The Right Reverend Edward Thomas Demby, 1869-1957
Edward Demby was born in Wilmington, Delaware and grew up in Philadelphia. He attended Howard University in Washington, D.C., and Wilberforce University in Ohio. From 1894 to 1896 he held the post of Dean of Students at Paul Quinn College in Texas, and during his tenure was confirmed in the Episcopal Church. Bishop John F. Spalding of Colorado took special interest in Demby, a gifted leader and devoted Episcopalian. Bishop Spalding sent Demby to work in the Diocese of Tennessee where he was ordained a deacon in 1898 and a priest the following year. While in Tennessee, he served as rector at St. Paul’s Church in Mason, principal of St. Paul’s Parochial School, and vice principal of Hoffman Hall. From 1900 to 1907 he ministered to parishes in Illinois, Missouri and Florida.
Demby returned to Tennessee in 1907 to fulfill duties as rector of Emmanuel Church in Memphis. He served as the Secretary of the segregated southern “colored convocations” and was the Archdeacon for Colored Work. While Archdeacon, he was elected the first African American suffragan bishop in the United States, serving as Suffragan Bishop for Colored Work in the Diocese of Arkansas and the Province of the Southwest.
From the time of his consecration in 1918, he contributed greatly to the westward expansion of the Episcopal Church. Demby identified black service facilities such as hospitals, schools, and orphanages, as the means to draw African Americans back to the Episcopal Church, an institution they had abandoned after emancipation. Until his retirement in 1939, he was committed to the establishment of a credible black ministry in spite of the suffering he endured at the hands of the white leadership in the Diocese of Arkansas. Michael Beary wrote of Demby’s experience in his book entitled Black Bishop. “Demby knew full well that the credibility of all black bishops rested, in large measure, on his shoulders and that, try as he might, a good many white people would never acknowledge his abilities and achievements because of his color.”
Demby’s influence extended to other Church bodies and included membership on the Forward Movement Commission, the Joint Commission on Negro Work, and the Race Relations Commission. He was also active on the Southern Conference on Human Welfare, the American Association of the Advancement of Colored People, the American League for a Free Palestine, the American Humane Society, and the Sociology Society.
As a leading spokesperson in the desegregation of the Episcopal Church, Demby founded and edited the “The Southwest Churchman.” He authored Articles on Doctrine of Intention in 1905 as well as many devotional books, including Devotions of the Cross and at the Holy Mass, My Companion, A Bird’s Eye View of Exegetical Studies, The Writings of Saints Paul and James, The Holy Sacrament of the Altar and Penance, and The Manual of the Guild of One More Soul. [Sources]