THE LIVING CHURCH•April 10, 2011
By Worth E. “Woody” Norman, Jr.
n 1893 James Solomon Russell was appointedArchdeacon for Colored Work by the Rt. Rev. A.M.Randolph, the bishop of the newly formed EpiscopalDioceseofSouthernVirginia.Russellwasthefirstandthelongest serving archdeacon in that diocese. ArchdeaconRussellwaschargedwithgiving“impetusanddirectiontothe colored work” within the new diocese. His ordainedministry began when the civil and political rights whichblacks gained through Emancipation and Reconstruc-tion began to disappear with the rise of Jim Crow segre-gation.Thearchdeaconandhiswife,Virginia,hadalreadyformedtheSt.PaulNormalandIndustrialSchoolwhilehepresided over a growing church congregation.The mere description of his new assignment for “col-oredwork”indicatesthesocialsituationofthatera.Inits
Plessy v. Ferguson
decision of 1896, the Supreme Courtruled that “separate but equal” was constitutional. Thechurch, wittingly or not, paralleled this emerging south-ernsecularstandardthroughsuchstructuresasthe“col-ored convocation.” The archdeacon did indeed providethe“impetusanddirection”tohischarge.Butneitherhisone “colored convocation,” with its many churches andmissions, nor most of its black clergy enjoyed the fullcanonical status of the diocese’s other churches. Thestructure was separate but not equal.Most freedmen and women fled the Episcopal Churchafter the Civil War for majority-black African MethodistEpiscopal, AME Zion and Baptist churches. Russellbelieved that his creedal-based Episcopal denominationwasthemoreappropriatechurchfortheadvancementof formerslaves.Heevencharacterizedex-slaves’exodustoall-black churches as a mistake, though he understoodtheir motives.Soon after his ordination as a deacon in 1882 (he wasmadeapriestfiveyearslater),Russellwasassignedbythebishop of the original and undivided Diocese of Virginia,the Rt. Rev. F.M. Whittle, to Lawrenceville. Whittle wasresponding to a request by the rector of St. Andrew’s fora“colored”assistanttoworkwiththeparish’snucleusof African American members. If not for this request theyoung deacon Russell would probably have started hisministry in neighboring Mecklenburg County, his birth-
In 2009 the Diocese of Southern Virginia asked General Convention to consider adding JamesSolomon Russell to
Lesser Feasts and Fasts.
General Convention may revisit that request in 2012. Thisessay, which includes the diocese’s suggested propers and collect in honor of Russell, makes the casefor his inclusion in what is now
Holy Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints.
James Solomon Russell, December 20, 1857-March 28, 1935,
1 Kings 5:1-12; Psalm 127; John 14:8-14