We Shall Overcome: The Biography of Charles Albert Tindley


We Shall Overcome, Pete Seeger

Since late January, I have been attending a local AME church in Boston and being the non-churchgoing person, I have to say I enjoy this time of fellowship in my week. As a historian, I greatly appreciate learning about black history through my pastor’s sermons. This week he began with the hymn “Stand By Me” by Charles Albert Tindley.

1 When the storms of life are raging,
Stand by me (stand by me);
When the storms of life are raging,
Stand by me (stand by me);
When the world is tossing me
Like a ship upon the sea,
Thou Who rulest wind and water,
Stand by me (stand by me).

2 In the midst of tribulation,
Stand by me (stand by me);
In the midst of tribulation,
Stand by me (stand by me);
When the hosts of hell assail,
And my strength begins to fail,
Thou Who never lost a battle,
Stand by me (stand by me).

3 In the midst of faults and failures,
Stand by me (stand by me);
In the midst of faults and failures,
Stand by me (stand by me);
When I do the best I can,
And my friends misunderstand,
Thou Who knowest all about me,
Stand by me (stand by me).

4 In the midst of persecution,
Stand by me (stand by me);
In the midst of persecution,
Stand by me (stand by me);
When my foes in battle array
Undertake to stop my way,
Thou Who savèd Paul and Silas,
Stand by me (stand by me).

5 When I’m growing old and feeble,
Stand by me (stand by me);
When I’m growing old and feeble,
Stand by me (stand by me);
When my life becomes a burden,
And I’m nearing chilly Jordan,
O Thou “Lily of the Valley,”
Stand by me (stand by me).

I have never heard of Mr. Tindley and was greatly intrigued by his history and furthermore his title as one of the leaders and other sources state, “The Father of Gospel Music”.

His Lifetindley_ca

Born in 1851 to an enslaved father, Albert Tindley, and a free mother, Hester Miller Tindley, Charles Albert Tindley spent his childhood on a rural farm in Berlin, Maryland. Despite his status as free, Tindley could not escape the hardships of being black in America in the mid- to late nineteenth century. . When he became old enough to work, he was hired out to work with slaves although other sources state he was a hired-out worker in the Quaker community. This religious group strongly opposed slavery; therefore, it will be interesting to learn more about this work. Under the law, it was illegal for Tindley to receive any education; however,  the law had no effect on his eager mind. Unable to receive any schooling, Tindley simply taught himself how to read and write.

Now, there is not a great amount of information pertaining to Tindley’s  early life. Little regard is given to blacks and furthermore the child of slaves if they were not prominent figures in history. From the time Tindley was ten until he was 14, the nation was at war. Following the war, he remained in Maryland where he married Daisy Henry. Together the newlywed couple migrated to Philadelphia in hopes of a better future. I was unable to locate any census records documenting the family in the City of Brotherly Love in 1870, 1880, or 1900. Sources state that Tindley supported his wife and three children by becoming a janitor at Calvary Methodist. Sadly, two of his children passed away in 1882 and 1909. Hester died on February 20, 1882 in Philadelphia at the age of one year old. Her death was caused by croup pneumonia.

record-image (5)

On December 27, 1909, their second daughter, Irene, passed away at the age of 13 from tuberculosis.

record-image (6)

Despite the death of his first child, Tindley remained a man of faith with his eyes set on his calling as a minister. Before pursuing his degree, Tindley was the leading pastor in the Delaware Valley and was appointed a Presiding Elder of the AME in 1900.While working at the church, he enrolled in theology classes, learned Greek, and studied Hebrew with a local Rabbi. After finishing his courses in 1902, Tindley presided over the same church he use to clean. He ministered at the church for thirty years increasing the church’s congregation from 200 members to nearly ten thousand members. He quickly gain prominence as a leading pastor in Philadelphia not only due to his powerful voice, but his unique preaching style. His preaching reflected his background  a gospel singer and writer, you know his sermons were on point.

Reverend Tindley as the outstanding Negro in the city. Reverend Tindley was called by the mayor in everything. He was the spokesman for the blacks at that time. He played a leading role throughout the city, no question about that. Not only in the city, but Reverend Tindley was known nationwide because of his ability to speak. He was an outstanding orator.

John Summers
Ralph H. Jones, Charles Albert Tindley, (Nashville, Abington, 1982), p 13

His preaching was a reflection of his congregation. He spoke of the injustices against blacks and the joy that was to come once they reached the Promised Land, incorporating their story with God’s purpose in familiar and newly written hymns. Surprisingly, Tindley was musically illiterate, yet he published forty six gospel songs  in his lifetime influencing artists, musical genres, and even a movement. His “I’ll Overcome Someday” set the foundation for “We Shall Overcome.” His “Stand By Me” inspired Ben E. King’s song under the same title.

Following his death, his church was renamed Tindley Temple United Methodist Church. Services continue to be held at this church.

Until the next post,



2 responses to “We Shall Overcome: The Biography of Charles Albert Tindley

  1. I’ve used your post as the basis for a week of “Christian Heroes” morning devotionals at our Christian school. Thank you so much!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s