Special collections reading rooms are currently open to Emory University students, faculty, and staff by appointment. Non-Emory-affiliated researcher access may be limited until January 31, 2022 in some repositories.

For assistance, please contact us at rose.library@emory.edu or 404-727-6887.

African Orthodox Church records, 1880-1974

Emory University

Pitts Theology Library

1531 Dickey Drive, Suite 560

Atlanta, GA 30322


Permanent link: http://pid.emory.edu/ark:/25593/pmmrt

Descriptive Summary

Creator: African Orthodox Church.
Title: African Orthodox Church records, 1880-1974
Call Number:Record Group No. 005
Extent: 10 cubic ft. (32 boxes)
Abstract:Contains the records of the African Orthodox Church as well as the personal papers of Archbishop Daniel William Alexander.
Language:Materials in English, Afrikaans, and Xhosa.

Administrative Information

Restrictions on Access

Unrestricted access.

Terms Governing Use and Reproduction

All requests subject to limitations noted in departmental policies on reproduction.


[after identification of item(s)], African Orthodox Church Records, Archives and Manuscript Dept., Pitts Theology Library, Emory University.


Processed by Anita K. Delaries.

Collection Description

Biographical Note

The African Orthodox Church was founded in South Africa in 1924 by priests from the independent African Church. These priests were dissatisfied with the administration of the African Church and believed that they could establish and run an independent church for Black Christians that would be more responsive to their own needs and to the needs of their parishioners. One of the priests in this group was Daniel William Alexander whose leadership abilities were recognized by the others. At the very same meeting in which the priests decided to resign from the African Church and to form their own independent church, they also elected Alexander to the position of bishop.

Alexander was born in South Africa on December 23, 1882. His mother is believed to have been a native South African and his father is known to have emigrated to South Africa from the West Indies. Alexander was baptized in the Anglican Church of the Province of South Africa and according to his own account of his life, he attended Roman Catholic schools until 1895. Shortly before the Anglo-Boer War broke out Alexander married Maria Horsely. During the war Alexander was commandeered into service and Maria died in his absence. At the war's end he took up service in the Church of the Province of South Africa and later in the Ethiopian Catholic Church in Zion before joining the African Church. Although it appears that Alexander's formal education ended at the age of thirteen he was quite literate. It was supposedly he who read of the African Orthodox Church in America and brought news of its existence to the attention of his colleagues.

The church in America of which Alexander had read had been established in 1921 by George Alexander McGuire. McGuire was an emigrant to the United States from Antigua and served as a priest in the Protestant Episcopal Church until 1918. McGuire's experience in the Episcopal Church had been tainted with incidents of discrimination against himself and his fellow Black clergy. He severed his ties with the Church and decided that only in a denomination of Blacks with a Black administration would equality and spiritual freedom be attained. McGuire's search for Black equality led him to Marcus Garvey and to Garvey's Universal Negro Improvement Association. Garvey reinforced McGuire's notion of a Black denomination and once McGuire founded the African Orthodox Church, Garvey used his periodical entitled the Negro World to disseminate the news throughout Africa. The periodical also carried the story of McGuire's consecration by a white man named Joseph Rene Vilatte. Vilatte's religious background and consecration were dubious but his credentials satisfied McGuire and strongly impressed the priests in Africa. They wrote to McGuire requesting permission to affiliate with the African Orthodox Church and to send their bishop to be consecrated by McGuire.

McGuire's response to the South Africans' proposals was a request for information on the group and the church that they were forming. They were asked to send their statement of faith and their divine liturgy in addition to the credentials of the clergy. After review and some negotiation Alexander was invited to America. He sailed to America in 1927 and on September 11 he was consecrated by McGuire in Boston.

