J. Mark Lowe
It is certainly appropriate to recognize what the Fisk Jubilee Singers did for Fisk University and the City of Nashville. Today, I want to introduce one member of that famous group (briefly) and introduce her husband.
These sketches & photographs are taken from the Afro-American Encyclopaedia, or, The Thoughts, Doings, and Sayings of the Race compiled by James T. Haley in 1895. So let's meet the Taylors.
Mrs. Georgia Gordon Taylor was born in Nashville, Tenn. At an early age she left home with the "Original Fisk Jubilee Singers," traveling extensively in this country and abroad in the interest of Fisk University. Mrs. Taylor possesses a soprano voice of rare quality that is always pleasing and in demand. After retiring from public life she became the wife of Elder Preston Taylor, minister of the Lee Avenue Christian Church at Nashville, Tenn. In this capacity she has proven herself an efficient helpmete in church work, entering into it with all the zeal of an ardent Christian.
Elder Preston Taylor
Pastor of the Church of Disciples, Nashville, Tenn. - General Financial Agent of a College - Big Contractor and the Leading Undertaker.
Our subject is the leading minister of the Church of the Disciples. He was born in Shreveport, La., Nov. 7, 1819. He was born in slavery. His parents were Zed and Betty Taylor. He was carried to Kentucky when a year old; he was a promising boy and shed sunshine wherever he was. At the age of four years he heard his first sermon on the spot where the First Baptist Church now stands in the city of Lexington, Ky., and afterwards told his mother that he would be a preacher some day; so deep was the impression made on his young mind that years have not been able to eradicate it. He was affectionately cared for, and grew up as Samuel of old, ripe for the duties of his life. When the [Civil] war broke out he saw the soldiers marching and determined to join them at the first opportunity, and so he enlisted in Company G., One Hundred and Sixteenth United States Infantry, in 1864, as a drummer, and was at the Siege of Richmond, Petersburg and the surrender of Lee. His regiment also did garrison duty in Texas, then returned to New Orleans where they did garrison duty until mustered out of the service. He then learned the stone cutter's trade and became skillful in monument work, and also in engraving on marble. He went to Louisville, Ky., and in the leading marble yards found plenty of work, but the white men refused to work with him because of his color. He was offered a situation as train porter on the L. & C. Railroad, and for four years he was classed as one of the best railroad men in the service, and when he resigned he was requested to remain with a promotion to assistant baggage master; but as he could be no longer retained, the officers gave him a strong recommendation and a pass over all the roads for an extensive trip, which he took through the North. He accepted on his return a call to the pastorate of the Christian Church at Mt. Sterling, Ky. He remained there fifteen years, and the Lord prospered him in building up the largest congregation in the State among those of his faith, besides building them the finest brick edifice as a place for the worship of God in that section of the State. During these fifteen years he became known as the leading minister of his church in the United States. Not only in Kentucky has he been instrumental in organizing and building both congregations and meeting houses, but he was unanimously chosen the general evangelist of the United States, which position he held for a number of years besides assisting in the educational work of his race.
He very recently purchased the large spacious college property at New Castle, Ky., which originally cost $18,000, exclusive of the grounds, and at once began the task of paying for it. The school is in operation with a corps of teachers, and has a bright future before it. He is still one of the trustees, and the financial agent of what is now known as the "Christian Bible College," at New Castle. Some idea can be given of this man of push and iron nerve and bold undertakings by giving a passage in his life: When the Big Sandy Rail road was under contract to be completed from Mt. Sterling to Richmond, Va., the contractors refused to hire colored men to work on it, preferring Irish labor. He at once made a bid for sections 3 and 4 and was successful in his bid; he then erected a large commissary and quarters for his men, bought seventy-five head of mules and horses, carts, wagons, cans and all the necessary implements and tools, and with one hundred and fifty colored men he led the way. Jxl fourteen months he completed the two miles of the most difficult part of this great trunk line at a cost of about $75,000.
The President of the road, Mr. C. P. Huntington, said he had built thousands of miles of road, but he never saw a contractor who finished his contract in advance, and so he then was requested by the chief engineer of the works to move his force to another county and help out some of the white contractors. This he did not do. Afterwards he was offered other important contracts, but declined. A syndicate in Nebraska offered him the position of superintendent of their coal mines, but knowing it would take him away from his chosen calling, he declined the offer. For a number of years he was editor of "Our Colored Brethren," a department in the Christian Standard, a newspaper published as the organ of his denomination at Cincinnati, Ohio, with a circulation of 50,000 copies a week. He has written for many books and periodicals. He is a member of both Masonic and Oddfellow Lodges and was State Grand Chaplain of the former and State Grand Master of the latter and held these positions for three years and traveled all over the State, speaking and lecturing. Especially do the Oddfellows owe much to him for their rise and progress in the State of Kentucky, and the order conferred upon him as a mark of honor all the degrees of the ancient institution. He has represented his Lodge in many of the National Conventions of the B.M.C, preaching the annual sermons for a number of years.
I will give another incident that will show the character of this man, how he loves his race, and with what respect he treats them: While serving the church in Nashville in 1886, the choir of the church gained great reputation by taking a prize over every other church choir in the city in a musical contest. The Nashville American gave a very flattering account of the results which caused forty-two of the leading citizens of the white race to petition, through the pastor of the church, for a concert to be given in the Opera House for the special benefit of their friends.
When Mr. Taylor met this Committee they informed him that on the night of the concert the colored people would be expected to take gallery as usual. Mr. Taylor refused deliberately to have anything further to do with the matter, and publicly denounced the whole crowd in his church, which was very satisfactory to the colored citizens who urged him to give a concert nevertheless, and he consented. On the night of the concert there was scarcely standing room for the people, who said they desired to show their appreciation of this manly stand in resenting such overtures, and the result was an increase to the treasury of over two hundred dollars. He is one of the leading men in the community where he lives, commanding the respect of all who know him. A slight idea may be given of his popularity by stating that once when a gold cane was voted for in some entertainment in the city of Nashville his name was submitted by his friends to be voted for, he opposed the suggestion, but nevertheless, when the votes were counted out of the three thousand votes in that large city, he got over two thirds of the number. A quotation from the Christian Standard, Cincinnati, Ohio, March 3, 1886, will give some estimate of how he is held by the editor of that paper. A grand party was given for his benefit, and the editor used these words in reference to his absence:
"We have just received an invitation to a tea party at Nashville, Tennessee to be given in honor of Elder Preston Taylor. We would go all that distance, were it possible, to.show our respect for the zeal, ability and untiring energy of Preston Taylor. As we cannot go, we take this method of atoning for our absence."
Mr. Taylor is a man who will impress you when you meet him as thoroughly in earnest. He is never idle, always with new plans, warm hearted, generous, sympathetic and a true brother to all men who deserve the cognizance of earnest, faithful workers for Christ.
Look for more about the Taylors in the next blog.