Who was Charles Bennett Ray? He was a prominent Black American abolitionist, owner and editor of “The Colored American” newspaper, a notable journalist and clergyman.
Charles B. Ray was born in Falmouth, Massachusetts on December 25, 1807. Ray was the son of a mail carrier Joseph Aspinwall Ray and a well read and religious black woman Annis Harrington. In the early 1830’s Ray was given the opportunity by abolitionist to attend Wesleyan Seminary in Wilbraham, Massachusetts to study theology. In 1832, Ray enrolled as the first African American student at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, but left because of racial tension. He relocated to Wesleyan, Rhode Island, where he worked on his grandfather farm. He later settled on Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts, where he mastered the boot making trade. He later moved to New York City and opened a boot and shoe store, and also became a Methodist Minister and later a congregational minister. In 1833, Ray joined the American Anti-Slavery Society and was a “conductor” on the underground railroad. He dedicated most of his life and career to the abolitionist movement.
In 1834, Ray married Henrietta Green Regulus (1808-1836), an Black American activist, who advocated for women’s education and independence, and one of the founders of the African Dorcas Association. Henrietta and Ray married lasted a short. Two- years later she passed away along with the couple newborn on October 27, 1836, while giving birth. Due to complication from tuberculosis.
By 1837, Ray changed denominations and became the pastor of the predominately European white American Crosby Congregational Church In New York. The following year, in 1838, Ray became co-owner of “The colored American“; the fourth weekly periodical published by Black Americans. Along with two other prominent Black Americans such as Phillips A. Bell and Samuel Cornish (1795 – November 6, 1858). Ray became sole owner and editor in 1839, when Bell and Cornish Resigned. Ray mainly used his newspaper to promote “the moral, social and political elevation of the free colored people, and the peaceful emancipation of the slaves”. Ray traveled across the Northern States and without fear giving speeches condemning Black Americans prejudice that they have endured. In 1840, Ray and his newspaper supported the newly founded Liberty Party, because it was the only political party at the time to publicly condemn slavery and was pro-abolitionist.
Ray remarried again in 1840, to Charlotte Augusta Burroughs. The couple had seven children together. One of their daughter Charlotte Elizabeth Ray (January 13, 1850 – January 4, 1911), became the first Black American female attorney in the nation. Another daughter who also became an attorney Florence Ray, And another daughter who became a well known poet Henrietta Cordelia Ray (August 30, 1852 – 1916), known for her eighty-line ode, Lincoln. What became of the rest of Mr. and Mrs. Ray’s children is unknown.
In 1842, Ray ceased publications of “The Colored American” newspaper (New York City). The following year in 1843, Ray joined the New York Vigilance Committee, which involved thirteen black and white men who assisted runaway slaves. In 1848, became the corresponding secretary for the Committee and remained an active member for fifteen years. Later on in 1845, he served as the pastor of the Bethesda Congregational Church, another predominantly European white American congregational, and continued there for more than twenty years. He was also a member of the New York Society for the Promotion of Education among Colored Children.
Charles Bennett Ray passed away on August 15, 1886, in New York City at the age 78 and is buried in Cypress Hills Cemetery in Brooklyn.