AMANDA BERRY SMITH TIMELINE
1837 (January 23): Amanda Berry was born to slave parents, Samuel Berry and Mariam Matthews Berry, in Long Green, Maryland.
1854 (September): Amanda Berry married Calvin Devine who subsequently fought and died in the Civil War.
1856 (March 17): Amanda Berry Devine was converted to Christianity.
1865: Amanda Berry Devine married James Smith and moved to New York City.
1868 (September): Amanda Berry Smith experienced sanctification at Green Street Methodist Church in New York City.
1869: James Smith died.
1870 (October): Amanda Berry Smith began preaching full-time.
1875: Amanda Berry Smith joined the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union.
1878–1890: Amanda Berry Smith traveled abroad, preaching and advocating temperance.
1893: Amanda Berry Smith moved to Chicago.
1899 (June 28): The Amanda Smith Orphan Home and Industrial School opened in Harvey, Illinois.
1915 (February 25): Amanda Berry Smith died in Florida and was buried in Illinois.
Amanda Berry [Image at right] was born a slave in Long Green, Maryland on January 23, 1837. Her father, Samuel Berry, subsequently bought his freedom and later the freedom of his wife, Mariam Matthews Berry and five children. Amanda’s father was active in the Underground Railroad and their home served as a prominent station. She grew up in Maryland and central Pennsylvania, often working as a servant in other people’s homes. Her formal education consisted of three-months’ schooling. Her parents taught her to read and write. Amanda Berry married Calvin Devine in September 1854. They had one child, Mazie, who was her only child to live to adulthood. Calvin Devine died while serving in the Civil War. Amanda Berry Devine moved to Philadelphia where she continued to do housework and cooking for others. There she met James Smith whom she married in 1865. They moved to New York City where she took in people’s washing and cleaned houses. James Smith died in November 1869, and Amanda Berry Smith never remarried.
Amanda Berry Smith was converted to Christ on March 17, 1856 in the home of her employer. In September 1868 she was sanctified at Green Street Methodist Episcopal Church in New York City with Rev. John Inskip (1816–1884) as pastor. He preached that sanctification occurred instantaneously and was “the blessing of purity like pardon [which] is received by faith” (Smith 1893:77). Pardon referred to conversion while purity was a synonym for sanctification. Inskip’s understanding of sanctification mirrored that of Phoebe Palmer (1807–1874), who also maintained that sanctification resulted from faith.
Amanda Berry Smith attended Phoebe Palmer’s Tuesday Meeting for the Promotion of Holiness in New York City and testified there. She began her public ministry by sharing her experience of sanctification in local churches that were primarily African American. She responded to what she believed was God’s call to “go, and I will go with you” (Smith 1893:132) and commenced full-time evangelistic work in October 1870. She consistently preached holiness, which was the doctrine promoted by the Wesleyan/Holiness Movement.
Smith became a popular preacher on the camp meeting circuit. She was also known for her singing and her testimonies. Her involvement at Palmer’s Tuesday Meeting enhanced her reputation since prominent leaders in the Wesleyan/Holiness Movement heard her there. She began preaching more to white congregations, including the two churches in Brooklyn of Rev. Henry Ward Beecher (1813-1887) where she held week-long services.
Amanda Berry Smith traveled to England in 1878 to begin twelve years of ministry abroad. Her preaching engagements in England included the Keswick camp meeting. During her time in England, she traveled to Scotland and held services in a Presbyterian church there. She journeyed to India in the fall of 1879 and preached in Methodist Episcopal churches. She returned to England and soon traveled to Ireland where she preached in several denominations. Her next destination was Liberia where she arrived in January 1882.
In Liberia, as in England, she promoted temperance along with her evangelistic campaigns. [Image at right] She had joined the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) in 1875, shortly after it was organized. She played an active role in its meetings, both in the United States and later in England. In Liberia, she urged her listeners to sign a pledge to forego drinking alcohol and organized temperance societies. After eight years, she left Africa, visiting England, Scotland, and Ireland for several months before returning to the United States in September 1890. She maintained her dual emphases on temperance and evangelism, preaching at camp meetings and churches. She traveled to California and Canada before traveling to Great Britain and Ireland in 1893.
Amanda Berry Smith relied on unsolicited contributions to cover her ministerial and living expenses. In 1894, she began to play an active role in raising money for a home she envisioned for black orphans in Chicago. She did so while maintaining her busy preaching schedule. The Amanda Smith Orphanage and Industrial Home for Abandoned and Destitute Colored Children opened in 1899. She continued to solicit funds for the orphanage while preaching at revivals, camp meetings and temperance gatherings.
