Bethel Literary and Historical Society

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The Bethel Literary and Historical Society was an organization founded in 1881 by African Methodist Episcopal Church Bishop Daniel Payne and continued at least until 1915.[1] It represented a highly significant development in African American society in Washington DC.[2] Most of its early members were members of the Metropolitan AME Church where its meetings were held, while maintaining an open invitation for black Washingtonians from across the city. It immediately developed into the preeminent debating society and forum for racial issues in Washington, D.C. The prospect of a separation of schools for black children was heatedly debated in 1881-2 as were the ideas of Booker T. Washington and W. E. B. Du Bois in 1903.[1] It was one of the stops of `Abdu'l-Bahá's journeys to the West.

The society's presentations attracted a wide swath of speakers:[3] Frederick Douglass ("The Philosophy and History of Reform"), Mary Ann Shadd ("Heroes of the Anti-Slavery Struggles"), Mary Church Terrell ("A Glimpse of Europe"), Belva Ann Lockwood ("Is Marriage a Failure?"), John Mercer Langston ("The Emancipated Races of Latin America"), Kelly Miller ("Higher Education"), Ida B. Wells ( "Southern Outrages"), Archibald Grimké ("Modern Industrialism and the Negro in the United States").

While several records of the organization are not preserved, among the presidents of the society listed in various sources are:

In various references it is also called Bethel Historical and Literary Society, Bethel Literary. There were also sister organizations with the same name, for example in Philadelphia.[3]


  1. ^ a b McHenry, Elizabeth (2002). Forgotten readers: recovering the lost history of African American literary societies. Duke University Press. pp. 141–185. ISBN 978-0-8223-2995-4. 
  2. ^ Moore, Jacqueline M. (10 February 2005). "Bethel Literary and Historical Association". Organizing Black America: An Encyclopedia of African American Associations. Online. Retrieved 4 March 2010. 
  3. ^ a b c Roberts, Kim (Spring 2010). "The Bethel Literary and Historical Society". Beltway Poetry Quarterly 11 (02). Retrieved 4 March 2010. 
  4. ^ Chesnutt, Charles Waddell; Crisler, Jesse S.; Leitz, Robert C.; McElrath, Joseph R. (2002). An exemplary citizen: letters of Charles W. Chesnutt. Stanford University Press. p. 8. ISBN 978-0-8047-4508-6. 
  5. ^ Thomas, Richard Walter (2006). Lights of the spirit: historical portraits of Black Bahá'ís in North America. US Baha'i Publishing Trust. pp. 32–33. ISBN 978-1-931847-26-1. 

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