The Rev. John A.B. Wilson
John Alfred Banum Wilson, son of a sea captain, was born in Milton, Del. on Sept. 14, 1848.
Wilson attended grade school in his hometown, but many of his formative years were spent at sea with his father. Not only did he learn mariner skills, but it was where he educated himself by studying Greek and Latin.
In 1871, he gravitated to the ministry as a member of the Wilmington (Del.) Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church and became known as an outstanding lecturer, pastor and temperance worker.
Wilson also distinguished himself with his deep-rooted beliefs in treating Negroes with dignity and respect. John H. Nutter, a Negro minister of the Delaware Conference, described Wilson as a “Christian man and friend of the colored people.” As a consequence, the Wilson family was ostracized, particularly for its fervid support of providing Negroes a formal education.
Between 1882 and 1886, Wilson was presiding elder of the Methodist Episcopal Church’s Salisbury district. It was probably then he befriended the Rev. Joseph Waters, a Negro pastor from neighboring Somerset County. What is certain is that both men found common bonds in Methodism and education. Undaunted by racial barriers and prejudice, they publicly advocated for an academy to advance the Negro race.
Efforts by Wilson and Waters were not without challenges, including finding a suitable location for a school. The ministers eventually settled on a property in Princess Anne purchased by Wilson in June 1886 to be his family's residence.
That property, known as “Olney,” included 16 acres and one building. Aware that selling property to Negroes would raise more than eyebrows, and to ensure it would be used for a school, records show Wilson deeded Olney to the Centenary Biblical Institute on Aug. 24, 1886 for $2,000.
Barely three weeks later -- the day before Wilson’s 38th birthday -- a school established at Olney welcomed its first nine students. By the end of its first year, enrollment stood at 37 -- all but one a Maryland resident.
The Delaware Conference, which founded the Centenary Biblical Institute in Baltimore in 1866 expressly for the higher education of Negroes, would oversee the Delaware Conference Academy in Princess Anne into the early 20th century.
-- KIMBERLY CONWAY DUMPSON