HERITAGE: An overlooked story
Lynn Blue, minister of music at Poplar Springs Baptist Church near Richmond, is interested in his family’s history and shared with the Virginia Baptist Historical Society an overlooked story about one of his ancestors.
Blue grew up in Richmond and heard family stories from his great-aunt, Florence “Flossie” Leach Wiltshire, whom the family nicknamed “Shoshe.” She was a member of Pine Street Baptist Church in Richmond, and when Lynn’s father came to Richmond as a young man, he stayed with his aunt. The young man was Presbyterian but staying with “Shoshe” brought him and eventually his family into the Baptist fold.
For nine years, 1872-1881, he served the rural counties of Mecklenburg, Lunenburg and Charlotte under the auspices of the American Baptist Home Mission Society. A biographical sketch written by his son attests that Daniel Leach was “training colored preachers, ordaining pastors, assisting the churches to get houses of worship, gathering them into associations, and guiding them in associational work.” The stats show that Leach planted five churches, preached 1,193 sermons, and baptized 1,089 men and women.
Imagine the situation. In the years immediately following emancipation, Virginia Baptists — white and black — found their world turned upside down. With emancipation, the formerly enslaved were free to remain or to leave, and many walked away from the farms and plantations where they had labored. Some stayed in the only place they knew. Either way, they had nothing.
The post-war attitude of white Virginia Baptists was mixed. With the old order gone, they wrestled with a new order which had not yet been formed. Some encouraged blacks to remain in the churches. Some wanted to recreate the old order. Some helped the blacks form new churches. Some showed them the door.
Northern “do-gooders” like Julia Wilbur or Daniel Leach were resented by most whites. Leach’s son, Henry Curtis Leach, who also became a minister, noted that “when [father] first began to labor among the colored people, he and his family shared with other workers from the North a good deal of social and religious ostracism.” Imagine the scenario: Living in the isolated countryside of Virginia and identifying yourself with former slaves. It was difficult enough for a man, but consider what it must have been like for his wife. Henry remembered that his mother “shared her husband’s labors, privations and hardships.”
In time, white Baptists in the area accepted Leach and acknowledged his good work. In 1878 the Concord Baptist Association met at Boydton, and when the subject of the Ministers’ Relief Fund was under discussion, Leach addressed the association on the subject. Immediately afterwards, another white pastor made the following motion: “That this Association is in full sympathy with our esteemed brother, D.F. Leach ... and that we bid him God-speed in his work and cordially recommend him to the sympathy of our brethren.” The outcast had been accepted.
Generations came and went. One of Leach’s sons, Alutus, lived at the homeplace and this is the line from which Lynn Blue descends. The family which had been ostracized in Reconstruction became socially accepted. Alutus became a member of local white churches and was regarded “as one of our truest and best men.” By 1877 he was a delegate to the meeting of the Concord Association of which he became treasurer and served on the local school board.
Three more generations and Blue enters the family chart. He remembers the great-aunt —“Shoshe” — who regaled the family with its own history. In time, Blue felt led into church music. He studied at the University of Richmond and at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He has served churches in the areas of music, youth and education in Kentucky, Georgia, West Virginia and Virginia. Leach’s kinfolks, including Blue, have made contributions to the communities in which they have lived.
Much pre- and post-Civil War Virginia Baptist history was told by and about white Baptists who had been loyal to the old order. Only in recent years have the stories of African-American Baptists been repeated to larger audiences.
The stories of white Baptists from “up north” help supply some of the missing pieces of our common history. They have been an overlooked story until now.
© 2014 Associated Baptist Press, Inc.