Bishop Alexander Priestly Camphor, 1865-1919
Alexander Priestly Camphor was born in 1865 on a sugar-farm in Louisiana to humble but devoted parents.
He never saw a schoolhouse until he was ten years old. His mother and father could neither read nor write
but believing that there were great possibilities for their son, loaned him to a Methodist preacher to raise and
educate. He was placed in a Freedman's Aid school where he began his preparation for future work. He
learned quickly and easily and graduated from the New Orleans University (now Dillard University) at the
top of his class. He had so excelled in scholarship and character that he was asked by his Alma Mater to chair
the Mathematics department. It was during his four years as a teacher that the obligation of educated Negroes to
help save Africa was laid upon him through the suggestion of Bishop Williard F. Mallalieu in New Orleans.
He organized the first "Friends of Africa" organization on the campus and soon there were chapters at all schools
under the direction of the Freedmen's Aid Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church.
After four years of successful work at New Orleans University, Mr. Camphor entered Gammon Theological
Seminary in Atlanta, GA in order to better prepare himself for his life's work where he also graduated at the
top of his class. Thereafter Rev. Camphor became a pastor in Philadelphia and later in Orange, NJ, when he
did post-graduate work in Columbia University and Union Theological Seminary in New York City. Upon the
nomination of Bishop Joseph Crane Hartzell, a former Corresponding Secretary of the Freedmen's Aid Society
and Bishop of Africa (also forefather of Africa University in Zimbabwe), Dr. Camphor was selected Principal
of Monrovia Seminary in Liberia in 1896. He brought new life to the Seminary (then an elementary school) and
by the close of his first year of administration he had begun the reorganization of the school to a high school,
normal and ministerial training institution. At the 1897 session of the Liberia Annual Conference, it was voted
to transform the Monrovia Seminary to the College of West Africa (CWA) and that CWA be made the one central
and leading school of all Methodist educational institutions.
For 10 years, Dr. Camphor and Mrs. Camphor, who was constantly by his side, helper and companion, worked
tirelessly to realize these goals. The college was recognized by the Liberian Government and in 1904 was chartered
as the College of West Africa by the legislature. In this appointment Dr. Camphor and Mrs. Camphor became the
first regularly appointed colored missionaries of the Board of Foreign Missions to Africa. See history of the college
on web page ofCWA Alumni, USA Chapter. It was also during this time that Dr. Camphor made several visits to
the interior and wrote, "Missionary Story Sketches and Folk-Lore from Africa." In 1903, President Theodore
Roosevelt appointed Dr. Camphor his Vice-Consul General in Monrovia. Dr. Camphor served in the dual capacity
as American diplomat and missionary until he returned to the United States in 1908.
In 1908, Dr. and Mrs. Camphor returned to the United States upon his selection as President of the Central Alabama
Institute in Birmingham, Alabama, where he served until his election and consecration to the office of Bishop for
Africa by the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1916. Bishop Camphor was bestowed the honorary degrees of Doctor
of Divinity by New Orleans University and Gammon Theological Seminary. A residence, Camphor Hall, erected in
1947 on the campus of Dillard University, was named in honor of Bishop Camphor. He is remembered as a great
scholar, an eloquent preacher, a splendid administrator, and a man of the highest integrity and tenderest love.
In 1919, the year that Dr. Camphor died, Camphor Memorial in Saint Paul was established, in honor of this great
missionary and educator. We are one of four (4) Camphor Memorial United Methodist Churches located in the
United States and in Liberia.