From NKAA, Notable Kentucky African Americans Database (main entry)

Spurgeon, James Robert

(born: 1870  -  died: 1942) 

James Robert Spurgeon, a Kentuckian said to have been a Yale graduate, was appointed by President McKinley as Secretary Minister of the American Legation in Monrovia, Liberia. Spurgeon wrote The Lost Word; or The Search for Truth, a speech delivered before the Free Masons in Monrovia in 1899. Two years later, President McKinley was shot and killed, and Vice President Theodore Roosevelt became President of the United States. By the end of December 1902, Spurgeon had lost his post when President Roosevelt appointed his replacement, 25-year old George Washington Ellis.

There had been trouble in Monrovia that escalated when Spurgeon forwarded a report to the State Department stating that Liberian Minister J. R. A. Crossland, an African American from Missouri, was mentally unbalanced. Crossland had just shot another Negro, Thomas J. R. Faulkner, an electrical engineer from Brooklyn, who allegedly had tried to cut Crossland with a razor. After the incident, Spurgeon's and Crossland's working relationship continued to deteriorate with both men keeping loaded weapons in their desk drawers. The United States was embarrassed by the entire matter and Spurgeon was dismissed.

Spurgeon remained in Liberia, and in November 1904, he was speaking to a crowd in Monrovia on behalf of Franklin Leonard, Jr., Democratic candidate for Congress, when a riot broke out. The crowd was made up of about 1,000 Negroes from the United States who were supporters of Roosevelt. Spurgeon was booed and hissed at, and someone set fire to the banners decorating the wagon on which he was standing. The police arrived, the fire was put out, and scuffles broke out between the crowd and the police.

A white janitor at a nearby building began pushing members of the crowd off the building steps; a woman who was shoved away returned with her husband, who was carrying a loaded gun. There was a fight over the gun, and while no one was shot, the woman and her husband were arrested. Order was finally restored. Spurgeon returned to the United States and in 1907 was named Prince Hall Past Master by Affiliation of Carthaginian no. 47 (Brooklyn, NY).

For more see "Razors fly through air of Liberia," The Atlanta Constitution, 12/26/1902, p. 5; and "Row at Negro meeting,"The New York Times, 11/08/1904, p. 2.

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“Spurgeon, James Robert,” Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, accessed July 25, 2024,

Last modified: 2024-06-10 20:17:30