James Hemans was a Jamaican missionary to Central Africa. He was born in Manchester County, Jamaica, and was the first black missionary sent by the London Missionary Society to Central Africa, arriving at Fwambo in 1888. A trained teacher and agriculturalist, he enjoyed relative success and popularity with Africans around Lake Tanganyika, which generated envy on the part of his white colleagues. They made life difficult for him and his wife (Maria Cecelia Clementina Gale), repeatedly accusing them of insubordination and complaining of Hemans’s English pronunciation. He was finally demoted to menial work and was forbidden to hold a schoolbook in his hand each day between 7 A.M. and 4:30 P.M. Although his white colleagues insisted that they be the first to offer spiritual counsel to Africans, Hemans had come to be regarded as a friend who listened and understood the local inhabitants, and the Africans persisted in seeking him out. In the end, the social ostracism, constant criticism, blatant discrimination, and damaging gossip of his white colleagues led to Hemans’s retirement and return to Jamaica in 1906. Hemans concluded that “dark-skinned missionaries could never be accepted on equal terms by their colleagues, and that their presence was therefore harmful to good relations between missionaries.” A biographical study of this significant black missionary remains to be undertaken.
Jonathan J. Bonk
Jonathan J. Bonk, The Theory and Practice of Missionary Identification, 1860-1920 (1989); Robert I. Rotberg, Christian Missionaries and the Creation of Northern Rhodesia, 1880-1924 (1965).
This article is reproduced, with permission, from Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, copyright © 1998, by Gerald H. Anderson, W. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan. All rights reserved.