Furman L. Brodie: Pastor and Educator
One of the early schools for African American children in Davidson was run by Rev. Furman L. Brodie, pastor of the Davidson Presbyterian Church. Furman Lawrence Brodie was born in Aiken County, South Carolina, in 1856. He and his parents, Alfred Brodie and Margaret Pauline Corley, were slaves on John Wardlaw Brodie’s Oak Grove Plantation. Census records indicate that in 1880 he may have been working on a farm in Iroquois County, Indiana. It was there that he attended and graduated from Onarga High School. In 1888, at the age of 33, he graduated from Biddle University (now Johnson C. Smith University) in Charlotte. That same year he married Annie S. Pierce in Rowan County, North Carolina.
After graduating from Biddle, Rev. Brodie settled in South Carolina, and by 1893 he was living in Due West (Abbeville County) and serving Grace and Mt. Zion Presbyterian churches. These churches were members of McClelland Presbytery, part of the northern branch of the Presbyterian church that sent missionaries south to form churches and schools among freed slaves. Both Rev. Brodie and his wife taught at the Presbyterian parochial school in Due West. In 1899 Brodie was present at the commencement of Ferguson Academy, a local college for African Americans that was also sponsored by the northern Presbyterians. According to the May 3 edition of the Abbeville Press and Banner, “No commencement at Ferguson, it seems, would be complete without the presence of Rev. Brodie, who never has ‘anything to say,’ but whose wit, wisdom and humor always bring down the house in rounded encores.”
According to an April 4, 1900 article in the Abbeville Press and Banner, after a successful ministry in Abbeville County, Brodie left for Davidson in 1900: “Rev. F.L. Brodie, pastor of the colored Presbyterian church at this place, will remove to Davison (sic) College, S.C., sometime during this month. He has served the congregation here for about ten years. He is an educated colored man and his conduct has been such as should characterize a christian (sic) minister. He has the confidence of both white and colored people, and in his business relations has shown himself to be honest and straightforward. He has always met his obligations promptly and therefore has a good credit, which will be of service to him in any community into which he goes. At Davidson College he will be pastor of a church in connection with the Northern Presbyterian Church. He will dispose of his house and lot which he values at $600.”
The 1900 census lists Rev. Brodie and his family in Deweese Township (Mecklenburg County) with his wife and their seven children. Ten years later they were living on a farm in Lemley Township. Sometime before 1913, he moved to Morganton, North Carolina, where he served the Morganton First Church, the Green Street (St. James) Church, Trinity Church, and the Hickory Mission. He registered for the World War I draft in Morganton, and went on to serve in the 804th Pioneer Infantry, an African American regiment. By 1920 he was living in Charlotte with his wife and eleven children, where he was the pastor of the Brooklyn Presbyterian Church. Annie Brodie’s mother, Amy Pierce, had also joined the household.
Education was extremely important to the Brodie family. A majority of his eleven children attended college and worked in various professions. Four of the children, Furman Jr., Alfred, Milledge, and George graduated from Biddle University; Myrtle and Helen Brodie graduated from its successor school, Johnson C. Smith University. Annie Brodie attended the Atlanta School of Social Work. Following his graduation from Biddle, Furman L. Brodie Jr. received a degree from the Meharry Medical school in Nashville and became a dentist in Chester, Pa. Milledge T. Brodie became a physician. Mamie A. Brodie served as a Jeanes Industrial supervising teacher and later a farm demonstration teacher in Bladen County, N.C. Myrtle A. Brodie became head of the history department at the African American Second Ward High School in Charlotte, and is well known for a pageant she wrote in the 1930s entitled “The Negro Builds a Pyramid.” Helen Brodie married James Herman Robinson, a Presbyterian pastor in Harlem who founded Operation Across Africa, a precursor to the Peace Corps. They divorced in 1954.
Rev. Furman Brodie, the patriarch of this remarkable family, died in Charlotte on March 12, 1927.
Nancy Griffith lived in Davidson from 1979 until 1989. After a career as an archives and special collections librarian, she retired to Davidson in 2015. She has published a number of books and articles on local history, and has just completed a history of the Ada Jenkins Center.