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December 2012

Vicksburg's Last Chance: The Martyrdom of Alonzo Parker

There had come to Vicksburg, Mississippi, a year or so before, a Negro preacher from Arkansas, who owned no church nor creed, and who was sent by no society, but who came impressed by the Spirit to preach the Word as he found it in his Bible, by the aid of Bible Readings for the Home. His name was Alonzo Parker. He possessed marvelous power as a preacher of righteousness, and at first had a great following, despite the fact that he never induced nor sanctioned the wild orgies of emotion that the common preacher sought. He saw evil living eating out the heart of the church and home, and he fearlessly denounced the licentiousness, drunkenness, theft, and lying that marked both priest and people.

"The truth shall make you free," he cried, "but not unless you take it into your life, and live the things you say and preach."

At first the churches were open to him, and he preached in many of them; but as his words cut into the hearts of deacons and preachers, they turned against him, and shut the doors of the churches in his face. Next he hired a hall in the city, which was packed with eager hearers, till that was closed against him. Then he preached in the streets, and labored from house to house, but the fury of the people began to be roused against him. His following grew smaller; the cold sneer and the hateful glance followed him; and at last the climax came when he was set upon by a mob, and beaten, so that he died. But before he died, he uttered this prophecy:

"There will come to you people of Vicksburg just one more chance from God. He will send you other messengers, who will have a stricter message to bear than I have borne. And if you shall refuse to hear them, your fate will be sealed. Bury me with my Bible upon my breast. It shall be a witness in the resurrection against the evil men of this city. And it will be a witness in the mouths of those who come after me. I charge you, Hear them, if you would be saved."

His words were yet in the minds of the people when, on January 10, 1895, there came up into Centennial Lake the Morning Star, and cast anchor just below Fort Hill. The first Sunday, the Morning Star workers, spying the meetinghouse above them on the hill, went up to Sunday school, and there they became acquainted with Miss Scott and some of the members of the church. After this visit, the word quickly passed through the city that the steamer lying there on the lake had brought men and women to teach them the Bible, that thus the dead preacher's prophecy had been fulfilled, for these were the ones who were to give the colored people of Vicksburg their last chance. So deep was this impression that even some weeks afterwards, when great opposition had become manifest, when the Morning Star left her moorings for a short trip up the river, the word flew with the speed of the "grapevine telegraph," and in a few minutes the hillside was covered with men, women, and children, shouting and waving, and crying, "She's going away! Our boat is leaving us! O God, we ain't got no more chance!"

-From Arthur Spalding, Lights and Shades in the Black Belt, 179-180