Heritage of Black Highlanders Collection,
UNCAsheville Ramsey Library
|Charles B. Dusenbury:
"A Devoted Life and Its Results"
Thirty years ago there came to Asheville, N.C., a young colored man, modest and zealous, to work for God and among his own race. Last year a church gathered to mourn his loss and to praise God for his life; a church made up of men and women to whom the had been a true shepherd of souls. Mourning with them were pastors of other colored churches, leading citizens of his race and white people who had known him. Local white papers gave not only full notice of his death, but mad editorial comment on a man who had been a benefactor to his own people and an asset to the city in which he lived.
Charles Bradford Dusenbury was born December, 8th, 1861, near Lexington, N.C.. His parents were Christian people who put a high value on education. The boy Charles was sent to the Presbyterian school in Lexington, taught by Rev. James A. Chresfield. It is worthy of comment that five boys from his parochial school became ministers of the Gospel, a rich harvest for their faithful teacher.
Having proved himself a worthy student, Charles Dusenbury was sent to Lincoln University. He graduated with honors from College and Seminary and entered upon his first pastorate in New Bern, N.C..
He had well chosen a daughter of Scotia Seminary to share his service for life. From the beginning of their married life , Mr. and Mrs. Dusenbury worked side by side in complete sympathy.
In 1891, Mr. Dusenbury came to Asheville as the insistence of the Freedmen's Board to organize a Presbyterian Church among colored people. The way had opened for Negro church work through efforts made by some the white people in a day school and Sunday school.
Mr. Dusenbury preached first in the old Catholic Hill Chrush, living with his family in the back part of the building, in cramped and inconvenient quarters. Before long a wooden church was built on Eagle St.. On the back of the lot there was a small building where the Dusenbury's lived for several with courage and self-sacrifice. Later a manse was built by the kindness of friends, near the church.
At first, Mr. Dusenbury's task was a hard one. It was uphill work to present to his race the gospel without undue excitement, a gospel with emotion, truly, but with Christian living as its aim and result. There was much surprise among his ministerial brethren at "Dusenbury's new ways," especially as shown in the conduct of Big Meetings in which all denominations joined. Hard things were said at his church as "without warm religion." His ardent piety and good judgment, his persistent work for his people and his gift for winning souls gradually gained not only many to Christ's cause, but the good will and respect of his fellow Christians of whatever name.
A glimpse of loneliness of early days is seen in an incident related by Dr. Franklin of Swift Memorial College, who was one of the Committee of two appointed by Presbytery to organize Calvary Church. Mr. Dusenbury supposed the committee would be white, having only come in contact with such presbyters so far. When two appeared at his door, there was great surprise and gladness.
Three years after coming to Asheville a parochial school was started in the basement of the church which has continued to this day and is under the care of its successor. Public schools for the colored children in Asheville were just begun, and though now much improved there has always been a place and a task for the parochial school. In this Calvary school Mr. and Mrs. Dusenbury taught together for twenty-five years, assisted latterly by one of their daughters. From 70 to 130 pupils were gathered each year for nine months, paying a slight tuition and receiving solid training in common branches. They were also thoroughly grounded in Bible study and in shorter Catechism and in practical Christianity. As Mr. Dusenbury said: " The pupils are taught to honest and truthful, to be pure n their thought and habits, to be kind and considerate and also to cleanly in the persons, for we believe in a soap and water gospel as well as the other kind and our effort is to impress the virtues of each."
Mrs. Dusenbury was invited to take observation lessons in Kitchen, Garden and Domestic Science classes at our Asheville Home School, and brought what she gained to Calvary School. The white people of the town employing some of the girls who went out from the school, learned to put a high value on its practical training.
Many of the children have gone on to Scotia Seminary, and also to Swift Memorial School, to Tuskegee, and to Hampton, in all cases proving themselves worthy. This is a good record, but not less potent for good were the influences that molded the pupils who stayed at home, growing up to take their places as law-abiding citizens, heads of families, mothers of children, faithful members of the churches.
Meanwhile the church grew, the Sunday School was large and full of spirit, other organizations flourished. The grace of giving was developed. The church building was inadequate for enlarging work. With rare business foresight Mr. Dusenbury secured for the new structure a corner lot on Eagle and Market Streets, holding for ten years until it was possible to build. Had this not been down, the rise in values of real estate would have put this desirable site out of reach. The new church was used first on Easter Sunday, 1914.
A large proportion of its cost came directly from the members and congregation of Calvary Church. The balance was made up by a loan from the Board of Church Erection and by gifts from the friends in town and elsewhere. A prominent banker promised $250 on condition of the church raising a like sum within a certain time, and the condition was met. This showed the estimate place by a shrewd man of affairs on the probity and business sense of Mr. Dusenbury.
