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Daniel Wadkins: A Preacher’s Profile

This was shared by our friend Prof. John Mark Hicks of Lipscomb University. His and my denominational tradition, the Churches of Christ, has so many interesting stories being reinvigorated from old publications being restored digitally. It is always a good thing to be reminded where we come from. Be sure to listen to our recent podcast with Prof. Hicks, and check out his book Resisting Babel about the life and political thought of 19th century Church of Christ luminary David Lipscomb.

African American History Among Churches of Christ: Daniel Wadkins.

Elder Daniel Wadkins (1818-1883), biracial and born free, was a member of the Nashville Christian Church on Church Street (probably since 1844). Originally a farm laborer, he became a teacher’s assistant in 1833 when the first school for free blacks in Nashville was started. He began his own school in 1839.

The schools were typically clandestine and often violently opposed. In December 1856, twelve white men threateningly entered his school and closed it. It remained closed until 1862 when it reopened with 159 students during Union occupation. However, by 1865, Wadkins’s school closed due to free education offered by white churches/missionaries in Nashville.

In 1866, Wadkins, like Samuel Lowery, was commissioned to raise money for the Tennessee Manual Labor University. Wadkins received a letter of commendation from Frederick Douglass. Though accused of mishandling funds, an investigation by the Nashville Christian Church, led by P. S. Fall, acquitted him of any wrongdoing and affirmed his integrity (Gospel Advocate, October 27, 1870, p. 397).

In the 1860s, Wadkins was also involved in city politics as well as Freedmen associations and conventions. In 1867, he was elected to the city council but was replaced by a white Republican before the council went into session. He lost his next election bid in 1868. When Andrew Johnson (former military governor of TN and President of the US) ran for Senate in 1869 in TN, Wadkins led Republican freedmen in questioning Johnson’s views: Did he support black civil and political equality with whites? Did the Tennessee government represent blacks as well as whites? Wadkins’s letter to Johnson was published in the Nashville Daily Press and Times (April 15, 1869). Johnson never responded. Wadkins argued in various political meetings that “there was not now any disposition on the part of the whites to oppress the colored people” and noted the legislature to that point had not passed “any law restricting their rights” (Republican Banner, November 12, 1869, p. 1).

When a new constitution was written in early 1870 and a new governor installed (John Calvin Brown, a former Confederate general and Ku Klux Klan member), Tennessee’s Reconstruction era came to an end. Wadkins was disappointed and disillusioned. He turned his primary attention to preaching.

In the 1870s, Wadkins served as an evangelist supported by various congregations. He preached and planted churches in Mississippi, Tennessee, and Kentucky. His audiences sometimes included white as well as black attendees, and sometimes he was refused use of buildings where white congregations met. He was also a leader in the annual conventions of the “colored Christian church” in Tennessee (e.g., Gospel Advocate, November 20, 1873, p. 1119).

In support of his ministry, the First Christian Church in Nashville (his home congregation) commended him with this letter: “This shall certify that Bro. Daniel Wadkins (colored) has been for thirty years a member of this congregation, and is in regular standing as such. He has been long engaged in preaching the word, and is hereby authorized to do so wherever, in the providence of God, an opportunity may offer. He is commended, as a disciple of Christ and as a Christian Teacher to the attention of the brotherhood. In behalf of the elders and deacons of the said congregation, and by their order, Lord’s Day, March 29, 1874. P. S. Fall.” (Gospel Advocate, May 7, 1874, pp. 447-8).

In 1881, Wadkins, commissioned by Governor Alvin Hawkins, became a Chaplain in the State Penitentiary. (Gospel Advocate, March 31, 1881, p. 203.)

Wadkins died on May 10, 1883 in Nashville. “His funeral was preached by Bros. D[avid]. L[ipscomb]., and R. Lin Cave, assisted by Rev. Nelson Merry, in the First Baptist Church, a large audience being in attendance. Bro. W. was a man of remarkably strong and vigorous mind, and superior talents.” (Gospel Advocate, May 16, 1883, p. 315.)

To learn even more, listen to our recent podcast with Prof. Hicks, and read Prof. Hick’s edited book Resisting Babel.

If you have a story from history you want to share with LCI, send us a message and we’ll be happy to consider publication.

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