Rev. William Henry Grey (W.H.G.) Carter and Beulah Carter
- Overview: Reconciliation Journey
- Black Pioneer Rev. W.H.G. Carter
- Carter Genealogy
- Carter Principles of Truth, Justice
- Inherited Carter Principles
- Church Closes, Advocacy Continues
- Beulah Carter’s Compassion
- First Unitarian Principles of Truth, Justice
- Reconciliation Beyond Guilt
- Carter Memorial Fund
- Carter Gravesites
- Carter-Wise Family Reconciliation
- 21st Century Cincinnati Racism
- Future of Renewed Strength, Wider Vision
- Additional Resources
Rev. W.H.G. Carter was a self-proclaimed Unitarian minister who organized a storefront church in 1918, the Church of the Unitarian Brotherhood. It was located in an impoverished downtown neighborhood of Cincinnati. Neither the national denomination nor local Unitarian churches, including First Unitarian Church of Cincinnati (First Unitarian), provided support. In 1938, the national denomination showed interest in the church, but decided not to support it. Within two years, The Church of Unitarian Brotherhood closed for lack of finances.
Rev. Dittmar concluded her interim ministry at Northern Hills UU in 1998, and moved on to become the permanent senior minister at First Unitarian Church of Cincinnati. She brought with her the story of Rev. W.H.G. Carter. On January 17, 1999, she preached her provocative sermon “Get Back on the Bus” about the prejudicial treatment of Rev. W.H.G. Carter. First Unitarian members were embarrassed to find that they had not known this part of their history. They immediately determined to make amends.
Two years later, on January 14, 2001, Rev. Dittmar led a reconciliation service that profoundly affected the Carter family and also the First Unitarian congregation. First Unitarian members Walter Herz and Richard Bozian M.D. extensively researched the Carter family history. Rev. Morris Hudgins, new minister at Northern Hills UU, joined First Unitarian member Bozian in placing headstones on the gravesites of Rev. W.H.G. and Beulah Carter. They had been buried at Beech Grove Cemetery, established a century earlier for slaves. No markers identified their gravesites. Coincidentally, Northern Hills UU was built in the 1950s in Springfield Township adjacent to the cemetery, but the congregation was unaware of the Carter graves or the Carter story until 1998.
Carter Sunday became an annual tradition at First Unitarian on Martin Luther King holiday weekend. The annual Carter Memorial Fund collection, raising $67,000 in its first 15 years, supports causes held dear by Rev. W.H.G. Carter, especially assistance to children living in poverty.
Grandson Leslie Edwards credits his grandfather’s staunch Unitarian principles and also a series of Unitarian Universalist ministers (Rev. Mark Morrison-Reed, Rev. Felix Lion, Rev. Sharon Dittmar) with bringing to light the important history of his family.
The Carter history, especially Rev. W.H.G. Carter’s religious principles, led to a spiritual journey at First Unitarian that has strengthened the congregation’s own Unitarian Universalist principles over the years.
Rev. Morrison-Reed discovered that Rev. Felix Lion, a Unitarian minister just out of school and working in Cincinnati in 1938, accidently met Rev. W.H.G. Carter’s wife, Beulah. She described The Church of the Unitarian Brotherhood. Ir was located in a small storefront building at 732 West Fifth Street in Cincinnati’s impoverished West End.
Rev. Lion visited The Church of the Unitarian Brotherhood in 1938, which was two decades after the church was founded. He learned that other Cincinnati Unitarian churches, including First Unitarian and St. John’s Unitarian, had been aware of the small congregation, but did not actively support it. Nor did they notify the national denomination, the American Unitarian Association (AUA), despite the small church carrying the name “Unitarian” in its signage and its unordained minister publicly proclaiming Unitarian principles. Rev. Lion notified the American Unitarian Association (AUA).
The AUA subsequently asked Rev. Lon Call to visit the church and assess it in 1939. According to the Dictionary of Unitarian and Universalist Biography, Rev. Call was known for being non-traditional, and had brought evangelism to the Unitarian movement. He interviewed Rev. W.H.G. Carter and his wife, Beulah. He attended Sunday services. He spoke to the congregation.
In the end, Rev. Call opposed granting Unitarian fellowship to Carter or providing any subsidy to the small church. Rev. Call’s stated reason was his pessimism about future prospects for the struggling group. He did, however, compliment Rev. Carter as a “kindly man, quite intelligent, about sixty years of age.”
