Brawley, Edward M.

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Edward M. Brawley

Religious leader, educator, college president

Wdward McKnight Brawley was a religious leader and educator and one of the original founders of the National Baptist Convention. He championed the education of black ministers and the publication of their material. Brawley was the first black graduate of Bucknell University and the president of two Southern universities.

Brawley was born on March 18, 1851 in Charleston, South Carolina. He was the son of James M. and Ann L. Brawley, free blacks, and thus he was always free. At the age of four, Brawley was placed in a private school operated by an elderly woman, where he learned to read. The young Brawley continued his schooling there until after the uprising of John Brown at Harpers Ferry, which led to the closing of many schools in the South. In 1861, when he was about ten years old, his parents sent him to Philadelphia for further schooling. He attended the Institute for Colored Youth under Ebenezer Don Carlos Bassett until 1866. Following the Civil War and under the orders of his parents, Brawley returned to Charleston to learn a trade. He served three years as an apprenticed shoemaker and in 1869 returned to Philadelphia and worked as a journeyman at his trade.

While in Philadelphia, Brawley joined the Shiloh Baptist Church and worked in Shiloh's Sunday school. During this period, he decided to become a minister, and in the fall of 1870, he became the first student enrolled in the theological school at Howard University in Washington, D.C. Brawley remained only three months, then in 1871, he transferred to Lewisburg (now Bucknell) University at Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, becoming the first black student to enter the institution. He had a scholar-ship and he supplemented his income by giving voice lessons to students and others. In 1872, at the close of his sophomore year, Brawley was licensed to preach by a white Baptist church, and in 1875 after his graduation, he was ordained by a vote of a council of the church. The board was composed of thirty-five ministers.

The day after his graduation, June 30, 1875, Brawley was employed by the predominately white American Baptist Publication Society as a missionary in South Carolina. In his new position, he discovered there were many black churches in South Carolina, but few were organized or even had Sunday schools. There were also many associations, but they were not effective. Brawley immediately began to reorganize the associations and organized new ones. He organized a Sunday school convention in every association, and in May 1877 formed them into an annual state convention.

There were as many Sunday schools in South Carolina as there were churches, and the denomination was united and strong. Brawley raised a large amount of money for the state convention and also for Benedict Institute. It was reported that once, within a period of a few months, he raised a special collection of $1,000, an unimaginable sum for that time.

In 1883, Brawley became president at Alabama Baptist Normal and Theological school (now Selma University), succeeding Reverend William H. McAlpine. The decision to offer the job to Brawley was important to Alpine. He would not concede his position until a man with better educational credentials than he had could be hired. The decision proved wise; Brawley completely overhauled the curriculum and brought the institution back to college status. The first class to graduate under Brawley finished in May 1884. He resigned from this position in 1885 due to health problems. Brawley returned to South Carolina. While back home he edited the Baptist Pioneer for three years.

Brawley married Mary W. Warrick of Virginia, a graduate of Howard University, in January 1877. They had one child, but both mother and child died. He married again, the second time to Margaret Dickerson of Columbia, South Carolina, in December 1879; and they had four children.

In the late 1880s Brawley once again was affiliated with the American Baptist Publication Society serving several years as the district secretary and financial agent for the Atlantic Coast District. Under his direction, a number of young men began preparing for the ministry and were eventually sent to Africa for missionary work. Brawley became the editor of The Negro Baptist Pulpit, the first collection of black theological and denominational writing ever published.

Brawley continued his education and received his A.M. from Bucknell University, his alma mater, in 1878 and an honorary degree of Doctor of Divinity from State University in Louisville, Kentucky in May 1885. Brawley was regularly asked to speak by the American Baptist Publication Society at the national anniversaries. Over the years, he had numerous positions on boards in various associations. Brawley was hailed as dedicated and self-sacrificing, determined to educate those who for so long had been denied.

Brawley was known as a refined, scholarly gentleman of mild and quiet habits. Although Brawley made considerable money, he was said to have spent it largely in aiding students who could not afford to pay for their education. One-half of his salary while president at Selma University was spent that way. He resigned from his job at Selma University due to the failing health of his second wife. He returned once again to South Carolina.


Born in Charleston, South Carolina on March 18
Goes to Philadelphia to attend the Institute for Colored Youth
Returns to South Carolina
Returns to Philadelphia and works as a journeyman
Enrolls as first student in the theological school at Howard University in Washington, D.C.
Transfers to Bucknell University
Receives license to preach
Becomes ordained and takes a position with predominately white American Baptist Publication Society as a missionary in South Carolina
Forms South Carolina Black Baptist churches into an annual convention; marries Mary W. Warrick of Virginia
Receives A.M. from Bucknell University
Marries Margaret Dickerson of Columbia, South Carolina
Becomes president of Selma University
Resigns from position at Selma University due to health problems; receives honorary Doctor of Divinity from State University in Louisville, Kentucky
Begins the Baptist Tribune, a weekly publication
Dies in South Carolina

Over his lifetime, Edward M. Brawley earned a reputation as an effective and notable minister, as well as a dynamic speaker and writer. He was a champion for blacks publishing their own materials and educating their ministers. In January 1887, he began the Baptist Tribune, a weekly publication. It was considered one of the best papers of the South, a credit to his editorial ability and Christian labor. Though Brawley relinquished control of the National Baptist Convention, he remained an active worker and brought untold goodwill to blacks in South Carolina, Alabama, and elsewhere in the United States. Edward Brawley died in South Carolina in 1923.



Majors, Gerri, with Doris E. Saunders. Gerri Majors' Black Society. Chicago: Johnson Publishing Co., 1976.

Simmons, William J. Men of Mark, 1887. Chicago: Johnson Publishing Co., 1970.

                                 Beverly E. Richards