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John Gregg Fee, 1816-1901
Autobiography of John G. Fee: Berea, Kentucky
Chicago, Ill.: National Christian Association, 1891.

Summary

John Gregg Fee (1816-1901) was born in Bracken County, Kentucky to middle class farmers and slaveholders. After receiving an education at both Augusta College in Bracken County and Miami University of Ohio, he studied at Lane Theological Seminary in 1842 and 1843. In 1844, he married Matilda Hamilton who, like Fee, was a devoted abolitionist. Fee then returned to Kentucky, where he preached against slavery. In 1854, with the help of Cassius Marcelus Clay, Fee founded the town of Berea, Kentucky, and in 1858 and 1859 he founded Berea College. The town became a center of abolitionist activity, and Fee intended the school to become a model for racial integration and peaceful coexistence. However, in December of 1859, sixty armed men attacked Berea while Fee was away, and the town was deserted. Fee lived in exile in Ohio until 1864, when he returned to Berea. After the Civil War, the college became increasingly integrated. By 1892, approximately half of its students were African American. However, shortly after, the college's new president, William Goodell Frost, changed the emphasis of the school to white education. In his lifetime, Fee had understood the challenges of race relations that followed the abolition of slavery, but his ideas were largely ignored, and he became embittered during his last years.

In his Autobiography of John G. Fee, Berea, Kentucky (1891), Fee describes various incidents that epitomize his experience as an abolitionist in the South, beginning with his religious conversion in early childhood. Throughout the text, Fee continually emphasizes that slavery and racism are sinful. He believes that the Untied States as a whole, and the South in particular, must accept and adopt a policy of true equality for all. He describes the threats and acts of violence visited on himself, his family, and his institutions because of his race politics. The narrative closes with an address Fee gave in 1890 that outlines the religious reasons for his political opinions.

Work Consulted: Garraty, John A. and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography, New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Harris Henderson

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