Within two years The Church of the Unitarian Brotherhood closed, according to the 1941 Williams City Directory of Cincinnati.
Decades later, Rev. Morrison-Reed noted that Rev. Call contacted him and lamented, “Sorry if I kept a good man from fulfilling his mission.”
Despite the closure of The Church of the Unitarian Brotherhood by 1940, Rev. W.H.G. Carter actively pursued Unitarian principles until the day he died in 1962 at the age of 85 years.
Freeborn William Henry Grey married Henrietta Winslow Grey (b. 1853) of Louisiana. They were parents of Nancy R. Grey (1855-1929). Nancy R. Grey married James E. Carter (1849-1933) and they were parents of William Henry Grey Carter (1877-1962).
William Henry Grey Carter became a Unitarian minister. It is significant that Rev. W.H.G. Carter’s great grandfather, Henry A. Wise, was a white Confederate politician and landowner; that his grandfather, William Henry Grey, was a freeborn black activist; and that his parents, James and Nancy Carter, were educators.
The personal impact of Rev. W.H.G. Carter and the impact of his lineage came to light in 1999, thanks to research by Unitarian Universalist minister Rev. Mark Morrison-Reid who published Black Pioneers in a White Denomination (Skinner House, 1992). Rev. W.H.G. Carter’s ministry was the focus of the reconciliation service held by First Unitarian Church of Cincinnati in 2001. The church has celebrated Rev. W.H.G. Carter’s principles annually since then.
William Henry Grey (W.H.G.) Carter was born in Arkansas in 1877. His parents were James E. Carter who was a minister and dean at Shorter College, and Nancy Grey Carter who was matron of the dormitory at Shorter College. Shorter College in Arkadelphia, Arkansas, near Little Rock, is a historic black college affiliated with the African Methodist Episcopal church (AME).
Rev. W.H.G. Carter finished his two-year liberal arts studies, and earned the credential Doctor of Divinity. According to his self-published autobiography, he declined to accept the divinity degree from the Christian college. His reason was that his own spiritual search had led him to believe he was Unitarian. According to his autobiography, he did not believe in the divinity of Jesus. He also sought a religion that led to doing good deeds.
After graduation, he enlisted and served in the U.S. Army.
In 1899, Rev. W.H.G. Carter married Beulah Griffin. She would bear them 14 children, according to grandson Leslie Edwards whose research disputed previous published accounts of 15 children. Beulah held the family together for the next 60 years. Just as W.H.G. was a Unitarian in belief, Beulah was Universalist in spirit.
He moved his family from Memphis to Cincinnati’s West End in 1918. He founded The Church of the Unitarian Brotherhood shortly after arriving in Cincinnati. He and his church espoused seeking one’s own spiritual principles rather than accepting a prescriptive creed. He advocated faith in the oneness of God, as well as a God of love and reason.
Rev. W.H.G. Carter’s autobiography notes that he rented the building himself, and took neither salary nor collections. Regardless of financial status, everyone had an equal opportunity to belong to his church and pursue one’s own spiritual truth. Church membership never seemed to rise above 60 persons, noted UU journalist Whitford.
Rev. W.H.G. Carter’s church continued for 20 years, but his ardent activism lasted all 44 years he lived in Cincinnati, until his death in 1962. He led protests at City Hall advocating food and shelter for the poor. He helped people who could not read or write enroll in welfare.
In Rev. W.H.G. Carter’s autobiography, My Father’s Business, written shortly before his death, he described his staunch beliefs about faith that often caused conflict within his family and community.
As UU World author Whitford observed, “Like his maternal grandfather, William Henry Grey – a freeborn African American who seconded the nomination of Ulysses S. Grant at the 1872 Republican national convention and served briefly as Arkansas land commissioner during the Reconstruction – Carter was a political activist. He was four-time candidate for city councilman on the Republican ticket (never successful), the founder of a fraternal organization called the Grand Order of Denizens (G.O.D.) and a dedicated provider of food, money, clothing and advocacy to poor blacks in Cincinnati.”
Wise was a lawyer, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives (1832-1844), U.S. minister to Brazil (1844-1847), and governor of Virginia (1856-1860). He signed John Brown’s death warrant after Brown led a rebellion against slavery in 1859 that helped precipitate the Civil War. After Wise left the governor’s office, he was appointed a brigadier general in the Confederate Army.