Alexander returned to Kimberley and to his parish after his consecration. His church, St. Augustine of Hippo, became the center of African Orthodox activity in South Africa. From this base Alexander traveled all over South Africa and set up parishes wherever he found interest. His missionary activities also took him into countries outside of South Africa such as Kenya, Uganda and Rhodesia where he trained priests and baptized communicants. Back in Kimberley he organized a seminary to educate his priests and annual synod meetings to discuss church business. All the while Alexander continued to correspond with McGuire in America until a letter arrived in 1935 informing him of McGuire's death.

After McGuire's death and the election of a new patriarch in America, the relationship between the South African and the American churches continued to be amicable. The turning point came however, in 1960 after a delegation from America visited Alexander and his church in South Africa.

The members of the delegation which included Patriarch James I were invited to South Africa by Alexander. At the age of 78 he no doubt feared for the survival of his church after his death. The African Orthodox Church needed a consecrated bishop and he had agreed after his own consecration by McGuire that only the Patriarch could perform a consecration. The presence of Patriarch James I was necessary if his two bishop-elects, Ice Walter Mbina and Surgeon L. Motsepe, were to assume their duties and lead his church after his death.

While the consecrations were performed without incident, the Patriarch's visit proved to be a disaster for Alexander. In order to usurp Alexander's leadership Mbina and Motsepe enumerated his mistakes and shortcomings to the Patriarch. Convinced that Alexander was inept, James I ordered him to resign his position as archbishop in favor of the two newly consecrated bishops. Alexander found this interference by the Patriarch intolerable and refused to relinquish leadership. He maintained that he and McGuire had agreed that the American church only had power over the African church in spiritual and not in temporal matters. The Patriarch was infuriated by Alexander's refusal to relinquish his leadership and both sides turned to legal counsel. Before the matter could be resolved both James I and Motsepe died. Alexander was reconciled by the new patriarch, Peter IV, and agreed to submit to Mbina.

It is uncertain whether Alexander's submission was intended to give him time to rally his supporters or whether he simply changed his mind after his reconciliation. What is clear is that in 1963 Alexander broke away from Mbina and the American African Orthodox Church. With his supporters he formalized the autonomy that he believed McGuire had intended for the African church by naming his body the African Orthodox Church of the Republic of South Africa and by becoming its primate. Correspondence with Mbina ended in 1963 and no further evidence of the survival of his church is contained in the collection.

Alexander died in May 1970 at the age of 88. He remained the Patriarch of the African Orthodox Church of the Republic of South Africa until his death although leadership of the church was shared with his godson Daniel Kanyiles during the last few years. Kanyiles assumed the title of Patriarch James II after Alexander's death.

Scope and Content Note

The archives of the African Orthodox Church (1880-1974) can also be considered the papers of Archbishop Daniel William Alexander. Practically all of the correspondence was either sent or received by Alexander and a large amount of the other manuscript material is in his handwriting. For fifty-one years the African Orthodox Church was at the center of Alexander's life. His wives headed the women's guild, his son and grandson were priests in the Church and many of the organizations that he belonged to were church-related. In spite of this, an effort has been made to separate the things that document the life of Alexander, such as family records, diaries, newspaper clippings and memorabilia, from the things that document the history of the church. The researcher will find that there are many "gray area" items such as Vilatte's memorandum of congratulations and the travelogue recounting Alexander's trip to the United States for consecration. Because of items such as these, the personal papers of Alexander have been treated as a part of the Church's archives and not as a separate collection.

Arrangement Note

Organized into 14 series: (1) Personal Papers of Daniel William Alexander, (2) Constitution and Divine Liturgy, (3) Histories, (4) Synod Records, (5) Correspondence, (6) Educational Records, (7) Clergy Records, (8) Local Church Records, (9) Confirmation, (10) Financial Records, (11) Miscellaneous Material, (12) Bound Printed Material, (13) Unbound Printed Material, and (14) Photographs and Non-Paper Records.

Selected Search Terms

Personal Names

Corporate Names

Geographic Names

Form/Genre Terms


Description of Series