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Black voices

The shaping of our Christian Experience

David Killingray & Joel Edwards

ISBN: 9781844741816
160 pages, Paperback
Published: 16/03/2007



Rt Revd John Sentamu, Archbishop of York

The presence of black people in Britain
David Killingray

1. Conversion

Phillis Wheatley c. 1753–84: Providence in adversity?
James Albert Ukawsaw Gronniosaw c. 1730s–?: A slave conversion
Olaudah Equiano c. 1745–97: Coming to faith in Jesus Christ
The Enslaved African Princes 1767–72: Believing in the ‘Creator of the World’
Ann Duck 1717–44: Repentance?
Samuel Ajayi Crowther c. 1809–91: Twice redeemed
Samuel Barber c. 1785–1828: A spiritual diary
James Newby c. 1840s–?: My conversion
Salim Wilson c. 1860s–1946: Seeing the light
G. Daniels Ekarte c. 1890s–1964: My conversion

2. Preaching

Philip Quaque 1741–1816: Missionary priest on the Gold Coast
Jupiter Hammon 1711–c. 1800: Salvation by Christ alone
Phillis Wheatley: On the Death of George Whitefield
John Jea c. 1773–18?: Preaching in the British Isles
Simeon Wilhelm c. 1800–17: A pious young man’s appeal
Alexander Crummell 1819–98: ‘Ethiopia shall soon stretch out her hands unto God’
Thomas L. Johnson 1836–1921: My first sermon
Amanda Smith 1837–1915: A woman preacher
J. Albert Thorne 1860–1939: Practical encouragement
Salim Wilson c. 1860s–1946: Public speaking
Peter Stanford 1859–1909: A black Baptist pastor, Birmingham
Tanimowo T. Solary, 1942: A tribute to ‘one of Africa’s greatest sons’, James Emman Kwegyir Aggrey
Anon: An encounter in a railway carriage 1940s

3. Protest and politics

Black Tom or David Spens: Denouncing ‘tyrannical power’ 1770
Phillis Wheatley: A ‘cry for liberty’
Ignatius Sancho c. 1729–80: The slave trade ‘uniformly wicked’ 1778
Quobna Ottobah Cugoano c. 1757–179?: Slavery and the slave trade contrary to the ‘Law of God’ 1787
Olaudah Equiano: The middle passage
Olaudah Equiano: Abolition activist 1792
John Frederic Naimbanna d. 1793: African prince
Mary Prince 1788–183?: An appeal for liberty
Ashton Warner c. 1806–31: ‘Freedom to the slaves’
Moses Roper 1816–60s: Lecturing around Britain
Anon: A poem to Moses Roper: ‘The glorious work of liberty’
Henry Beckford: An international delegate to the World Anti-Slavery Convention 1840
Robert Gordon 1830–?: Racism in a colonial church
Charlotte Manye 1871–1939: A plea for racial equality
Theophilus Scholes c. 1858–c. 1940s: Protest at lynching
J. Edmestone Barnes c. 1860s–c. 1920s: Prophetic ideas
Theophilus Scholes: Racial equality
John Edward Quinlan c. 1860s–c. 1920s: The unity of humanity
A. B. C. Merriman-Labor c. 1870s–c. 1920s: Racial discrimination in Edwardian Britain
A. B. C. Merriman-Labor: Schools and educational opportunities in Britain and West Africa
A. B. C. Merriman-Labor: The social and political position of British women and of black peoples
Felix E. M. Hercules 1882–1943: The spirit of black nationalism
Solomon Plaatje 1876–1932: A plea for African rights
Harold Moody 1882–1947: The League of Coloured Peoples: Christian purpose and pacifism
Learie Constantine 1901–71: Christians and the colour bar in the 1950s

4. Evangelism and mission

Phillis Wheatley: A missionary proposal
Samuel Barber: Urges his mother and sister to trust in Jesus
Joseph Jackson Fuller 1825–1908: Missionary patience
Joseph Jackson Fuller: Addressing the Baptist Union, Cambridge
Thomas L. Johnson 1836–1921: Death of his wife
Thomas L. Johnson: An uncomfortable African journey
Theophilus Scholes: Arrival in Africa
Samuel Jules Celestine Edwards 1856–94: Confronting atheism
Gregory Mpiwa Ngcobo 1876–1931: Missionary in southern Africa
Thomas L. Johnson: Preaching and personal evangelism
J. Albert Thorne 1860–1939: ‘An appeal addressed to the friends of the African race’
Salim Wilson: Dispute on the mission field
Harold Moody: Missionary endeavour 1931
Harold Moody: Encouraging disciples 1932
Constance Mirembe: A London City Missioner from Uganda 2005

5. Serving the community

Ignatius Sancho: Thoughts on eternity
David George 1743–1810: A Christian memoir
Boston King c. 1760–1802: My life
Joseph Wright c. 1810–c. 1850s: ‘The Life of Joseph Wright, a native of Ackoo’
John Ocansey: Britain’s Christian heritage 1881
A. B. C. Merriman-Labor: Christian England?
James Emman Kwegyir Aggrey 1875–1927: ‘Africa the first Christian continent’
Harold Moody: Christian lobbyist
Harold Moody: A challenge to young British Christians 1935
G. Daniels Ekarte c. 1890s–1964: The African Churches Mission in Liverpool
Paul Boateng (born 1951): Faith in practice

6. Christian life

Briton Hammon (eighteenth century): British sailor
James Albert Akawsaw Gronniosaw: A love story
James Albert Akawsaw Gronniosaw: The misfortunes of the poor
Ignatius Sancho: A letter to a young man in India 1778
John Marrant 1755–91: Sailor and preacher
George Liele c. 1750–1828: A letter of recommendation
Louis Asa-Asa c. 1810–?: A freed slave in England
Harold Moody: Student life in London
Sam King (born 1926): Wartime service and friendships
Sam King: Getting back into church
Io Smith (b. 1951): Coming to ‘the Mother Country?’