As a politician, Wise advocated a number of progressive positions, including capital improvements in western Virginia, broadening of Virginia’s electoral base through constitutional reform, and public funding for universal elementary education. He also vigorously endorsed Confederacy secession from the Union.
Great granddaughter Dr. Smith discovered that Elizabeth Grey was the only enslaved person that Wise ever freed. She moved to Washington D.C. where their black son, William Henry Grey, was born free in 1829.
Although Wise apparently never publicly acknowledged William Henry Grey as his son, being Wise’s son had its advantages. Grey learned parliamentary procedure as a youth when he worked as Wise’s assistant in Congress. Wise made sure that Grey learned to read and write.
Like his prominent father Henry A. Wise, William Henry Grey turned to politics. He was known as a fiery orator. He represented Phillips County in the Arkansas House of Representatives in 1868-1869. There he proclaimed, “I am here, Sir, to see those rights of citizenship engrafted upon the organic law of the state. The gentleman from White County says the Negro cannot become a citizen. Sir, I claim that citizenship is ours not only on constitutional grounds, according to the rulings of distinguished American jurists, but is ours by right of purchase on the numerous battlefields of our country.
“It is ours, because from the Revolution down to and through the rebellion we have stood unswervingly by our country and the flag. We fought for liberty. That liberty cannot be secured to us without the right of suffrage. The government owes the debt, acknowledges it and apportions it out. We are here, Sir, to receive the amount due us from the State of Arkansas.”
William Henry Grey was the first African American to speak at a national political convention. He seconded the nomination of Ulysses S. Grant for the presidency at the National Republican Convention in Philadelphia in 1872.
Great granddaughter Dr. Smith noted, “It was no wonder that when William Henry Grey was in the Arkansas legislature after the Civil War, one of the things he tried to do was prohibit the sexual exploitation of black women by white men. He proposed a law that mandated the death penalty for white men who raped black women and girls. Grey had no objection to interracial couples marrying each other out of love and free will.”
William Henry Grey married Henrietta Winslow. Their daughter, Nancy R. Grey (1855-1929), married James E. Carter (1849-1960). Nancy and James’s son was William Henry Grey Carter (b. 4/12/1877, d. 8/25/1962) who became a self-proclaimed Unitarian minister.
Carter family members today wonder why the mother of Rev. W.H.G. Carter gave him the three same names as his influential grandfather, William Henry Grey. Did she hope that eventually his descendants would discover their family history?
By 1940, the church closed due to budget shortages. Rev. W.H.G. Carter continued to be an activist.
He recounted opening a fun house on Beal Street in New Orleans that was more successful than Barnum and Bailey, and police subsequently charging him $100 a day for a license. He then opened a second-hand clothing store, and police arrested him for receiving stolen goods that were in fact contributions from wealthy families where Beulah worked as a nanny. He was terminated as a postal carrier when he drank water from the same barrel as whites.
Rev. W.H.G. Carter’s grandsons, including Leslie Edwards, noted that he had the talent, education and drive to move the family out of Cincinnati’s inner city. Yet, that’s where he insisted on remaining. He moved the family to a second location in the West End where he established an alcohol-free pool hall that welcomed children. He continued to be an outspoken advocate for the poor.
Rev. W.H.G. Carter died in 1962. Shortly before his death he wrote his autobiography, My Father’s Business, and described his provocative faith that his family and civic leaders often found unbending.
She also formed her own non-denominational Christian congregation. She believed that it is possible to love, be devoted to, and work in partnership with a person who has a different faith.
Her grandson Leslie Edwards recalls that she balanced Rev. W.H.G. Carter’s stern and principled demeanor. "If she saw you, she hugged you. If she hugged you, she kissed you. And she always knew your name."
Great granddaughter Starita Smith Ph.D. described Beulah in a 2003 service at First Unitarian. “Beulah Carter holds a cherished place within the Carter family. Beulah bore the brunt of her husband’s anger and frustration with life, which must have been a burden. But Beulah was an extraordinary woman with a great heart. W.H.G. was stern and principled; Beulah was warm and loving. Both did the best they could in a confusing and difficult world.”
First Unitarian Church of Cincinnati, founded in 1831 downtown on Fourth Street, was the first Unitarian church established by the denomination east of the Allegheny Mountains. The liberal church relocated to a larger downtown location before moving to its current building in Avondale, about a mile outside downtown, in the late 1880s.
First Unitarian has a long history of social justice. The congregation was divided over the Civil War. Some members were active in the Underground Railroad. Some members and ministers were controversial abolitionists. In 2015, two of its members were key to the U.S. Supreme Court’s constitutional ruling on marriage equality.
