Documenting the American South Logo
Collections >> The Church in the Southern Black Community >> Document Menu >> Summary

Levi Jenkins Coppin, 1848-1923
Unwritten History
Philadelphia, Pa.: A. M. E. Book Concern, c1919.


Unwritten History is the autobiography of Levi Jenkins Coppin, a preacher and bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Church. Coppin relates the story of his life, starting with his boyhood in Maryland in the period just prior to the Civil War. His mother, a free black, taught him to read and write, despite the fact that it was illegal at the time. His step-grandfather, a powerful preacher, served as an inspiration to him, and Coppin discovered early in life that he had a calling to the ministry.

From 1877 to 1900 he preached at several A. M. E. churches in Maryland, Delaware, and Philadelphia. For eight years he was the editor of the A. M. E. Church Review. He was elected to the Bishopric in 1900 and shortly thereafter embarked on a mission to South Africa. Upon his return he took on the role of bishop in South Carolina and Alabama. Coppin also recalls the more personal events in his life: the tragic death of his first wife and son; the loss of his second wife, Fanny Jackson Coppin; and the happiness he found with his third wife, the physician Melissa E. Thompson.

Interspersed throughout Coppin's narrative are his observations on a variety of subjects. He looks back upon the Civil War and Emancipation, and argues that the institution of slavery was morally detrimental to both slaves and masters; he points out the favorable effects of education upon his race; and he describes the morality and customs of the peoples of South Africa. Coppin's primary interest, however, is the growth and welfare of the A. M. E. Church.

Courtney Vien

Document menu