Photo credits: William Hull/Mid-Florida Newspapers
Amanda Berry Smith (pictured) was a Methodist holiness evangelist, missionary to Africa, and founder of an orphanage for African American children.
Amanda was born into slavery on January 23, 1837, in Long Green, Maryland. Her parents were named Samuel Berry and Miriam Matthews-Berry. Amanda was born while her parents were held on adjacent farms. Eventually, her father worked for wages at night to buy freedom for himself and his family.
Amanda’s attempts to gain a formal education always failed because a school was not available. Also, back then, it was too difficult for an African American child to get a proper education in a white school. When Amanda was thirteen, she left home to work as a live-in domestic and began attending a Methodist church.
In 1854, she married Calvin Devine and they had a daughter named Mazie. This was Amanda’s only child to live to adulthood. Calvin enlisted in the Union Army and never returned home. In 1855, while Amanda was gravely ill, she dreamed that she was preaching at a camp meeting. She recovered from her illness and was converted not too long after that experience.
In 1865, Amanda Berry married James Smith with the hope of becoming a minister’s wife and pursuing church work through that venue. Unfortunately, James never became a minister. Their matrimonial conflicts were also compounded by the early deaths of several of their children. When James passed away in 1869, he and Amanda were living apart.
Amanda then began to preach and sing at holiness camp meetings in 1870. She eventually became well-known for both of these talents.
In 1878, Amanda Berry-Smith traveled overseas and preached in Great Britain, India, and for eight years in Liberia. Her time in Africa was particularly difficult, especially on her health.
Upon her return to the states, she pursued her long-time dream of educating African American children. She founded the Amanda Smith Orphanage and Industrial Home for Abandoned and Destitute Colored Children in Harvey, Illinois in 1899. Despite her relentless fundraising efforts, she had a hard time financing the school sufficiently.
At the age of seventy-five, Amanda left the school and moved to a home in Sebring, Florida. She passed away on February 24, 1915 (Johnson, 2007).
Reference: Johnson, W. (2007, January 18) Amanda Berry Smith (1837-1915). Retrieved from https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/amanda-berry-smith-1837-1915/
Research sources: Amanda Smith, An Autobiography: The Story of the Lord’s Dealings with Mrs. Amanda Smith, The Colored Evangelist (1921); Adrienne M. Israel, Amanda Berry Smith: From Washerwoman to Evangelist (1998); Priscilla Pope-Levison, Turn the Pulpit Loose: Two Centuries of American Women Evangelists (2004.)
*BlackThen.com writer and historian Victor Trammell edited and contributed to this report.