Benjamin Tucker Tanner

Benjamin Tucker Tanner. Public Domain. Wikimedia Commons.


Benjamin Tucker Tanner was a prominent figure in the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church . As a clergyman and news editor, Tucker played a pivotal role in the lives of African-Americans as the Jim Crow Era became a reality. Throughout his career as a religious leader, Tucker integrated the importance of social and political power with fighting racial inequality. 

Early Life and Education

Tanner was born on December 25, 1835 in Pittsburgh to Hugh and Isabella Tanner.

At the age of 17, Tanner became a student at Avery College. By 1856, Tanner had joined the AME Church and continued to further his education at Western Theological Seminary. While a seminary student, Tanner received his license to preach in the AME Church.

While studying at Avery College, Tanner met and married Sarah Elizabeth Miller, a former slave who had escaped on the Underground Railroad. Through their union, the couple had four children, including Halle Tanner Dillon Johnson, one of the first African-American women to become a physician in the United States and Henry Osawa Tanner, the most distinguished African-American artist of the 19th Century.

In 1860, Tanner graduated from Western Theological Seminary with a pastoral certificate.  Within two years, he established an AME Church in Washington D.C.

Benjamin Tucker Tanner: AME Minister and Bishop 

While serving as a minister, Tanner established the United States' first school for freed African-Americans in the United States Navy Yard in Washington D.C. Several years later, he supervised freedman's schools in Frederick County, Maryland. During this time, he also published his first book, An Apology for African Methodism in 1867.

Elected Secretary of the AME General Conference in 1868, Tanner was also named editor of Christian Recorder. The Christian Recorder soon became the largest circulating African-American newspapers in the United States.

By 1878, Tanner received his Doctor of Divinity degree from Wilberforce College

Soon after, Tanner published his book, Outline and Government of the AME Church and was appointed editor of the newly established AME newspaper, AME Church Review. In 1888, Tanner became a bishop of the AME Church.


Tanner died on January 14, 1923 in Washington D.C.