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Isaac Lane, 1834-1937
Autobiography of Bishop Isaac Lane, LL.D. with a Short History of the C.M.E. Church in America and of Methodism
Nashville, Tenn.: Printed for the author, Publishing House of the M.E. Church, South, 1916.


Isaac Lane, a prominent bishop in the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church and founder of Lane College, was born a slave in Jackson, Tennessee on March 3, 1834. His mother, Rachel, was a slave on the plantation belonging to his white father, Cullen Lane. Isaac enjoyed certain privileges as the master's illegitimate son and was able to attend religious services held by white Methodists. However, he never received a formal education, and he learned to read and write on his own. In 1853 Isaac married Frances Anne Boyce, a slave on a nearby plantation, and brought her to live with him on Cullen Lane's property. Shortly thereafter he experienced a religious conversion and joined the Methodist Episcopal Church, South on September 11, 1854. Although white Methodist officials denied Lane's petition to preach because of his race, he was granted an exhorter's license in 1856. A decade later he was ordained a deacon and an elder at a regional conference where African American members of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South gathered to debate a formal break from the white congregation. A special session of the newly formed Colored Methodist Episcopal Church in 1873 elected Lane bishop. In this new role, Lane formed conferences and built churches throughout Texas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana, while focusing on the higher education of both clergy and lay people. To further his cause Lane purchased four acres of land in Jackson, Tennessee in 1882 for the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church High School, which was later renamed Lane College. Lane retired from the bishopric in 1914, but continued to organize churches throughout the Midwest. He died in Jackson, Tennessee on December 5, 1937 at the age of 103.

In the Autobiography of Bishop Isaac Lane, LL.D.: with a Short History of the C.M.E. Church in America and of Methodism (1916) Lane discusses the important events in his life while educating his readers on the C.M.E. Church's significance in Methodist history. Lane fervently defends church segregation in the postwar South, arguing that the break between African Americans and whites in social, civic, and religious life would some day lead to greater harmony. After confirming the need for African Americans to separate from the white Methodist Episcopal Church, South and create their own religious community, Lane details the formation of the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church and acknowledges the many individuals who were instrumental during its fledgling years. He then offers a chronology of his own life, describing his difficult years in slavery, his subsequent religious conversion, and his Methodist affiliation. As Lane discusses his increasing involvement in the ministry, he provides a thorough account of the Church's expansion as well as the founding of Lane College. The narrative closes with several extracts from his sermons.

Works Consulted: Griffin, Paul R., Black Theology as the Foundation of Three Methodist Colleges: The Educational Views and Labors of Daniel Payne, Joseph Price, Isaac Lane, Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1984: 7-9; Melton, Gordon J., ed., Isaac Lane, Religious Leaders of America, Detroit: Gale Research, 1991.

Armistead Lemon
Harris Henderson

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