Lexington, Ky. August 16, 1884. p., on Southern Exposition pictorial letterhead. Quarto. Very minor edge wear. Very good plus. Item #4451
A unique manuscript letter written by the fifth Bishop of the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church, Isaac Lane (1834-1937). The main thrust of Lane's letter, written while he was attending the 1884 Southern Exposition in Lexington, Kentucky, is an expression of support of former Confederate Vice President Alexander H. Stephens' run for Georgia governor two years earlier. The text of Lane's letter is worth quoting in full: "I recall with entire clearness the meeting of colored citizens of middle Georgia at Representative Hall, Atlanta in the old Capitol to ratify the nomination of Hon. Alexander H. Stephens as candidate for Governor of Georgia. Bishop [Henry McNeal] Turner as I recall it was for General Gartrell but hundreds of colored voters without distinction of party supported Mr. Stephens because he had been all his life our friend of our race and since the war a promoter of our education and of our rights under the state constitution and laws. I could not by memory only fix upon Wednesday 16th of August 1882 as the date of that meeting, but I think that the receipt of Messrs. Colquitt and Stephens for the use of the letter of President A. Lincoln to Governor Michael Hahn which was used in the reconstruction of Georgia and was framed and hung in the Representative Chamber at that time is correctly dated."
Isaac Lane was born into slavery in Tennessee as the illegitimate son of a slave named Rachel and the plantation owner Cullen Lane. He lived in Tennessee most of his life, eventually seeing Lane College, founded by him in Jackson in 1882, named after him. Lane also published his Autobiography of Bishop Isaac Lane in 1916, in which he defended segregation of the races as a practice that would lead to greater harmony. Lane's support of former Confederate Vice President Alexander Hamilton Stephens, and his categorization of Stephens as a "promoter" of African American education and rights, seems somewhat ironic. However, since both Lane and Stephens shared a belief in the separation of the races, perhaps Lane's support of Stephens make sense after all.
Lane writes his letter to Col. Henry Whitney Cleveland (1836-1907), a Confederate veteran, minister, and close friend of Alexander Stephens. In fact, Cleveland assisted Stephens in the writing of his history of the Civil War, The War Between the States and later authored a biography of Stephens. Cleveland was born in Louisville, Kentucky, but spent his formative years in Georgia, where he became an ardent supporter of southern rights. In the year this letter was written, Cleveland returned to Louisville to lead the Asbury Methodist Church. The Lincoln letter to Louisiana Governor Michael Hahn referenced by Lane here suggested that Hahn might work toward voting rights for "some of the colored people." The 1882 Georgia governor's race was won by Stephens, who defeated Lucius Gartrell, a former Confederate general; Stephens only served four months of his term of governor, however, dying in office on March 4, 1883.