“They Called Him the Jesus Man”: Montrose Waite and the Afro-American Missionary Crusade

In celebration of Black History Month this February, Buswell Library Archives & Special Collections commemorates the legacy of Montrose Waite, dedicated missionary to Africa and founder of one of the first independent Black faith missions in America, the Afro-American Missionary Crusade.

Newsletter for the Afro-American Missionary Crusade, 1948. (CN 81, Folder 8-40)

Born 1893 in Jamaica, Waite immigrated to the United States in 1916 with the promise of munitions factory work created by the ongoing World War. Settling in New York City, he wrote of his interest in missions to Dr. A. B. Simpson, founder of the Christian and Missionary Alliance (C&MA), who encouraged him to seek out missionary education at the C&MA’s Nyack Institute.

Waite graduated in 1920 and he and three other Black graduates applied to the C&MA mission board. Although all four were accepted, their requests to go to the mission field in Africa were met with continued delays and rebuffs. Along with the persistent prejudices of the time, many American mission boards were reluctant to antagonize the European colonial governments of Africa who were concerned about the possibility of Black American missionaries supporting Pan-African movements, like that of Marcus Garvey in the 1910s and 20s. After suffering repeated setbacks in his attempts to go to Africa as a missionary, Waite finally sailed to Sierra Leone under C&MA auspices in 1923.

When Waite and his family traveled to the United States on furlough in 1937, the outbreak of World War II the following year halted their planned return to the field. After the war, concerns about Waite’s large family, along with the continued opposition at the time of many white evangelical clergy and mission boards to Black missionaries again prevented his return to Africa.

With the path to Africa closed by the established mission boards, Waite sought to raise his own support. Traveling to churches across the Eastern Seaboard, he worked for two years to find enough like-minded supporters to found the Afro-American Missionary Crusade (AAMC) in 1947.

Picture from the 1951 calendar of the Afro-American Missionary Crusade, showing the Waite family sailing to Liberia. (CN 81, Folder 8-40)

Charles Dawson, American evangelist and co-founder of the Afro-American Missionary Crusade, remembers Montrose Waite and the forming of the AAMC in a 1988 oral history interview:

“They call[ed] him the Jesus man…someone had given him, I think it was about a hundred acres of ground, to get a work started. One of them called him a paramount chief. Have you ever heard that expression about the African leaders? And so when I looked at him, not too well dressed, didn’t have anything, and my heart went out to him. Some of us got together to help him along those lines, but he had a burning message, had a real love, a real zeal. And then he said, “I want to go back to Africa.” But… meanwhile, the board that he had gone out with, they had put up a barrier. They weren’t taking any more blacks.”

“So we got the word to organize and [get] the board and everything set up, and these men stood with us until Brother Waite went on the field. And when we first started as a mission, ninety-five percent of the missionary’s gift came in from white churches. And within about ten years, ninety-five percent of the income came in from Black churches. In other words if people have a vision there are a few Black churches that know the Lord, that have been born again, that have a burden for Africa, a burden for souls. And this is what happen[ed]. And so Brother Waite went out, I think his wife, and six children. Just a step of faith. And they got the work started, and from that point up until now, we’ve had about eighteen or twenty missionaries that have gone.”

“[We called it] the Afro-American [Missionary Crusade], because we wanted that identity. And it’s a faith operated work, and it has been, and hopefully it will always be. Just by faith, we don’t beg, we don’t solicit. We just tell of the need. And God has honored that through the years.”

Transcript of Tape 1 in CN 386: Oral History Interview with Charles H. Dawson

Read a copy of Montrose Waite’s report on his long-awaited return to Africa from the Spring 1949 issue of The Afro-American Missionary Crusade below (held in Collection 81: Records of Africa Inland Mission, Box 8, Folder 40):

Waite continued as a missionary in Liberia with AAMC until 1955, when he left to help found Carver Foreign Missions. In 1962, Waite retired from full time missions and returned to the United States, although he continued to make visits to Africa. Until his death in 1977, Waite remained a leader in building support in the African American church for foreign missions and in finding channels through which Black American missionaries could go to Africa.

For more on Montrose Waite’s life of vision, faith and service, go to his autobiography (published after his death), Waite – A Man Who Could Not Wait, edited by Eugene Seals and John McNeal, Jr. and published by Parker Books, Inc. in 1988.

Explore more stories from African American missionaries and evangelists through the oral history collections of Jacqueline Huggins, Bob Harrison, B. Samuel Hart, Ernest Wilson, Willie Richardson, T. Michael Flowers, Tom Skinner, and Joseph Jeter. The Archives also holds one folder of correspondence (CN 81, Folder 8-60) from the early 50s on the question of Black missionary candidates from some of the significant American mission organizations of the era, including Africa Inland Mission, Sudan Interior Mission, National Council of Church of Christ Foreign Mission Board, IFMA, and Wycliff Bible Translators, among others.

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