5 Influential African Americans in Christian History


It’s Black History month! Since the 1970s, the U.S. government has recognized February as a time to celebrate the achievements of African Americans. Across history, there have been many African Americans who have served God well, and it’s time we bring attention to some of them. Let’s start with the mid-1700s.

George Liele (1750-1828)

As a slave in Virginia, his master taught him about Christianity. Liele was baptized in his early twenties and immediately had a heart for his fellow slaves. Within a couple of years, Liele was permitted to travel around the area to other plantations and preach to the slaves there. Through this, he led many to Christ and became the first ordained African-American Baptist preacher in North America. When the revolutionary war broke out, his master, at last, freed him. However, his previous master was killed in the war and his heirs attempted to enslave Liele and imprison him. After being able to produce documentation of his freedom, he was released and a colonel of the British army assisted Liele in leaving the country for Jamaica. Here, he continued to preach to slaves and led hundreds of them to Christ. He planted a church and held baptisms every three months. Within twenty years of his church planting, Jamaica went from around eight-thousand followers of Christ, to over twenty thousand. It is amazing to see how God used George Liele to do His amazing work.

Phillis Wheatley (1753-1784)

You may have heard of Ms. Wheatley as she was the first female African-American published poet. As a child, her mistress taught her how to read and write through the Bible. As she was born in West Africa and brought over into slavery, we cannot be sure of her birth date or her heritage. But through her artistry, Phillis Wheatley spread the truth of the Gospel and conveyed God’s character. She spoke out against the enslavement of others and spread the word of God’s love and freedom. Through her publications, Wheatley helped fund the first recorded missions brought from the New World. Through her unjust oppression, Wheatley remained a daughter of the Lord and used her education to tell other African Americans of the Lord’s love for them as His children.

Jarena Lee (1783-1864)

Born free in New Jersey, Lee grew up working as a servant maid. As a child, she learned about Christianity. However, like many of us, she struggled to accept grace. She is quoted as feeling like a wretched sinner and struggled with suicidal thoughts. In her writings, she discusses how in this dark time she turned to pray and finally she accepted God’s grace and love. As she continued her relationship with the Lord, Jarena said that she felt called to go out and share the Gospel. In her autobiography, Lee says how she felt insufficient for this job. And to this, she says God told her, “Preach the Gospel - I will put words in your mouth and will turn your enemies to become your friends.” Through the resistance of others, Lee went on to share the Gospel towards the west for twenty years. She is said to have brought a revival among frontiersmen and women. Jarena Lee is a great example as she let go of her on reservations to follow God’s plan for her.

Eliza Davis George (1879-1980)

Raised in the church, Eliza accepted the Lord when she was sixteen. She wrote that she knew He had a plan for her, but at that time she had no idea what. Eliza went to college in Texas where she received the education to become a teacher. After being on staff at the college for some years, she was part of a night where they prayed for other countries. It was this moment that she realized she had a heart for the nations, specifically Africa. She had a vision of people standing in front of the Lord on judgment day, crying out, “No one ever told us You died for us.” Though she faced much opposition, Eliza went to Liberia and taught children about the Bible and Jesus. Her work shows us that when we are dependent on God, His plan for us unfolds.

Thomas A. Dorsey (1899-1993)

The son of a minister and a piano teacher, Dorsey grew up with music and the Gospel filling his home. His mother taught him piano from a young age and when he grew older he went to school to further study music. An expert in jazz and blues, he added more rhythmic elements to the Gospel music he wrote. After the deaths of his wife and son, he fully committed himself to the Lord and writing music for Him alone. He went on to form the first black Gospel music publishing company. In his lifetime, Dorsey not only influenced black artists but white as well. Dorsey is a great example of someone giving their talents for the glory of God.

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