First Unitarian is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as the church home of U.S. President William Howard Taft. He also served as national president of the Unitarian denomination. The church is also the home church of the first black president of the national Unitarian Universalist Association, Rev. William Sinkford.
Today, Avondale is considered an urban core neighborhood. It is home to the city’s largest universities and hospitals, as well as claims one of the city’s highest crime rates and worst poverty rates. The neighborhood is undergoing extensive economic development in 2015. Its loyal and vocal residents have organized to be included in the long-term future of Avondale. Because of what First Unitarian has learned from the Carter reconciliation journey since 1999, church members have become involved in numerous neighborhood efforts to revitalize the area’s safety and economic inclusion.
Rev. Mark Morrison-Reed, author of Black Pioneers In A White Denomination from Toronto, delivered the sermon on “The Burden of Guilt.” He said, “Remembering the past with regret can strengthen the resolve to do the only thing we can do together to shape a more just tomorrow. For in that moment when the one person feels hurt and the other feels sympathy, a bond is established. That connection can be built upon.
“And as the relationship grows,” Rev. Morrison-Reed counseled, “we can move beyond avoidance, guilt, and self-hatred, and let go of the anger and recrimination to embrace the only thing that can sustain us over the long haul – the love of God, which we find in one another and our shared vision of tomorrow. For alone our vision is too narrow to see all that must be done, but together our vision widens and our strength is renewed.”
On that first Carter Sunday in 2001, Rev. Dittmar said, simply and movingly, “I humbly ask the members of the Carter family to accept, as you are able, our sincere apology. I apologize for the neglect and disrespect of the Rev. W.H.G. Carter. We were wrong and we are sorry. We are called to do great things. We have much yet to do.”
Starita Smith Ph.D. of Denton, Texas, great-granddaughter of Rev. W.H.G. Carter, quietly ascended the podium. Dr. Smith admitted she was skeptical of “the recent wave of apologies to black people for everything from slavery to neglect of Africa. We read the headlines and we say, ‘So what changes now?’ ”
Dr. Smith looked out on the congregation and said she expected more from Unitarian Universalists.
“You are supposed to be the most liberal of the mainstream denominations,” said Dr. Smith. “It is very meaningful to me that you took the initiative to acknowledge a history that must be embarrassing for you and to attempt to make amends in the present for what was wrong in the past. But we must also acknowledge that racial reconciliation, true racial reconciliation, requires commitment.”
She challenged, “I hope you will reflect on this weekend often, and let it galvanize you. I hope that it will cause you to go beyond the comfortable friendships you have with your black Unitarian friends to attempt to bring honesty, light, and compassion into the thorny arena of race relations beyond the boundaries of your church.”
Dr. Smith then pronounced, “We Carters encourage you to continue to look into your hearts, ask difficult and complex questions, and take action. WE ACCEPT YOUR APOLOGY.”
The congregation was stunned. Seconds of silence ticked by. As the significance of reconciliation seeped into everyone’s comprehension, there was a burst of thunderous applause.
Dr. Smith found herself in Rev. Dittmar’s arms. The minister’s black robe enveloped them both. “When the hug seemed to go on a beat or two too long,” Dr. Smith later recalled, “it dawned on me that she was crying and leaning on me for support.”
In the early years, grants and scholarships were made directly to individuals for emergency needs. In later years, grants went to community agencies that work with families and support the principles of Rev. W.H.G. Carter. Children have always received preference, just as Rev. W.H.G. Carter had always put them first.
Donations to the Carter Memorial Fund are accepted year round, although the traditional collection occurs as part of Carter Sunday on Martin Luther King holiday weekend in January. Checks should be made out to “First Unitarian Church of Cincinnati,” and a notation on the check’s memo line should indicate “Carter Memorial Fund.”
Rev. Dr. Morris W. Hudgins, minister at Northern Hills Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, collected funds from his congregation to purchase a gravestone for Rev. W.H.G. Carter. Carter family members purchased gravestones for Beulah and daughter Nancy. A dedication of the gravestones was one highlight of the racial reconciliation weekend in 2001.
Amateur historians Walter Herz and Richard Bozian M.D., with the help of grandson Leslie Edwards, interviewed Carter family members to preserve their memories of Rev. W.H.G. and Beulah Carter. That information is on file at the Cincinnati Historical Society.
