Black History Month: Charles Octavius Boothe

Black History Month: Charles Octavius Boothe

The following post is written by our pastoral intern Julius Thomas. It is the third part of a series during Black History Month called 4×4, in which we will be doing four short summaries of literary works written by authors of African descent. Here are Part 1 and Part 3.

“Nothing can be plainer than that this salvation is one that meets the crying needs of the human soul.”

For Pastor Charles Octavius Boothe, the gospel was a pertinent and vital message which everyone should understand and have access to. Boothe’s literary work Plain Theology for Plain People not only provided a systematic theology resource from an African American perspective, but it also enabled weighty theological truths to be comprehended by those without a college degree. 

The desire to compile such a work comes from his own upbringing and observation of the surrounding culture. Boothe was born in 1845 as a slave to Nathaniel Howard in Mobile County, Alabama. In reflecting over his time in slavery he described his treatment as “mild,” even stating, “…that [my master] and I really loved each other.” The brotherly love he had for his master did not mean Boothe in anyway condoned slavery. In truth, as Walter Stricland summarizes Boothe, “the gospel spread to slaves despite chains and oppression.” In his younger years Boothe was taught to read and write at the estate where he was enslaved. His exposure to Scripture came from working as a clerk at a law firm, and as he searched the Scriptures he became convinced of God’s saving grace. He later stated, “In 1865… I reached an experience of grace which so strengthened me as to fix me on the side of God’s people.” In 1866 he was baptized. 

In 1865 the Emancipation Proclamation freed the slaves physically, but they were still shackled due to a lack of economic and educational resources. Boothe realized this and made it his life’s mission to raise the literacy rate among African Americans using the Church as a resource. Pastoring at First Colored Baptist Church in Meridian, Mississippi, and Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama (where Martin Luther King, Jr. would later pastor), he would help African Americans learn how to read by the study of God’s word. His efforts would play a pivotal role in raising the overall literacy rate of black southerners from 10 percent in 1860 to 43 percent in 1890.

Plain Theology for Plain People came from Boothe’s desire to educate African Americans after their physical freedom. This profound systematic resource enabled any and everyone to comprehend dense and complicated theological truth. My prayer is that this resource would not only enable you to gain a historical perspective but realize that the gospel truly does meet “the crying need of the human soul.” 

Work Cited

Boothe, Charles Octavius, and Walter R. Strickland. Plain Theology for Plain People. Lexham Press, 2017.