It is the 22nd of October 2020. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. I'm Dan van Voorhis.
The year was 1870.
It was a momentous year in American history, for some important reasons and some that might seem less existentially significant.
It was the year that the Chicago baseball club played its first professional game. The team that would become known officially as the Cubs were then called the White Stockings after the "showy purity of their hose." The team got off to an auspicious start beating the St. Louis Unions 47-1. The following year the team's stadium, athletic equipment, and uniforms were lost in the Great Chicago Fire. It would be four years before the team played another game.
In 1870 Christmas was recognized as a national holiday in the United States for the first time. The holiday, which had been banned in the country's puritanical past, was enshrined by President Grant. German Christmas trees, English carols, and Catholic nativities marked the holiday as especially popular and informed by the country's immigrant communities.
An even more joyous story from that year was the convening of the 41st Congress of the United States. After Georgia became the last state admitted back into the union, all state representatives were present at the capital for the first time since 1860.
In that same vein, post-war reconciliation continued with the passing of the third of the Civil War Amendments. The 15th Amendment gave African American men the right to vote. However, it was another 95 years before state and local laws that restricted voting would be nullified by the Civil Rights Act.
1870 saw the election of the first African American senator, Hiram Revels. Revels, representing Mississippi, was elected by the state legislature by a vote of 81-15. (Citizens didn't directly vote for Senators at the time.) Ironically, Revels' seat was last held in the U.S Senate by Jefferson Davis. Revels also served as a minister in the African Methodist Episcopal church.
Yet another first in the African American community took place in 1870 when Richard Theodore Greener became the first black man to graduate from Harvard College. Greener would become the Dean of the Howard University school of law and a foreign minister to Russia.
And considering the reconciliation beginning to occur after the civil war, today we remember a man whose life paved the way for other African American preachers in these tumultuous years. It was on this, the 22nd of October, in 1870 that James William Charles Pennington died.
James was born a slave in Maryland and was eventually apprenticed as a blacksmith. Pennington finally escaped after a series of beatings both on him and his brothers and sisters. He made his way to Pennsylvania, where a family of Quakers took him in. It is here that James wrote, "It was while I was engaged thus that my attention was seriously drawn to the fact that I was a lost sinner, and a slave to Satan; and soon I saw that I must make another escape from another tyrant."
Pennington attended Yale College but was not permitted to enroll or to speak in class. He spent two years attending lectures and teaching himself Greek. He was later ordained the Congregational church and spent a long career with churches in Connecticut, New York, Maine, Florida, and Mississippi. A fervent supporter of foreign missions, he also took on the case of the Amistad captives. Pennington also wrote the first history of African Americans in the United States. The text would be used for decades as a textbook. Pennington's autobiography "Fugitive Blacksmith" became an international bestseller, and he was invited to attend the second World Anti-Slavery Convention in London. He was a tireless, if not sometimes overlooked, pioneer in the history of the American church. James W.C. Pennington was honored in 2016 when Yale Divinity School renamed one of its largest lecture halls in his name. Born in 1807, James William Charles Pennington died on this, the 22nd of October, in 1870.
Today's reading comes from the Scottish poet George Mackay Brown, "A Poem for Shelter."
Who was so rich
He owned diamonds and snowflakes and fire,
The leaf and the forest,
Herring and whale and horizon —
Who had the key to the chamber beyond the stars
And the key of the grave —
Who was sower and seed and bread
Came on a black night
To a poor hovel with a star peeking through rafters
And slept among beasts
And put a sweet cold look on kings and shepherds.
But the children of time, their rooftrees should be strong.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 22nd of October 2020 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. The show is produced by Christopher Gillespie and his pet goat Murphy. The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis. You can catch us here every day. Remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true. Everything is going to be ok.