Carter family descendants have attended every annual Carter Sunday memorial service at First Unitarian since the original reconciliation weekend of January 13-14, 2001.
Great granddaughter Starita Smith Ph.D. tells us in her article, “A Trip to Richmond,” (The Feminist Wire, August 27, 2013) that the discovery of the heritage of William Henry Grey ultimately resulted in the Carter family meeting William Henry Grey’s paternal descendants in 2006. More than 70 black and white progeny of Henry A. Wise from different parts of the country met for the first time at a family gathering in Richmond, Virginia. The event coincided with the opening of a Civil War museum in Richmond, sponsored in part by the Wise family, that presented the Civil War from the perspectives of Northerners, Southerners, and blacks.
Dr. Smith has found no evidence that Wise ever acknowledged William Henry Grey as his son, but that changed with the 2006 Wise family gathering. “By gathering with us in Richmond and nurturing friendships with us,” observed Dr. Smith, “some of his (Wise’s) white descendants had chosen a dramatically different path than he chose. Fellowship and family unity reigned over our Richmond weekend.”
Rev. Dittmar joined publicly with other concerned clergy, black and white, in calling for a deeper understanding of the roots of racial violence. Rev. Dittmar and church members attended numerous local meetings calling for racial justice. First Unitarian’s board of trustees president testified before Cincinnati City Council in support of changes to the city charter. Church member and civil rights attorney Al Gerhardstein filed suit against the City of Cincinnati for racial profiling by police. He and the U.S. Department of Justice co-designed the “collaborative agreement” establishing community-oriented policing and a citizens’ advisory board that have become national best practices.
In October 2001, First Unitarian partnered with a black church in the West End, West Cincinnati Presbyterian. Members dialogued about racial inequities in Cincinnati. They marched side by side in a six-mile Walk As One with several thousand other Cincinnatians calling for racial harmony. The march raised money for the Cincinnati chapter of National Conference for Community and Justice and also the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. For many years of the annual march, First Unitarian members collected more donations than any other church in Cincinnati.
In Summer 2002, First Unitarian described its Carter reconciliation journey at a workshop in Cleveland at the annual General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association.
On January 17, 2009, under the dedicated leadership of Walter Herz, the research archives of the reconciliation process were presented to the Cincinnati Historical Society Library at a moving ceremony. The contributed documents were intended to inspire other reconciliation journeys.
In 2010, First Unitarian members began helping to stock and also to voluntarily staff the food pantry at Shiloh Seventh Day Adventist Church in Avondale.
In 2011, First Unitarian volunteers began tutoring young readers at South Avondale Elementary School. The school and neighborhood are known for their high rate of childhood poverty. By 2015, all tutored children were reading at their grade level or above.
To mark 15 years of Carter Sunday experiences in 2016, First Unitarian members are making one-year commitments to assist several Avondale neighborhood initiatives, such as tutoring students and exposing slumlords. These resident-driven initiatives are crucial to stabilizing the neighborhood as it undergoes dramatic economic development related to the construction of the new Martin Luther King Boulevard interchange of I-71.
“The legacy of W.H.G. and Beulah Carter, though, is much larger than the wrongs done to them. Carter reminds us to uphold our principles, to use reason, and to love God with all our heart and all our mind.”
Dr. Smith returned in 2016 as keynoter. She applauded the constancy of purpose and principles in the last 15 years. She also sobered everyone with painful facts revealed in a new study by the Urban League of Greater Southwestern Ohio indicating that very little economic equity has been achieved in Cincinnati in the past 20 years.
And thus continues the Carter reconciliation journey, much as Rev. Mark Morrison-Reed predicted at the original Carter Sunday, “We can move beyond avoidance, guilt, and self-hatred, and let go of the anger and recrimination to embrace the only thing that can sustain us over the long haul – the love of God, which we find in one another and our shared vision of tomorrow. For alone our vision is too narrow to see all that must be done, but together our vision widens and our strength is renewed.”
- “Shunned Minister Honored,” The Cincinnati Enquirer, January 12, 2001,
- “Reconciliation Service in Honor of the Reverend W.H.G. Carter,” Sermon, First Unitarian Church of Cincinnati, January 14, 2001,
- “A Step Toward Racial Reconciliation,” UU World, May/June 2002,
- “Rev. W.H.G. Carter and A Step Toward Racial Reconciliation,” UUA.org, 2002,
- “Cincinnati Churches Continue Racial Reconciliation,” UU World, February 23, 2009,