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George F. Bragg (George Freeman), 1863-1940
Men of Maryland
Baltimore, Md.: Church Advocate Press, 1914.


Reverend George Freeman Bragg (1863-1940) was born in Warrenton, North Carolina. At the age of two, his family moved to Petersburg, Virginia, to be near his paternal grandmother, who had helped found St. Stephens Episcopal Church for Negroes (Ruffle). A life-long activist in the Episcopalian church, Bragg was a staunch advocate for African American rights. He was heavily involved in the African American community, participating in the Virginia Readjuster party, publishing a newspaper entitled The Afro-American Churchman, and founding the Maryland Home for Friendless Colored Children. Additionally, Bragg served as a historian for the Conference of Church Workers Among the Colored People. It was in this role that he published not only Men of Maryland, but other texts such as First Negro Priest on Southern Soil, History of the Afro-American Group of the Episcopal Church, and Richard Allen and Absalom Jones.

Men of Maryland is a catalogue of biographies of prominent African American individuals, both free and slave, from the state of Maryland. The work is composed of three different categories of writing: a series of essays that help to establish the cultural and historical conditions surrounding slavery in Maryland; supplementary materials such as poems, lectures and letters; and twenty-eight biographies, each differing greatly in scope and depth. For example some, like the biography of Lewis G. Wells, fill only one page of text, while others, like that of Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, span fourteen pages.

In his own preface, Bragg states that his work is meant to promote the accomplishments of "notable and distinguished colored men" who have contributed to the African American community in the state of Maryland (p. 7). Bragg's desire to show the elevation of the African American race causes his work to deviate from the traditional emphases of slave narratives. Instead of stories that focus on the common slave's escape from the horrors of slavery, "Men of Maryland" describes prominent individuals, born both slave and free, whose lives and accomplishments helped to advance the status of African Americans. These individuals range from the famous, such as Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman, to the lesser known, such as Benjamin Banneker and Daniel Coker.

The biography of Samuel Ringgold Ward (pp. 114-122) is representative of the biographies presented in Men of Maryland. Ward's story contains only two lines concerning his family's former enslavement, noting that he "was born in the State of Maryland about the year 1817. His parents fled from slavery to New York, carrying Samuel, in his infancy" p. (114). The remainder of the biography focuses on his later exploits including his assistance in the freeing of a jailed African American doomed to be sent back into slavery, his career as an abolitionist lecturer, and his oratorical successes in Canada and Great Britain. These accomplishments showcase Ward's extraordinary talent and fame. Bragg also includes a lengthy account of a debate between Ward and Frederick Douglass meant to demonstrate that Ward was on equal terms of intellect and oratorical prominence as the famous face of the anti-slavery movement. Bragg also includes the remarks of a newspaper editor surnamed Torrey, who wrote of Ward "he possesses the most commanding intellect among the people of color in the United States" (p. 116). Torrey's remarks make clear Bragg's message that Samuel Ward was a master of words whose success enhanced the social status of all African Americans.

In Bragg's work, he often describes the groundbreakers: men who were the "first" of their kind. For instance, Bragg makes specific mention of Daniel Coker as being "the first colored man ever elected as a Bishop in America" (p. 38-39), Prof. Richard T. Greener as "the first colored person to graduate from Harvard University" (p. 61), and James Theodore Holly Bishop Holly as "the very first man of the African race to be made a Bishop, on American soil, by any of the historic Churches" (p. 81). Bragg emphasizes these individuals because their accomplishments helped to break race barriers and expand the acceptable role of African Americans in American society. By being the first to enter a new field, these groundbreakers opened closed doors for the African Americans that succeeded them.

Another interesting aspect of Bragg's text is the abundance of clergymen whom he deems notable. Nearly half of the biographies chronicle the lives of pastors, reverends or missionaries. There are, perhaps, two reasons for Bragg choosing to describe so many religious figures. The first is, most obviously, Bragg's own religious faith. As discussed above, Bragg was heavily involved in the Episcopalian church, so he naturally valued the spiritual accomplishments of the clergymen admitted into his work. The second reason could be the prospect of social freedom offered by churches. In 1829, David Walker published his Appeal. In this fiery essay, Walker asserted that pure Christianity was incompatible with slavery and that the doctrines of Christ emphasized the inherent worth of African Americans. After all, Walker asks, "Did not God make us all as it seemed best to himself?" (Walker 48). Many African Americans in the early 19th century shared Walker's sentiments, finding in the doctrines of baptism and salvation a validation not granted to them by the institution of slavery. Thus, Bragg might have included so many African American ministers and bishops in Men of Maryland as a way of emphasizing the church's role in elevating the social status of African Americans.

While Men of Maryland may not offer a traditional account of slave sufferings or escape, the work highlights the role played by ecclesiastical institutions and individuals whose efforts expanded and elevated the social conditions of the African American race.

Works Consulted: "Keeping the Story"; Ruffle, Karen, "George F. Bragg (1863-1940)" Documenting the American South; Walker, David, Walker's Appeal.

Christian Richter

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