Forthcoming in the Literary Archive of Henry McNeal Turner, Vol 3
The New Manager’s Inaugural
Christian Recorder June 29, 1876
Dear Brethren---As directed by the suffrages of our late General Conferences, held in Atlanta, Ga. commencing May 1st 1876, I have been called to take charge of the Publishing Department of said church. In pursuance of said call, I have this day taken charge of said Department and of all the appurtenances belonging thereto I have had the honor of filling many responsible positions in my life, ecclesiastical, military, legislative, political, and representative, and I am frank to admit that in one instance have I entered upon the duties of any so hesitatingly and tremblingly as I have upon this. Heavy debts frown me in the face and hurl defiance at me as my feet touches the threshold of our Publishing House. An exhausted treasury and empty coffers whisper, no notes of relief, nor span the dark horizon with any spectral bow of hope. Humanly speaking is gloomy and prognosticative of fearful sequences. But our help is in the Lord Jesus Christ, who has promised to be with us till the world shall end. Through him we can do all things and conquer all appellation. Nevertheless, with over seven thousand preachers and over three hundred thousand members…..all expectantly awaiting the result of our action, and in a new field of operation too far removed from the sphere of accustomed labors, and familiar faces, with no money, when money is an indispensable prerequisite to the end sought, is enough to damper, if not to paralyze the energies of any not absolutely insane. I have hitherto been rather boastful in saying that under God, I have never failed in anything I put my hands to that my official career had been one of perpetual successes &c. But incoming to our Publishing Department I feel my inadequacy to the onerous task, especially so when I remember the great and good men who have been wrecked upon this reef. I am not here, however, to seek my own aggrandizement: I am here at the behest of the greatest (colored) church on the face of the earth. As the servant of that church it will be my business to study and work for bar interest; and to give her a living literature. Can I do it? No, not I but by the help of God and the Church, it can be done. With over three hundred thousand professed Christians and a million and a half of persons attend every Sabbath upon our ministry we ought to have one of the finest and greatest Publishing Houses in the country. To accomplish this end, I shall pray labor, beg and quarrel if necessary. I have taken a solemn oath and kissed the Bible that I will deal honestly with your money. This oath I intend to keep by God’s help. I shall be as economical as I can, yet, I shall not keep men in my employ and starve them to death, I have always thought it was a sin, and think so still.
That I may succeed in giving you an establishment of no mean character, meet our present liabilities and enhance the literary status of our church, I now bow upon my knees, and with both hands stretched out before the ministers and members of our great connection, I pray and beseech you, Help! Help! If our ministries will help me with the prayers, with their sympathies, with their patronage, with their sermons in stirring the people up to a sense of supporting their own literature and their own Publishing Department, we will soon have a literary emporium commensurate with our wants and reputation. If I can get a start, I propose to supply our ministers and members not only with the CHRISTIAN RECORDER, Hymn books and Disciplines, &c., but I shall expect them to look to me for all their theological, scientific, philosophical, historical and classical, and every and all kinds of appropriate literature known to the nineteenth century. And I shall protest most stubbornly against our members applying elsewhere till I have exhausted my efforts to supply their wants; for I believe it is my business, and every member is morally bound to give me the first trial. I shall not recommence any work without some merit and I claim after having handled books for thirty years to be able to recommend them in some small degree to our young preachers. I offer my experience free for your patronage.
It is with shame and confusion of faces that I am driven to the necessity of making a solemn if not disgraceful fact public, a fraction less than four thousand copies of the Christian Recorder, the great organ of our church is published weekly, and not half of them are paid for, and less than five hundred are laden by our ministers, while we boast of over seven thousand preachers. The thing seems impossible. I can hardly realize it, and I am sure the progressive men our church will tremble when they read it.
We ought to issue weekly fifty thousand copies of the RECORDER, with all the illiteracy of our paper, and then feel abashed. But it seems that we bare over six thousand preachers, itinerant and local, who never read or see their own church organ. And as long as the people have such teachers, we will have such a disgraceful state of things. Here is a question for some of those brethren to answer--- which they can do at their leisure, it is, do you believe in your heart that any of you ought to be allowed to preach who does not take and read the organ of his own Church? Take your time and answer this momentous question. We can all see now, why my distinguished predecessor had to use two thousand and six hundred dollars of his own money to keep the organ of our church alive. Now, I beg to inform you I have no money to use, if I would I could not. This is equal to telling you, the RECORDER must live upon its own merits or die a solemn death.
But brethren, I am the wrong man to put in this office; if you are going to continue this state of affairs, I shall expect ministers of our churches North, South, East, and West not only to take our church organ; but notes agents; get subscribers, paying advertisements, &c. And if you do not, pardon me if I tell you about it. I shall publish every six months, (if I can publish at all), the number of ministers and members in each Conference who take our paper, and the name of all the preachers, iterant and local who do not; the number of subscribers each minister sends, &c. Our last General Conference did the noblest act in the history of the church, when it passed a law that any minister who refuses or neglects to make his church paper should not receive an appointment from the hands of the Bishop; and I understand the Bishops are going to strictly enforce this law. What a commentary upon our intelligence, and intellectual status, “Tell it not in Gath.” Severe as this may appear to the casual observer, thousands will bless God the day its provisions are executed and the cause of Christianity will receive a progressive impulse in the right direction. Answer the latter, and I will answer the former.
I shall utilize every honorable means at my command to secure access; white or colored, men or women, saint or sinner will be practicalized in the enhancement of this laudable enterprise if they can render honorable service to the cause, and become agents for good.
I shall prename every one with whom I deal or correspond, honest and in every respect reliable. But whenever you write for books &c. and any in your letter, send them C.O.D., and then refuse to take them out, and return them to me, and throw the expenses both ways upon me as parties have done to Chaplain Hunter repeatedly, you will not think hard of me I trust, if I should spit a little fire at you.
There is neither hope for our Church or race beyond the ratio we encourage (if we do not) build up a literature of our own. For this I shall work with all my might, and especially invoke the young men and the progressive men of our church, and the friends of Negro elevation, to come to our aid. I invite the colored ministers of other denominations who have no literature of their own to join in and help us, and I feel free to pledge them a full recognition. The colored people are on trial in this nation, and neither fine speeches nor florid diction will ever settle their stains. Results accomplished results alone will do it.
A race that cannot produce its own literature amounts to a cypher. Consumption is better than nothing I confess, but it is very little. I was proud to hear a very eminent colored lawyer say, when on my way to this city “As soon as you start your Quarterly Review, I shall take pleasure in helping you all I can, for a well written and well-edited magazine by our people, would reflect more credit upon our race than anything they have ever attempted.” Would that all could see it in that light for we may sit and read white men’s books and paper till doom’s day, and still be ignored, if not despised. Weakness and ignorance ever carry the badge of contempt, and will always be inseparable correlatives, despite the varnish of rhetoric. Success is popularity, defeat is disgrace in our age and generation and it is useless to try to patch up a subterfuge must be paid before anything leaves the office; and you would do well to put ten cents in your letter, and the surplus, if any, will be returned.
Now in conclusion, if you desire my success, the success of your own institution, your own name and honor, rally to my support, and as my soul liveth I will do you good and honest work; but if you do not, (for I again repeat there is no money here) woe be to your Publishing Department.
Yours for success,