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50 Years/50 Collections: Samuel B. Coles: An Alabama Son in Africa

Samuel Coles presenting Sekulu Vilenga with his first plow, May 1930.

The papers of Samuel B. Coles document his work as a missionary at the Galangue Mission in Angola. Founded in 1923, it had the unique distinction of being the first mission established and run by African Americans in the country. The collection contains a few items of correspondence (1953-1954), lists, and a fragment of the pamphlet Pestalozzi in Angola. However, the bulk of this small collection consists of photographs of Coles and the Galangue Mission from 1925 to the 1950s. Samuel B. Coles was born in Tilden, Alabama on May 3, 1888. After graduating from high school, Coles served briefly in the medical corps during World War I. He continued his education at Talladega College in Talladega, Alabama. It was while attending college that Coles read the book Uganda’s Man of Work, a story of Alexander M. Mackay, by Sophia Faha. He became inspired to perform missionary work in Africa. Based on his rural upbringing, Coles had concluded that, “there were other kinds of missionaries besides preachers, doctors, and teachers… I told myself that if a man could be brought to Christ through the work of my hands, well, that threw new light on an idea that kept running through my head.” He graduated from Talladega in 1922 and the following year made his first trip to Angola. Along with his family, he was sent by the American Board of Congregational Christian Churches as an accredited missionary to help with the newly established mission at Galangue Station.

Teaching students on mission farm how to use a cradle to cut wheat.

The conduct of the mission echoed Coles’ belief in spreading faith through work. Galangue was designed to be a “farm mission.” Instead of a focus on preaching and sermons, Coles used agricultural education as the main focus of his missionary work. Photographs depict the educational and technical activities of the mission, which included Coles showing students how to craft their own farming tools and how to cultivate crops planted on the mission grounds. Coles also taught carpentry, blacksmithing, and masonry at the Galangue Mission. A foundry was constructed at the mission and scrap iron was used collected and recycled into plows, hoes, and other farming tools. Aside from a sojourn in New York City during the Second World War, Coles spent more than 30 years living and teaching in Africa. After retiring from his missionary work, he wrote about his life work in a memoir, Preacher with a Plow.

Coles’ memoir reflects his adopted moniker, the “preacher with a plow.”

Related collections to the papers of Samuel B. Coles are the J. Taylor & Kathryn T. Stanley papers, the Alfred Lawless papers, as well as his memoir and other publications on the Galangue Mission in the library holdings of the Amistad Research Center. The finding aid for the Samuel Coles papers is located here.

Images from the Samuel B. Coles papers. Amistad’s website, newsletters, and blogs cannot be reproduced without permission.

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