Carey, Archibald J., Sr.

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Archibald J. Carey, Sr.

Religious leader, political activist, orator

In his religious and political career, Archibald James Carey Sr. was determined to improve the lives of African Americans in both the religious and secular domains. He came to prominence as a leader in the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME), having worked his way up through the religious ranks in Georgia, Florida, and then Chicago. In 1920 he was elected as the forty-third bishop of the AME Church. Carey was a skilled writer and speaker, and throughout his life he used his talents to affect social and political change, particularly in the city of Chicago.

Archibald James Carey Sr. was born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia. He was one of three children born to Jefferson Alexander Carey and Anna Bell Carey. Religion and politics played a significant role in the young Carey's life; both his father and grandfather were AME ministers, and the Carey family home created an environment of commitment to social change. At nine years of age, Carey experienced a religious conversion to Christianity, joined the AME Church, and became involved in the church's activities.

Religious Career Begins to Flourish

Carey showed a talent for learning and his educational training began at an early age. He entered school at the age of four and demonstrated his aptitude at every level. At age ten he was appointed secretary of the black Republican organization of Atlanta; his father was president. Carey went on to complete his B.A. from Atlanta University in 1889. In 1888, at the age of twenty, while still in college, Carey received his license to preach and joined the North Georgia Annual Conference under Bishop Wesley John Gaines. In 1890, Carey was ordained a deacon in Washington, Georgia, and the following year he was made an elder in Monticello, Georgia. Bishop Gaines presided over all these ceremonies.

During this eventful time Carey's personal life was also moving ahead. He married Elizabeth Hill Davis, daughter of the famous Georgia Reconstruction legislator Madison Davis. The two were wed on December 18, 1890 and went on to have five children: Eloise, Annabell, Madison, Dorothy, and Archibald Jr.

Carey's first pastoral appointment was to Bethel AME Church in Atlanta, Georgia in 1891, which he later rebuilt at a cost of $2,500. After serving four years at Bethel, Carey was then appointed to Mount Zion AME Church in Jacksonville, Florida. Three years later in 1898, Carey moved to a new pastoral appointment at Quinn Chapel AME Church in Chicago, the city's oldest black church. Carey was steadily building a reputation as a powerful preacher and talented orator. Moreover, he was sowing the seeds of his political connections, which would come to fruition in Chicago. During the 1896 presidential election, Carey campaigned for the Republican Party and met candidate William McKinley.

Carey's political career took off when he moved to Chicago to pastor at Quinn Chapel. While in Chicago, Carey developed his political ties with a rising young politician, William Thompson, who was connected to the Illinois Republicans. Carey campaigned a number of times on behalf of Thompson and other Republican figures in Chicago. His political affiliations enabled Carey to bolster his own career and demonstrate his support for the church and its community, particularly by raising money for the church mortgages under his pastoral care.

By the turn of the century, Carey was becoming a prominent leader in the AME Church. In 1904 he presided over the General Conference at Quinn Chapel, which made him more visible within the denomination. Carey's appointment at Quinn Chapel ended in 1904 at which time he transferred to Bethel AME, another Chicago church, despite some opposition and rivalry from Reverdy C. Ransom, another important figure in the Chicago religious scene. Carey served as pastor at Bethel until 1909 and then moved to the Institutional AME Church in Chicago, where he remained until 1920. In 1918 he was appointed presiding elder of the Chicago district.


Born in Atlanta, Georgia on August 25
Experiences religious conversion to Christianity
Receives license to preach
Graduates from Atlanta University with a B.A.
Ordained a deacon in Washington, Georgia; marries Elizabeth Hill Davis on December 18
Made an elder in Monticello, Georgia
Receives first pastoral appointment at Bethel AME Church
Appointed to Quinn Chapel AME Church in Chicago
Presides over the General Conference at Quinn Chapel
Appointed to Institutional AME Church, Chicago
Heads the fiftieth anniversary of emancipation state celebration
Appointed presiding elder of the Chicago district
Elected bishop on May 13
Dies in Chicago, Illinois on March 23

Political Connections Prove Invaluable

Carey embraced many roles in his religious life, as he did in his political life. He was a delegate to the General Conference in 1904, 1908, 1912, and 1916. He was also a member of the Financial Board from 1904 to 1912 and a trustee of Wilberforce University in Ohio. Carey was a member of the Commission on Federation of Methodist Churches in 1915. He was elected bishop on May 13, 1920, and was assigned to the Fourteenth Episcopal District (Kentucky and Tennessee). He was chancellor of Turner Normal College in Shelbyville, Tennessee. In 1928, he moved to the Fourth Episcopal District, which included Illinois, and from 1920 to 1922 he was a member of the Illinois Constitutional Convention.

Carey's political connections continued to enhance his ability to affect change in Chicago. Under Thompson, who was elected mayor in 1915, Carey's political influence increased. He was chaplain of the black Illinois 8th Regiment and chairman of the Second Ward draft board during World War I. Carey also received the esteemed position of delivering the oration at the centennial celebration of Admiral Matthew Perry's victory at Put-in-Bay. In addition, Carey served as the chief examiner of claims and the civil service commissioner. As commissioner, Carey had a huge impact on the hiring practices and conduct of the police force, ensuring they hired more black officers and punishing those officers who abused black prisoners. Carey also used his influence, particularly during Thompson's reign, to assure more blacks were appointed to public office—so much so, that Thompson's opponents began to refer to city hall as "Uncle Tom's Cabin."

Carey, however, was not permanently bound to the Republican Party. In 1911 and 1912 he lent his campaign support to Democrat candidates Carter Harrison II for mayor and Edward Dunne for governor. Subsequently, Mayor Harrison II appointed Carey to Chicago's motion picture censorship board. Carey also secured a position at one of Chicago's most notable celebrations. In 1915 he was appointed by Governor Dunne to head the fiftieth anniversary of emancipation state celebration.

Carey enjoyed all the political and religious power he had worked for during a thriving era of black Chicagoan politics. Carey remained active until his death on March 23, 1931, at the age of 62.



Murphy, Larry G., Gordon J. Melton, and Gary L. Ward, eds. Encyclopedia of African American Religions. New York: Garland Publishing Inc., 1993.


Wills, David W. "History: Archibald J. Carey Sr. and Ida B. Wells-Barnett: Religion and Politics in Black Chicago, 1900–1931." The AME Church Review (July-September 2004): 92-107.

                               Gabriella Beckles

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