Amanda Berry Smith moved to Florida in 1912 to live in a home provided by a supporter. She died there on February 25, 1915. [Image at right].
Amanda Berry Smith’s theological emphasis was sanctification or holiness. Other than conversion, she did not address the other doctrines of Methodism that she had affirmed as a member of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Her experience of achieving holiness paralleled Phoebe Palmer’s description of the means of holiness. This involved consecration and faith followed by the conviction that since the Bible promised holiness, all a Christian must do is claim the biblical promise to have the experience.
In her preaching, Smith focused on the results of holiness more than the means of holiness. She testified to the fact that holiness helped her overcome a “man-fearing spirit” (Smith 1893:111) and enabled her to tell others about her sanctification even when she faced opposition. Power was a manifestation of holiness. Like Palmer, Smith relied on the Holy Spirit’s power in her ministry and preached for the power of Pentecost to be manifested in the present.
While some adherents appeared to believe that experiencing holiness indicated the completion of the spiritual journey, Amanda Berry Smith contended that holiness entailed growth: “There is much of the human nature for us to battle with, even after we are wholly sanctified”(Smith 1893:119–20). She spoke of multiple baptisms of the Holy Ghost rather than one all-encompassing experience.
Amanda Berry Smith was one of the few to examine the relationship between prejudice and holiness. “If they are wholly sanctified to God . . . all their prejudices are completely killed out” (Smith 1893:423). She believed that purity imparted by holiness removed prejudice from the heart of the believer. A clean heart that resulted from sanctification was devoid of prejudice, which Smith clearly believed was a sin. However, she did concede that sometimes there was the need for growth when a sanctified individual still harbored prejudicial attitudes.
Amanda Berry Smith disclosed numerous instances of racism she encountered in her ministry. Traveling to engagements required negotiating segregated facilities. She could never be sure if there would be a place en route where she could get a meal or find a place to stay overnight. Once she was taking an omnibus to her destination. Since she was not allowed to ride inside, she sat outside on the top. The vehicle discharged all the white passengers before blacks could get off, even when this meant backtracking (Smith 1893:153).
Adrienne Israel, Smith’s biographer, maintained that the holiness movement contributed to Smith’s success as an evangelist. She credits “the egalitarian thrust of the holiness revival that temporarily crossed boundaries of race, gender, and class, bringing together society’s disparate groups in camp meetings and other kinds of protracted revival meetings” (Israel 1998:154). Holiness worship services were among the few places that provided opportunities for blacks and whites to meet together. Even this supportive climate was not immune to the prejudice prevalent in society, however. Sometimes, the congregational seating was segregated by race. At one camp meeting, Smith wondered if she would be allowed in the dining tent. Her concern turned out to be unfounded but it does indicate that there were probably other instances where this had been the case (Smith 1893:173–74).
Amanda Berry Smith did not shy away from the issue of prejudice. When someone who was apparently white insisted that no one would treat her unkindly, she responded: “But if you want to know and understand properly what Amanda Smith has to contend with, just turn black and go about as I do, and you will come to a different conclusion” (Smith 1893:116). She likewise refused to succumb to the inferior status that others sought to impose on her. She referred to herself as one of “the Royal Black” (Smith 1893:118). She was a charter member of the Illinois NAACP (Israel 1998:154), which was founded in 1909. She deserves to be listed among the forerunners of the civil rights movement.
Amanda Smith also encountered sexism as a woman preacher. Adversaries quoted the scriptural admonition to “Let your women keep silent in the churches” (1 Cor. 14:34) in their attempts to inhibit her ministry. She sought to avoid arguments with opponents of women ministers and relied on divine ordination to validate her ministry: “[God] had indeed chosen, and ordained and sent me” (Smith 1893:159). Her denomination, the African Methodist Episcopal Church, did not grant women full ordination privileges until 1948. While lacking denominational credentials, Smith benefited from the support of male clergy and other church leaders. The Wesleyan/Holiness Movement’s affirmation of women preachers also provided a positive climate for her ministry. A historical roadside marker in Shrewsbury, Pennsylvania where she lived growing up attests to her prominence as an evangelist. However, it mistakenly identifies the location of her conversion experience.
Image #1: Photograph of Amanda Berry Smith. Taken from the Illinois State Historical Library collection.
Image #2: Sketch of Amanda Berry Smith on mission in Liberia with Methodist Episcopal Bishop William Taylor.
Image #3: Photograph of a historical marker honoring Amanda Berry Smith. The content on the marker, however, is incorrect.
Israel, Adrienne M. 1998. Amanda Berry Smith: From Washerwoman to Evangelist. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press.
Smith, Amanda. 1893. An Autobiography: Amanda Smith. Chicago: Meyer.
8 April 2016