This Caribbean Immigrant Was The First Black Unitarian Minister In The U.S.

The content originally appeared on: News Americas Now
Caribbean immigrant Rev Egbert Ethelred Brown. (University Unitarian Church image)

Compiled By NAN Staff Writer

News Americas, NEW YORK, NY, Thurs. June 24, 2022: In 1912, Caribbean immigrant Egbert Ethelred Brown made history when he was ordained as the first black Unitarian minister in the United States.

Reverend Brown was born in Falmouth, Jamaica and after his ordination, returned to his native island and began work towards establishing Unitarianism among blacks in Jamaica. He spent two years in Montego Bay (1912-14) and six (1914-20) in Kingston trying to make that vision come true, but financial and church problems forced the family to relocate to the United States in 1920.

Arriving in New York City in 1920, Brown founded the Harlem Community Church, organized “in honor of John Haynes Holmes, the only ministerial friend [in] those early days,” and services were held at 149 West 136th Steet. In 1928 Brown changed the name of the church to the Hubert Harrison Memorial Church (A Temple and a Forum), in honor of the late orator and writer from the then-Dutch West Indies. Harrison, like Brown, was dedicated to his work to the exclusion (and detriment) of all else, and died in 1927 at age 44. The name of the church was again changed in 1937 to The Harlem Unitarian Church.

Brown was also active in the political affairs of his community. He was a founder and the first president of the Montego Bay Literary and Debating Society in Jamaica, and helped organize the Negro Progressive Association and the Liberal Association in Kingston, both of which were geared toward civil and economic rights for blacks. In 1919 the Journal of Negro History, published Brown’s “Labor Conditions in Jamaica Prior to 1917,” in which Brown decried the cruel hours and low wages of black workers on his native island.

In 1936 Brown became first Secretary of the Jamaica Progressive League and, in 1938 he represented the League before the West Indies Royal Commission, which convened in Jamaica to review the feasibility of independence for the island nation. In I952, Norman Manley, Prime Minister of Jamaica, invited Brown “home” as a guest of the People’s National Party, of which Brown was chief fundraiser in the United States. He died in 1956.