Bishop Daniel A. Payne

Welcome to Black Mail, where we bring you Black History—Special Delivery!

Daniel Alexander Payne was a pioneering religious leader who challenged the racist belief in African American inferiority during the 19th century. Payne made history as the first black president of a college in the United States.

Born free in 1811 to Methodist parents in Charleston, SC, Payne’s upbringing was marked by a focus on educational pursuits. His early life was marked by the death of both of his parents during his youth. A great-aunt raised him.  Payne went on to open a school for African Americans that he had to close. School laws were implemented that forbade the education of free and enslaved black people. After the close of the school, Payne relocated to the Northern United States to further his education by attending Gettysburg Seminary, which was a Lutheran Seminary located in Pennsylvania. Payne would ultimately join the African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1841.

Payne held a deep commitment to education as a means of empowerment. This commitment made him a staunch advocate of the formal education of ministers. He also played a pivotal role in the establishment of Wilberforce University, the first black-owned and operated institution of higher learning in the United States, with Payne serving as president from 1863 to 1877.

Payne was appointed as the sixth bishop of the AME Church in 1852. As a bishop, he was a proponent of order and discipline, challenging what he saw as the “ignorant mode of worship” popular among some congregations. Payne advocated for what he felt was a more dignified and civilized style of worship, frowning upon emotional styles of worship and disliking the use of negro spirituals as part of worship.  His views were instrumental in shaping the trajectory of African Methodism. His opinions often resulted in contentious debate within the denomination.

Following the Civil War, Payne played a leading role in the rebuilding of the AME Church in the South, organizing congregations and sending missionaries to the countryside to aid in the support of the formerly enslaved.  These missionary efforts helped the denomination to expand rapidly, providing spiritual guidance and support to thousands of newly emancipated African Americans. His efforts to challenge self-hatred and promote self-respect among African Americans left a lasting impact on the community.

In his personal life, Payne was married twice. His first wife, Julia Ferris Payne, died in their first year of marriage due to complications related to childbirth. He remained in 1853 to Eliza Clark Payne. The couple had three children.  Daniel Alexander Payne’s legacy served to shape the course of African Methodism. Payne passed away on November 2, 1893.

Another installment of melanated mail has been delivered. Ponder, reflect, and pass it on.