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The contributions of Bishop William H. Plummer are numerous. His life embraced the teachings of Prophet William S. Crowdy and later centered around the reconstruction of the Church, the development of Belleville, Virginia, and the establishment of the Belleville Industrial School and Widows and Orphans Home, Inc., which contributed to the efforts to offset the social evils of discrimination and segregation that sought to keep Black Americans oppressed.
Although the assessment of Bishop William H. Plummer’s life does not adequately depict the magnitude of his capacity to synthesize religion and sociology, his inexhaustible energy helped to make him one of the most significant religious leaders and social activists of his day. His life influenced the lives of hundreds of men and women to a greater sense of self reliance, economic self sufficiency and high moral character that opposed all forms of racism and oppression in America.
To be a member of the Church of God and Saints of Christ under the leadership of Bishop William H. Plummer was a mark of distinction, pride, and communal excellence, and because of these high standards, his long and distinguished career as a religious leader and servant of mankind served as a milestone of hope for the Saints.
1917 – 1931
William Henry Plummer was born on September 1, 1868, in Montgomery County, Maryland. He never knew his father, who left home a few days before William’s birth to fight Indians in the Oklahoma Territory to become one of the famous Black Buffalo Soldiers and never returned. He lost his mother at the tender age of five. He did not begin formal schooling until he was nine years old at a two-room school house. In those days nearly every boy worked as an apprentice at the age of thirteen. From the age of 12-17, he worked and lived with a foster family and attended a country school.
On November 3, 1887, he married Carrie E. Hawkins. Later, he met and married his second wife, Jennie E. Bonds. When he was 27 years old, he packed up his belongings with his wife, Jennie, and family, and went to Philadelphia, which offered greater opportunities for improvement of his education and employment.
William H. Plummer joined the Church of God and Saints of Christ on July 8, 1900. On November 10, 1900, in Philadelphia, William H. Plummer was ordained a minister by Prophet William S. Crowdy. He was sent to Jersey City, New Jersey as Overseer. On June 30, 1903, at the District Assembly held in Boston, Elder William H. Plummer was made District Evangelist by Prophet William S. Crowdy.
Evangelist William H. Plummer was a diligent and selfless man and accomplished many things in Boston. Through his business ventures, he financially aided the Church. The Widows and Orphans Home provided shelter, food, and clothing for people who otherwise would lack these necessities. By traveling with the singers, he helped to spread the name of the Church to people who were not aware of the organization. Not only did Saints throughout the religious organization love and respect him, people who were not members acknowledged that Evangelist Plummer was doing a wonderful work in Boston. During the 1904 General Assembly, Evangelist Plummer was exalted to the high and honorable office of Grand Father Abraham, and was also appointed General Superintendent over all of the business of the Church of God and Saints of Christ.
Prophet Crowdy appointed his future successors during the 1906 Passover. In the presence of the entire Congregation, Prophet Crowdy stood up three men in this order: Evangelist Joseph W. Crowdy, Chief over all the Pulpits of the Church of God and Saints of Christ, everywhere; Evangelist William H. Plummer, Grand Father Abraham over all of the Church of God and Saints of Christ, everywhere, “…and over all of my business;” and Elder Calvin S. Skinner, Counselor over all of the Church of God and Saints of Christ, everywhere.
It was one year after the death of Prophet William S. Crowdy that the Chief, Evangelist Joseph W. Crowdy and Evangelist William H. Plummer, Grand Father Abraham, were consecrated to the office of Bishop by the Presbytery Board at the District Assembly held in Philadelphia, in 1909.
On January 1, 1917, the Chief, Bishop Joseph W. Crowdy passed away. His funeral was held on January 4. Bishop William H. Plummer presided and delivered the eulogy. On February 12, 1917, in Philadelphia, Bishop William H. Plummer called a meeting of the Board of Presbytery. The Presbytery Board affirmed that Bishop William H. Plummer, Grand Father Abraham, was the Executive Leader of the Church of God and Saints of Christ, everywhere, according to the plan and words of Prophet William S. Crowdy.
Bishop William H. Plummer presided over his first Passover as Leader in 1917. This Passover was held at Convention Hall in Washington, D.C. On the Opening Night of the Passover, he arose to greet the Congregation and stated, “I am glad to be here to keep the Feast of the Lord’s Passover and to say All Hail. I am so glad to see all of the saints here. I must make mention of my twin brother, Bishop Joseph W. Crowdy.”
