A Higher Mission
The Careers of Alonzo and Althea Brown Edmiston in Central Africa
New Directions in Southern History
Published by: The University Press of Kentucky
Imprint: The University Press of Kentucky
Sales Date: 10/15/2020
238 Pages, 6.00 x 9.00 in, 11 b&w halftones, 1 map
- Published: October 2020
In this vital transnational study, Kimberly D. Hill critically analyzes the colonial history of central Africa through the perspective of two African American missionaries: Alonzo Edmiston and Althea Brown Edmiston. The pair met and fell in love while working as a part of the American Presbyterian Congo Mission—an operation which aimed to support the people of the Congo Free State suffering forced labor and brutal abuses under Belgian colonial governance. They discovered a unique kinship amid the country's growing human rights movement and used their familiarity with industrial education, popularized by Booker T. Washington's Tuskegee Institute, as a way to promote Christianity and offer valuable services to local people.
From 1902 through 1941, the Edmistons designed their mission projects to promote community building, to value local resources, and to incorporate the perspectives of the African participants. They focused on childcare, teaching, translation, construction, and farming—ministries that required constant communication with their Kuba neighbors. Hill concludes with an analysis of how the Edmistons' pedagogy influenced government-sponsored industrial schools in the Belgian Congo through the 1950s.
A Higher Mission illuminates not only the work of African American missionaries—who are often overlooked and under-studied—but also the transnational implications of black education in the South. Significantly, Hill also addresses the role of black foreign missionaries in the early civil rights movement, an argument that suggests an underexamined connection between earlier nineteenth-century Pan-Africanisms and activism in the interwar era.
Part One: Education Goals throughout the Edmistons' Career
Industrial Education and Symbolic Home Building in the Congo Free State, 1898–1907
Congo Missionaries and the Perpetuation of Manual Labor, 1908–1936
Part Two: Specific Educational and Ministry Stratagies
Implementing Historically Black Education Strategies at the Presbyterian Congo Mission, 1918–1919
Neighbors Recognizing and Redefining Identities in the Belgian Congo, 1916–1935
On the Perimeter of Two Freedom Struggles, 1930–1936
Conclusion: Changes in Colonial Politics and School Policies, 1936–1963
A Higher Mission is a well-written and fascinating history of the religious motivations and educational methods of African American Presbyterian missionaries to the Belgian Congo. The manuscript brings to light the understudied and important archives of Alonzo and Althea Brown Edmiston, and Hill's deep familiarity with the material is evident.~Andrew E. Barnes, author of Global Christianity and the Black Atlantic: Tuskegee, Colonialism and the Shaping of African Industrial Education
This book explores the missionary careers of the Edmistons, one of the most famous African American missionary couples in American history. With nuance and sensitivity, Kimberly Hill uncovers how the Edmistons were caught between racism in America and imperialism in Congo, and between industrial education and intellectual qualifications as competing visions. Their faithfulness and perseverance in the face of racial prejudice testifies to the enduring importance of African American mission history. I highly recommend this fine study.~Dana L. Robert, Truman Collins professor of World Christianity and History of Mission at Boston University and editor of African Christian Biography: Stories, Lives, and Challenges
Richly instructive and rigorously researched, A Higher Mission is an important addition to the historiography of US mission work in colonial Africa.~Christopher Tounsel, Associate Professor of History, University of Washington