says, "I was born in Snow
Hill, Wilcox Co., Alabama, Dec. 24, 1883. My parents were
Emanualand Emma McDuffie. I was brought up under
the most adverse conditions. My father died about six
months before my birth, thus leaving my mother with the
care of seven children. As I had never seen my father I
was often referred to as the son of 'none.' In July, 1893,
my mother died and the burden of caring for the children
then fell on my old grandmother, who was known through-
out the community as 'Aunt Polly.' In order to help secure
food and clothing for myself and the rest of the family I
was compelled to plow an oxen on a farm, and as we usually
made four or five bales of cotton and forty to fifty bushels
of corn each year, she was looked upon as a great farmer.

Online LibraryArthur Bunyan CaldwellHistory of the American Negro and his institutions; (Volume 4) → online text (page 10 of 48)