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This is the first Black American female missionary to serve in Africa in 1887

January 28, 2019 at 11:00 am | Women

Elizabeth Ofosuah Johnson

Elizabeth Ofosuah Johnson | Staff Writer

January 28, 2019 at 11:00 am | Women

Louise Celia Fleming was born a slave on January 28, 1862, in Florida on the Hibernia Plantation which belonged to Colonel Lewis Michael Fleming. Her parents, who were slaves adopted their slave masters surname and gave it to their children.

Popularly called Lulu, she was raised by her mother who worked as a maid for Colonel Fleming following the death of her father, popularly called Fla.

The Flemings treated Lulu and her mother well and took them along to the Bethel Baptist Church, one of the very few churches that allowed black and white people to worship under one roof until 1865 when it was forced to segregate the members according to race.

Lulu Fleming 

Lulu was one of the few privileged African-American girls to attain an education, At the age of 15, she was baptized and became a Christian at the Bethel Baptist Institutional Church.

She finished high school top of her class and went on to train as a teacher, teaching in several schools near public schools near St. Augustine, Florida. Lulu then enrolled in Shaw University and graduated as class valedictorian in 1885.

Lulu became very involved in the works of the church and devoted most of her time and service to it. She took every moment to spread the gospel and encourage Blacks to give their lives to Christ and do his work.

A year after graduating, Lulu’s service was requested by the Women’s Baptist Foreign Missionary Society. Hearing and seeing her great works for the Lord and passion to see young black people attain the highest of education, the church requested that Lulu would go to Africa to work as a missionary- teacher.

Lulu accepted the offer to move to Africa and was immediately posted to Congo, making her the first African American woman to be sent on missionary work to Africa.

Joseph R. Moss Book Cover 

Lulu arrived in the present-day Republic of Congo on May 23, 1887, and settled in her station, Palabala a town that still exists today. She became a very popular missionary who took a keen interest in the development of the girls. 

Lulu taught the gospel in Sunday schools and taught English in several local schools in Congo, using her influence to help several natives gain admission to Shaw University.

After a short illness, Lulu was moved back to the USA to receive proper treatment.  Upon getting cured, she then enrolled in the Women’s Medical College in Philadelphia to become a doctor to help the health care institution Congo upon her return.

She returned to Congo as a doctor, missionary and teacher, working in several stations in the country. She became the only female doctor in the colony, whose services was sought after by all races in Congo and later parts of Central and West Africa.

Lulu trained several Congolese women and men in basic medical skills for the four years she remained in Congo, helping them prevent deaths of several other locals and missionaries as well as Western traders.

Unfortunately, Lulu contracted sleeping sickness in 1899 and was forced to return to the USA when it got worse. She passed away on June 20, 1899, in Philadelphia at the age of 37 and was buried  in Mt. Zion Cemetery in Philadelphia.

There are no records of her having children, however, she married Rev James of the Ikon Station in Congo for a short period.

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