October 14, 1883
August 20, 1943
Robert Wellington Bagnall Jr., a priest and an official of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), was born in Norfolk, Virginia, the son of an Episcopal priest. Following his father's vocation, the younger Bagnall attended Bishop Payne Divinity School in Petersburg, Virginia, an institution organized to train African Americans for the Episcopal ministry. Bagnall graduated in 1903 and was ordained as an Episcopal priest the same year. In 1906 he married Lillian Anderson of Baltimore. Between 1903 and 1910 he led Episcopal congregations in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Ohio, and ultimately became rector of Saint Matthew's Church in Detroit in 1911. Bagnall helped organize the Detroit branch of the NAACP and served as the principal speaker for its first session in 1914. Between 1914 and 1918 he successfully fought school segregation in Ypsilanti, Michigan, campaigned against police maltreatment, and persuaded the Ford Motor Company in Dearborn, Michigan, to hire more African-American workers. He was appointed NAACP district organizer for the Michigan area in 1918, and in the next two years he campaigned unsuccessfully for the passage of civil rights bills in Michigan and Ohio.
In 1921 Bagnall moved to New York City, where he succeeded James Weldon Johnson as national director of NAACP branches. In this capacity, he traveled to NAACP branches nationwide to raise funds for the central organization; he also streamlined the branch system so that it contained fewer but stronger units. Throughout the 1920s, Bagnall contributed articles to such periodicals as the Crisis and the Messenger. From 1923 to 1926, he worked to deport the pan-Africanist leader Marcus Garvey. Bagnall attacked Garvey's Universal Negro Improvement Association as impractical and denounced Garvey as a racial traitor for his association with the Ku Klux Klan. In 1923 Bagnall cosponsored an open letter to Attorney General Harry Daugherty, urging Garvey's prosecution for mail fraud.
As the NAACP faced fiscal retrenchment in 1930, newly appointed national secretary Walter White urged Bagnall's removal on the grounds that Bagnall was not raising sufficient revenue. Under increasing pressure from the NAACP board, Bagnall resigned in 1931. The following year he moved to Philadelphia and became pastor of Saint Thomas's Episcopal Church, which he led until his death in 1943. He was remembered by associates in both the Episcopal church and the NAACP as an outstanding orator and community organizer.
Finch, Minnie. The NAACP: Its Fight for Justice. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow, 1981.
"R. W. Bagnall Dies." Crisis, September 1943, 286.
Shelton, Bernice Dutrieuille. "Robert Wellington Bagnall." Crisis, November 1943, 334, 347.
Thomas, Richard W. Life for Us Is What We Make It: Building Black Community in Detroit, 1915–1945. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992.
sasha thomas (1996)