At the 1917 Annual Assembly, the Board of Presbytery affirmed and adopted Bishop William H. Plummer, as General Superintendent and Overseer over all the business and all the Pulpits of the Church of God and Saints of Christ, everywhere.
In 1914, during the Leadership of the Chief, Bishop Joseph W. Crowdy, World War I began. The Saints had always been taught to strictly observe the Ten Commandments, one of which states, “Thou shalt not kill.” When Draft Boards throughout the country summoned able-bodied young men, some of the brothers refused to register. On August 26, 1918, after the United States had entered the war, Bishop William H. Plummer called a meeting of the Presbytery Board in Philadelphia, and a letter was sent to President Woodrow Wilson explaining our beliefs on the issue of war. President Wilson answered the letter and said that if we could give him the names of all the young men of the Congregation they would be exempted as Conscientious Objectors.
Bishop William H. Plummer said the Lord answered his special appeal in supplication by showing him “the boys coming home.” On the Sabbath following his prayer, Bishop Plummer said, “I see the boys coming home.” Then he told how they would come, some sick and in poor health, others thin and wounded. The War left an indelible mark upon the Church, both financially and economically.
In 1903, God told Prophet William S. Crowdy to purchase the farmland in Belleville as a home for the Saints. The Church was an organization in its infancy. Like many religious organizations that struggle to survive in their early years, the Church suffered financial difficulties. As the result of a Court Judgment, the land was sold at auction in 1909. The new owner was John Eberwine, a local White farmer in Nansemond County, Virginia. After Bishop William H. Plummer became the Leader in 1917, a priority with him was to redeem the land lost in 1909. When he arrived in Belleville in 1919, he began discussions with Mr. Eberwine and successfully repurchased land.
When he arrived in 1919, Bishop Plummer began to work with the few people available in Belleville. However, he needed more help. He sent an urgent appeal to the local Tabernacles, stating that he wanted the great mechanics and skillful workers to come and help to build up Canaan Land. In response to his call, those who came to Belleville included bricklayers, carpenters, machinists, painters, plasterers, plumbers, and those skilled in other trades. The work went forward as rapidly as circumstances and funds would permit. Some of the buildings included a tabernacle for worship services, a school, a residence for the Executive Bishop, a dining hall, a commissary, a modern laundry, a barber shop, a tailor shop, a printing plant, blacksmith and carpenter shops, an auto repair shop, offices, farm buildings, a music hall, tennis courts, and an athletic field.
At the Passover of 1922, held in Washington, D.C., after Bishop Plummer had done much to make Belleville an outstanding self-supporting community in the Tidewater area. The saints expressed a great desire to see the Belleville community in all of its splendor. On August 24, 1922, saints from around the country attended the first Assembly held in Belleville. The Passover, held in April 1923, was one of the outstanding events in the history of the Church. The Norfolk Journal and Guide and The Portsmouth Star published articles, which circulated to the surrounding towns and cities, depicting the great success of the Passover. Belleville was a city within a city, with its rows of shops and stores for convenient shopping and service. There was a barber shop, a tailor shop, a laundry giving 24 hour service, a large general store with dry goods, a hardware store, postal service, a full-line grocery store, and a restaurant.
During Bishop William H. Plummer’s leadership, the Church progressed, the original farm land was reclaimed and additional acreage purchased, and he established the Belleville Industrial School and Widows and Orphans Home, and incorporated it in the State of Virginia. Bishop Plummer’s accomplishments in Belleville reflected his love for people and his unyielding ambition to help people develop themselves spiritually, intellectually, physically, and socially. Through his efforts, Belleville became a haven and refuge for those people whom others had rejected – people seeking to find hope and direction. In every sense of the word, this was an era of prosperity.
While attending to Church affairs in Boston, Bishop Plummer became ill. This illness marked the beginning of a gradual decline in his health. Upon his return to Belleville, he called for his son, Elder Howard. Bishop Plummer said to his son, “I have been in the death chamber, but I had to come out because I didn’t have a man ready to lead the Church.” On Tuesday, December 22, 1931, at 12:45 A.M., Bishop William H. Plummer, after being ill for 13 weeks, passed away. During the next morning’s 6:00 A.M. Prayer Service, Elder Benjamin F. Smith made the announcement to the Belleville saints that Bishop William H. Plummer had passed away. The funeral services for Bishop Plummer were held, December 27, 1931, at 1:00 p.m. It was estimated that more than 1,000 members of the Congregation throughout the country made the pilgrimage to Belleville to attend the service, while more than 1,500 visitors were on hand. Hundreds who were unable to get inside stood outside throughout the long afternoon until the main portion of the services were over and they were allowed to file slowly to view the remains. Bishop James W. Brent of Camden, New Jersey conducted the service.