Christianity is firmly rooted in history. The Bible is a historical document that tells of God at work in the lives of people in the past, and supremely of the birth, life, death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, the most important event in human history. For many Christian believers, including some whose conversion narratives appear in this book, the defining point in their lives is when they acknowledge Jesus’ death on the cross, experience pardon from the guilt of sin, and then live with God’s Holy Spirit within them. It is good for Christians to know how the faith was received by fellow believers in the past, and also to be encouraged by their life and witness.

This anthology looks at the lives and struggles, triumphs and failures, hopes and ambitions of black British Christians over the past 250 years. A few of the figures included are well known; others are not. Our hope is that a wide range of Britons will read this book and discover more about the rich history of the diverse peoples who have populated these islands. At the same time we would like black Christians to find a source of spiritual encouragement, as well as a further dimension to their own history within Britain, in many of these personal accounts. And this history should also be of interest to white Christians who would find in it a new dimension to British and to Christian history rarely mentioned.

What do we mean by ‘black’ and ‘British’ ? For the purposes of this anthology our definition of ‘black’ is restricted to people of African origin and descent. However, what constitutes, or how to define, ‘British’ identity is a much discussed issue today. For us, and historically, this term embraces those black people who were British subjects and citizens within the changing boundaries of the British Empire, in the Americas, in Africa, and of course within Britain itself. Another qualification for inclusion in the anthology is that the black people arrived in Britain at some time. We have bent the rules a little in a few cases, by according British identity to one or two black people who came from the United States in the nineteenth century but lived in Britain for a number of years. They have become, in our eyes, ‘honorary’ Britons, as they often thought of Britain as a more welcoming, kindly and hospitable ‘home’ than their country of birth, where they were either slaves or treated as second-class citizens. Sadly this cannot be said to be the experience of many black people who came to Britain and daily faced prejudice and discrimination.

Where possible we have kept the language and spelling of the original texts. As the writers quoted used different terms and forms to describe their own identity and that of others, we have chosen to spell both ‘black’ and ‘white’ in lower case, not privileging one over the other.

Extract from Chapter 4: Evangelism & Mission ...

SAMUEL BARBER: Urges his mother and sister to trust in Jesus

Samuel Barber, a Primitive Methodist preacher, wrote letters to his mother and his sister Ann urging them to become Christians. The letters have not survived but are quoted in his obituary. Barber’s language draws largely on the Authorized Version of the Bible. It has the insistent tone and content that were widely used by evangelical Christians in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Today it sounds not only heavy but also too direct and pointed. It was intended to be so, as a way of bringing non-Christians to a sense of the consequences of ignoring the claims of Jesus Christ. It stressed sudden death because it was an age when a long life was far less certain and most people had personal knowledge of death.

Barber’s appeal to his mother and his sister Ann appears to have been successful. Ann came to live with Samuel and his family in Tunstall.

To his mother:
"Having obtained help, it is for me to be faithful, and more especially as the eternal interest of an affectionate mother is at stake; and shall I be silent while I see the wolf of hell, leading down to his infernal region, she who bore me? God forbid! I entreat, beseech you dear mother, deceive not your mortal soul; obey the request of your maker; ‘Wash you, make you clean,’ – ‘And I will turn my hand upon thee, and purely purge away thy dross, and take away all thy tin.’"

To his sister Ann:
"Dear Sister . . . redeem the time, escape for thy life, seek for mercy while it may be found. Time is short, eternity is at hand . . . Oh, my dear sister . . . My soul longs for you. I would snatch you as a brand from the burning; awake thou that sleepeth, and Christ shall give you light."

Source: ‘Memoir of Samuel Barber, a local preacher’, by John Smith, The Primitive Methodist Magazine for the Year 1829,10, pp. 119–121.

Extract from Chapter 6: Christian Life ...


Gronniosaw became a seaman and then enlisted in the army. At some time in the 1760s he arrived at Portsmouth only to be greatly disappointed to find that many Britons were not Christians. He moved to London, where he met George Whitefield, and took lodgings in Petticoat Lane, where he met his future wife Betty, a widow with a young child. His Narrative provides one of the earliest love stories by a black Briton.

"The morning after I came to my new lodging (in Petticoat Lane), as I was at breakfast with the gentlewoman of the house, I heard the noise of some looms over our heads: I enquir’d what it was; she told me that a person was weaving silk. – I expressed a great desire to see it, and asked if I might: She told me she would go up with me; she was sure I should be very welcome. She was as good as her word, and as soon as we enter’d the room, the person (Betty) that was weaving look’d about, and smiled upon us, and I loved her from that moment. – She ask’d me many questions, and I in return talk’d a great deal to her. I found that she was a member of Mr. Allen’s Meeting, and I begun to entertain a good opinion of her, though I was almost afraid to indulge this inclination, least she should prove like all the rest that I had met with at Portsmouth, &c. and which had almost given me a dislike to all white women. – But after a short acquaintance I had the happiness to find she was very different, and quite sincere, and I was not without hope that she entertain’d some esteem for me . . .

I firmly believed that we should be very happy together, and so it prov’d, for she was given me from the Lord. And I have found her a blessed partner, and we have never repented, tho’ we have gone through many troubles and difficulties."

Source: James Albert Ukwsaw Gronniosaw, A Narrative of the Most Remarkable Particulars in the Life of James Albert Ukawsaw Gronniosaw, An African Prince, as Related by Himself (Bath, 1772), pp. 35–36, 39.