This is terrible," James Johnson wrote as European missionaries undercut Bishop Crowther's authority on the Niger Mission. "This insult to him … has incensed the whole native community elsewhere irrespective of denominational distinctions. … There is a limit to patience."

Like Crowther, Johnson was a Yoruba graduate of the Fourah Bay Institution, but it was his parents, not himself as in Crowther's case, who had been rescued from slavery. Johnson himself was born and raised free, in Sierra Leone, and became a catechist at the colony's southernmost village, Kent.

It wasn't until he had been in the job for a while, however, that he experienced a personal conversion. As he read the third and fourth chapters of Zechariah to schoolchildren, "the Lord spoke to me as my Savior, and within that week at a Holy Communion service I found salvation. … on that occasion the joy and gladness of personal salvation led me to offer myself to God that he might send me out as a missionary among heathen people."

After two years, Johnson was transferred to the Freetown Grammar School, where he had first been educated. There, he quickly gained a reputation for an intense moral code—which he often imposed on others. He even withheld the dinners of students who hadn't finished their math homework. (For this rigor he became known as "Holy" Johnson.)

Reclaiming a lost legacy

Johnson became a deacon at the influential Pademba Road Church and in 1866 was ordained a priest. During this time, he began to preach his vision of African nationalist Christianity, named Ethiopianism (p. 8) for Psalm 68:31: "Ethiopia shall soon stretch out her hands unto God" (KJV). The early church was dominated by African clerics, he noted, such as Augustine, Tertullian, and Cyprian. ...

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