Since I did not write the blog post I’d planned for Black History Month, I thought I’d cover February and March (Women’s History Month) with a few words about Amanda Berry Smith, who was born in rural Baltimore County in 1837. Amanda’s parents were enslaved to the owners of neighboring farms, but unlike many other children born into slavery, Amanda learned to read from her mother and she learned about the Bible from nightly readings from her father. By working late into the night to make brooms and mats to sell at the Baltimore market, her father eventually earned enough money to buy his freedom. He then worked tirelessly to free the rest of his family and move them to Pennsylvania.
Amanda Berry and her siblings had the opportunity to attend school – but only very briefly. Their first school was open for only six weeks. The second schooling opportunity they were offered required them to walk five miles, and they would only receive lessons if the teachers were not too tired from teaching white students. After two weeks of disappointment, they gave up and focused on learning at home.
Amanda went to work at the only occupation open to her, as a servant. At the age of 17, she married, and soon after, she began to dream about preaching to crowds of people. Of course, that dream seemed unlikely to come true in a society not inclined to listen to the words of women, particularly women of color.
Her husband enlisted in the Union Army and was killed during the Civil War. After the war, she married again and hoped to fulfill her dream of ministry by serving as a minister’s wife. But her new husband never became a minister and their marriage was filled with conflict and sadness. All of her children except one died at an early age. She and her second husband were living apart when he passed away in 1869. Through all of the heartache, her faith kept her strong.
A year after her husband’s death, she began singing and preaching at camp revival meetings, and she soon developed a reputation for excellence in her ministry. She traveled on evangelizing missions throughout the South and West of the U.S. In 1878, she sailed to England with her daughter. Her fame spread throughout the ship and the captain urged her to conduct a service on board. After two years in England, she ministered for two years in India and then moved on to preach and promote education in Liberia and other parts of Africa.
When she finally returned to the U.S., she opened an orphanage outside of Chicago to provide a home and school for poor black children, fulfilling a lifelong dream. To gain the money for this venture, she traveled and worked within the Methodist Church, building interracial support within the denomination.
Throughout her career as an evangelist, Amanda Smith faced opposition because of her background. Her denomination would not ordain her as a minister. While she was preaching in England, newspapers denounced women preachers. Many people would not listen to her once they learned she had only three and a half months of formal education. She avoided conflict as much as possible and continued to preach and conduct revival meetings to people of all races. Her achievements stand as a testament to her perseverance and faith in God.
Amanda Berry Smith’s story is recounted on Day 69 of my Daily Devotions for Women book with the attached scripture verse:
Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. (2 Timothy 3:12 NIV)
It’s a good reminder. Though most of us will never face the persecution overcome by Amada Smith, we do live in an ungodly world, and we should expect to face some persecution when we stand up for our beliefs.
Maybe sometimes opposition is a sign that you are headed down the right path.
You can learn more about Amanda Smith from her autobiography “An Autobiography. The Story of the Lord’s Dealings with Mrs. Amanda Smith
or at https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/amanda-berry-smith-1837-1915/
Amanda Smith’s strong faith and efforts to overcome a background in slavery form the inspiration for characters such as Thea in my novel Restitution.
Thanks for reading!