Meet the Black Church: Louise Cecilia “Lulu” Fleming
Louise Cecilia “Lulu” Fleming (1862–1899) was born on January 28th near Hibernia, Clay County, Florida. Born into a slave family, she would become the first African American to attend the Women’s Medical College at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (1). Also, “In May, 1886, she was appointed by the Women’s American Baptist Foreign Missionaries Society to serve as the first missionary to the Congo. She also was the first African-American women [sic] appointed by the society (2).” Fleming has a list of “firsts” that gives hope and encouragement to all women, specifically to those of color preparing for gospel ministry. She is a model of one that has gone before them.
Lulu came to faith at Bethel Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Florida, a church that was made up of hundreds of slaves and a few Caucasians. It was there that she heard the true gospel of freedom despite the hypocrisy of being born to slave parents on a plantation by owners who professed to believe in Jesus. After completing her basic education, she taught in public schools in Florida. Encouraged to attend Shaw University in North Carolina (3), she did and earned the high honor of graduating valedictorian after four academically rigorous years. Fleming was the quintessential pupil. She then went to the Congo to spread the gospel, but she was forced to return to the States due to sickness. She then went to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to earn her medical degree and then returned to the mission field in Upper Congo (Irebu station) to provide medical support for those in need.
Fleming is a classic example of a woman who not only shared the gospel with others but also demonstrated love for her neighbor. The missionary work she accomplished is impactful, inspiring, and encouraging to anyone who seeks to make an impact in their missionary context. Matthew 28:19–20 says, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” I believe Fleming took this calling seriously for the glory of God.
God is the ultimate missionary. Christ came from heaven to earth to redeem His people and dwelt among them (Jo. 1:14). As God’s people, we have the privilege and honor to participate in God’s grand story of redemption. He has given us the message of the gospel to share with others may we embody the call we all have on our lives!
- (1) Hazel Singer, “Louise Celia “LuLu” Fleming (1862-1899),” https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/fleming-louise-celia-lulu-1862-1899/.
- (2) For further detail see Joseph Moss, “The Missionary Journey of Louise “Lulu” Fleming, M.D.,” http://floridabaptisthistory.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/lulu_fleming.pdf.
- (3) Shaw University is the first historically Black institution of higher education in the South and among the oldest in the nation. It was founded in 1865 by Henry Martin Tupper, a soldier in the Union Army during the Civil War. Shaw was the first college in the nation to offer a four-year medical program and the first historically Black college in the nation to open its doors to women. See https://www.shawu.edu/ContactShaw/Contact_Shaw.aspx?id=1251.
- Pray that the Lord will continue to send missionaries into the world to share his message of the gospel.
- Pray for men and women to be obedient to their missionary calling.
- Pray and praise God for the historical figures he has raised up over the centuries.