The building of this house of worship was very close to the heart of the pastor. He spared nothing to further it, time and strength were all freely used, and his private means as well. At one crisis when money must be found to prevent a disastrous delay, he took council with his wife as to placing a mortgage on a small property of his own. They were willing to risk the provision for old age if nee were, but the next day came a letter promising the needed sum. The day that saw the church gathered for Easter service in its new home was one of gladness proportioned to the work of faith in the building.
Mr. Dusenbury had a true gift for teaching and it was a work in which he delighted, giving himself to wholeheartedly during the time spent in school. It was, however, as a pastor that he was pre-eminent. Quick sympathy and understanding of men, an interest in everyone with whom he had to do, intensified when he had to do with one of his own flock, these were some his qualities. He held himself as under shepherd of the Great Shepherd of souls. The relation between him and his people was peculiarly tender. His sermons were prepared with care and were of a high order. The sheep were fed. His pastoral calls were made after school hours. Day after day he went on foot up and down the hills on which Asheville is built to the scattered homes of his people, consoling warning, being glad with them, giving help, giving himself without stint. To many of us his slight figure was familiar sight, passing through crowded streets with swift step, intent on business which knew to be his Father's business.
Mr. Dusenbury influence was felt as we have intimated, not in his own church only, but throughout the city. The pastors and people from the Negro churches looked on him for advice and support. He gave time to the colored Y.M.C.A.. The white citizens knew him to be a peace-maker and peace-keeper in a time of restlessness and danger.
In the church at large he was and influential man. The degree of Doctor of Divinity from his own university Lincoln, was an honor well bestowed. Before the presbyteries were divided, giving separate organizations to each race, D. Dusenbury won the esteem of his white brethren in French Broad. He never pushed himself forward, but was sent once to the Meeting of General Assembly by them. Later he was again a commissioner, sent by the colored presbytery of Levere, on both occasions he made he made strong pleas for his people before before the Assembly.
Although he would have scorned to do anything for the sake of expediency merely, he was careful not to stir up on occasion or strife. Once when calling on a white minister, the dinner hour arrived and he was invited to remain and dine. Expressing his appreciation of courtesy, he declined, saying, "My doing so would cause you to be severely criticized, and injure your opportunity for service and mine as well."
Paul in his wisdom tells us that if a man knows not how to rule his own house, he cannot take of the church of God. Mr. and Mrs. Dusenbury had in all nine children. Two of them died while very young, another a girl of promise, at the age of sixteen. Six survive their father. The eldest is soon graduating from the Theological Seminary of Lincoln University. Two daughters are successful teacher of public school. A third daughter is in high school. Two younger boys are at home attending parochial school. These are all high minded Christian young people, to whom we may look to continue the traditon of faithful service to God and to their fellowmen in which they have been reared.
Paul's admonition to every man to provide for his own was also heeded. Dr. Dusenbury by wise investment and economy left his wife a home in a good quarter of the city. His life insurance paid the last installment due on this little property, and though bereft of his presence and care, his family can face the world together wiht courage, still shelftered by his loving foresight for them.
In the summer, 1920, he died, not an old man, but worn out by a life of unremitting work for his people and for his scholars. At the funeral service and a memorial service held later, words spoken by ministers of his own race in the city showed how their attitude towards him had changed from the distrust and opposition of the early days to one of love and reverence. Shortly before his death one of them said to him, "Brother Dusenbury, we don't often come to your church, but you are leading us all." A brother minister from the Episcopal church came to see him during his last illness. Dr. Dusenbury as they spoke together of past hardships, quoted the words of Paul, about the light affliction and the weight of glory, and added, "I feel my work is finished."
His life may seem a hard one, but in truth, the zeal of Christ was upon him and his work was a delight. Already, before going home he had the joy of His Lord. The following prayer was among his prayers:
Lord, Jesus, my dear Master, Shepherd and Friend:-I do now consecrate my heart and life, to be to thy service forever. I desire to be wholly thine, I desire that thou reign in me all the days of my life, fulfill in me Dear Lord all the good pleasure of thy goodness and the work of faith with power. I pray now that Christ may dwell in my heart by faith. O God for Christ's sake fill me with thy holy Spirit, and the he may be my comforter, my Sanctifier and Guide throughout life.-C.B.D.
Dr. Dusenbury's monument is the work in Asheville that stands firm today. His memorial is built of living stones, here in Asheville and in far places where men and women are teaching and living in the wisdom and service of God that he taught and lived before them.
Frances L. Goodrich