843.872.5352 iaam@iaamuseum.org

Bishop William H. Heard’s (1850-1937) Autobiography Documents Enslavement to Bishopric in A.M.E. Church

Robin Foster
by Robin Foster
Bishop William H. Heard, From Slavery to the Bishopric in the A.M.E. Church, Page 14, Arno Press and New York Times, New York, NY, 1969
Bishop William H. Heard, From Slavery to the Bishopric in the A.M.E. Church, Page 14, Arno Press and New York Times, New York, NY, 1969

After rereading “One More Day’s Journey,” by Dr. Allen Ballard, I decided to get the autobiography which was cited in his notes on the section, Bravery Amid the Terror in chapter 12, on page 274, From Slavery to the Bishopric in the A.M.E. Church, by William H. Heard. Bishop Heard was born enslaved in Georgia on 25 June 1850. Not like many enslaved men, his father was a strong father figure and self-taught craftsman on a neighboring plantation. His mother was a “breeder” who had special privileges for regularly bearing children. He was left to take care of his siblings after she died early when Bishop Heard was nine years old (see page ii).

His education during enslavement consisted of memorizing Bible verses. That was as much as he was allowed at the time. He was determined as a freedman to secure an education by paying literate white people to teach him out of his meager earnings at his father’s wheelwright shop (see page ii).

Bishop Heard wrote the following in his introduction:

‘Those who read this little booklet, The Autobiography of my life, I hope may be benefitted and encouraged, especially the young men and women of our Race.

They can see that men make progress without opportunity, and they ought to be encouraged to use the opportunities they have to make greater progress.

Opportunity comes but once, if properly used it is a great asset, if neglected the person is poorer for having neglected it.

‘It is bald-headed behind

When passed, cannot be grasped,

Therefore seize it in the front,

And use it before it passes,” From Slavery to the Bishopric in the A.M.E. Church, by William H. Heard page 15.

Bishop Heard’s autobiography shows the true depths from which he came to heights he “aimed at and attained.” His words have a place in my life. My great grandfather, Rev. Lafayette Franklin Vance born in 1861 and a Presiding Elder in the A.M.E. Church would have read Bishop Heard’s words and probably knew him.

From the autobiography, I have laid out for you a timeline of Bishop Heard’s life. We can tell where he was and the year. Then we will be able to find writings and records to document Bishop Heard and other people.

1850 – 1865         Enslavement-Elbert County, Georgia

1868 – 1872         Republican Party, legislature, school, teacher-Elbert County, Georgia

1873 – 1877         Teaching, attended University of South Carolina, Republican Party – 1876- Mt. Carmel, Abbeville County, SC

1879                      After teaching and studying at Clark and Atlanta Universities he began studying Law-Athens, Georgia

1880                      Assigned to A.M.E. Church mission for two years- Johnstown, Georgia

1881                      Deacon

1882                      Assigned to Atlanta, worked federal railway mail clerk job from aiding An Independent Democrat’s campaign for Congress-Atlanta, Georgia

1883                      Gave up job for full time pastorate job-Aiken, South Carolina

1885-1888           Mt. Zion, church, won railroad segregation lawsuit in 1887-Charleston, South Carolina

1888                      Allen Chapel, Presiding Elder of Lancaster District, Bethel Church

Before 1895         Served in churches in Delaware and Pennsylvania

1895-1899            United States Minister Resident and Consul General to Liberia appointed by President Grover Cleveland, and Superintendent of Liberia Conference, built first A.M.E. Church-Monrovia, Liberia

1899-1904            Served in church posts in Pennsylvania, New York, Georgia

1904-1908            Travelled throughout nation as Secretary-Treasurer of A.M.E. Connectional Preacher Aid and Mutual Relief Society

1908-1916            General Conference in Norfolk elected as bishop. Served as bishop in West Africa.

1916-1920             Mississippi and Louisiana-8th Episcopal District

1920-1937             Middle Atlantic and New England states-1st District

August 1937          Oldest delegate of World Faith and Order Conference-Edinburgh, Scotland

12 September 1937           Bishop William H. Heard died

I have to say that I am better for having discovered the story of Bishop William H. Heard. Stay tuned for the next blog. I will give a few resources where we will be able to find documentation in the places Bishop Heard was stationed around the USA, and the documentation will mention other people.

Sharpen the Saw

This is my favorite type of research. I did not know Bishop Heard was stationed in so many different states. Just think about the places where he was and the people he came in contact with. Did you have an ancestor in any of those places? Let us know on Facebook.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This