Bishop William H. Plummer’s conception of God was very much influenced by the social conditions of his day. He did not develop an abstract conception of God detached from his everyday existential experience. Rather, he conceived God as being integrated and interwoven with all of life. With this understanding, he did not make a disjunction between physical liberation and spiritual liberation. God, for Bishop Plummer, was a part of both dimensions of life. Consistent with this conception of God, Bishop Plummer avoided making a gulf between God and man. On the one hand, he thought of God as transcendent, sovereign and omnipotent. And on the other hand, he thought of God as being immanent and forever present with man.
Bishop William H. Plummer believed that God was with him, and this gave him the courage to redeem the farmland and to make additional purchases of a series of farms in the Tidewater area for agricultural development and the development of the Belleville Industrial School and Widows and Orphans Home, which he incorporated in the State of Virginia. This feeling of “God with us” not only kept Bishop Plummer encouraged, but it gave him a kind of inexhaustible hope as he instilled into the inhabitant of this community a higher standard of morality. God represented the highest expression of justice, righteousness, goodness, dignity, holiness and power. Therefore, as long as his actions were undergirded with a dynamic God-consciousness and in accordance with the teaching of Prophet William S. Crowdy, despite the many great hardships in his early ministry and the effort that went into redeeming of the farm, he had nothing to fear. This conception of God was a very practical ideal which gave him the capacity to appeal to a power beyond that of the world structure, be it government, private or public principalities.
Bishop William H. Plummer, as the Pastor of the Boston Congregation, launched several business enterprises. However, when he took hold of the leadership of the Church, he succeeded in developing Belleville by purchasing additional land, other than that bought by Prophet William S. Crowdy, and organized it into an independent and self-supporting farm community. This community was able to sustain approximately 300 Saints during the tumultuous 1920’s. Thus, Bishop William H. Plummer’s ambition to establish an independent and self-supporting community reached back to the days of his youth when he, in his dream to help others, envisioned better schools and living conditions for poor people. His long awaited vision was attained by a firm commitment to God and a staunch determination. Belleville became an outstanding community in all of its splendor, beauty and wonder of the land.
Salvation as Corporate Experience
The doctrine of corporate salvation was significantly involved in the development of a peoplehood as taught by Prophet William S. Crowdy in the Church of God and Saints of Christ. This understanding of peoplehood, as corporate salvation, took on its initiative when Bishop William H. Plummer began to work in Belleville. When he began to work with the few people available, he eventually needed more help. Consequently, he wrote an urgent letter to the local Tabernacles requesting all the great mechanics and skilled workers to come and help build up Canaan Land. The men came to Belleville as requested and the work was accomplished with great success. He sought to build a community on the doctrine that each person has a contribution to make to the other, there, when a person joins the church that individual was joining a movement known better as a community. Adhering to the belief of corporate salvation, Bishop William H. Plummer wanted to build a spiritual nation, with Black Americans developing a sense of peoplehood, loving and caring for one another, an identity, a feeling of being both spiritually and physically inextricably bound together. Bishop William H. Plummer defined salvation in the lives of the Saints as a corporate experience, as opposed to an individualistic experience, with God at work within the whole of the community.
Bishop William H. Plummer held the understanding that the entire experience of the Saints was a part of God’s plan. In fact, he felt that everything in both the physical and spiritual dimensions of reality proceeds on the basis of some great plan or order. It was his position that God’s moral law should regulate the behavior and movements of the Saints and that all activity of the Saints tended to move forward. It moves toward the highest good, therefore, making its outcome inevitable. Although it was Bishop Joseph Crowdy who had the eschatological vision of “a holy city, a new Jerusalem,” it was Bishop William H. Plummer who actualized that vision among the Saints in Belleville. The same God who was with Prophet William S. Crowdy and Bishop Joseph W. Crowdy, and allowed them a glimpse into the Promised Land, was the same God who bequeathed the vision to Bishop William H. Plummer to make the land a reality again and to bring it into greater fruition.