I know I’ve been hit or miss with my saints of the week lately. So, I thought I’d jumpstart getting back into the regular posting by coming up with a theme for the month of October. I’ve had an idea rolling around in my head so I decided to make it happen. For the “saints” highlighted in the month of October we will be looking at journalists who have died either while documenting something or in retaliation to what they were reporting on. With the recent journalists in the news who have been taken captive and killed by ISIS/ISIL I decided it might be good to look at some other examples. Journalists are an important part of the world we live in as they often reveal the world around us in ways we might not expect. They show us things we might rather not see or ask us to see something in a new light. Their work is important so we should also remember their sacrifices. The journalists we’ll be looking at are definitely not “saints” in the officially recognized sense and some of the may not even be Christian. That does not mean their work or lives are any less important and we should still recognize what they have done. So, lets kick it off with out first “saint.”
This week’s saint is Elijah Parish Lovejoy.
Elijah was born near Albion, Maine in 1802. His parents were devout Christians and his father was a minister. Because of his own lack of education, Elijah’s father encouraged Elijah and his brothers to be as educated as possible. Elijah excelled at his studies and would eventually come to teach college preparatory classes. Elijah would graduate from Waterville College at the top of his class and after becoming dissatisfied with teaching would move to Boston in 1827 to try to earn money for a permanent move to Illinois. Elijah had a hard time finding work and decided to head towards Illinois anyways. He came to New York on his way to Illinois and found work at the Saturday Evening Gazette selling subscriptions. After receiving some support from the president of Waterville College, Elijah was able to leave New York and made it to Montgomery County in Illinois. However, once he arrived he realized he probably could not do very well there either. He then decided to head toward the more populated city of St. Louis.
In St. Louis he became an editor at the St. Louis Observer and became the headmaster at a local private school. In 1832 he began to be influenced by the Christian revivalism of the Second Great Awakening and decided to become a preacher. Elijah moved to Princeton Theological Seminary to study to become a minister. Once he graduated from seminary he moved to Philadelphia where he was became an ordained Presbyterian minister in 1833. Elijah would then move back to St. Louis, resume his work at the St. Louis Observer and set up a Presbyterian church.
At the time, St. Louis was a center of both abolition and pro-slavery activism. It was a major port city in a slave-owning state that was close to states that did not allow slavery. Elijah had begun writing about and supporting emancipation and abolition of slavery in the St. Louis Observer. Because of pressure from the locals, he decided to move into Illinois (which was a free state) to the city of Alton and set up the Alton Observer newspaper. Even though in a free state, Alton was also a center of pro-slavery activism and many slave catchers operated out of the town trying to catch slaves who were escaping from Missouri. Because of his anti-slavery writings, pro-slavery forces attempted to destroy Elijah’s printing press three different times. When the town committee tried to force Elijah to leave he responded by saying, “You may hang me…you may burn me at the stake, tar and feather me, or throw me into the Mississippi, but you cannot disgrace me. I and I alone can disgrace myself; and the deepest of all disgrace would be, at a time like this to deny my Master by forsaking his cause.”
In November of 1837 Elijah received a new printing press and was allowed to hide it in a friends warehouse. Pro-slavery activists learned where Elijah had hidden the press and approached the warehouse. Shots were fired into the warehouse and some of Elijah’s friends in the warehouse fired back. One of the shots ended up hitting one of the pro-slavery activists killing him. The mob became more angry and raised a ladder on the warehouse to try and set fire to the building. Elijah and a friend ran out from the warehouse and pushed the ladder away from the building. When the mob tried to raise the ladder again, Elijah and his friend tried to sneak out again to push over the ladder but they were seen. The mob opened fire on Elijah and his friend. Elijah was shot five different times by shotgun fire and died at the warehouse. The mob was eventually able to enter the warehouse where they destroyed the press by breaking it up into pieces and throwing it into the river. Nobody was ever convicted in his murder and no services were held because tensions were so high.
Because of his work for the abolition movement, Elijah Parish Lovejoy is considered a martyr by the abolitionists. A monument was raised in his honor sixty years later in 1897. Around the monument are the following quotes from Elijah Parish Lovejoy:
“I have sworn eternal opposition to slavery, and by the blessing of God, I will never go back.”
“But, gentlemen, as long as I am an American citizen, and as long as American blood runs in these veins, I shall hold myself at liberty to speak, to write, to publish whatever I please on any subject–being amenable to the laws of my country for the same.”
“If the laws of my country fail to protect me I appeal to God, and with him I cheerfully rest my cause. I can die at my post but I cannot desert it.”
The legacy of Elijah Parish Lovejoy’s abolition work continues even to this day. A current descendant of Elijah, Martha Lovejoy, works as a supervisor in the U.S. State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, which works with the US government to combat modern forms of slavery.
More Information & References:
Wikipedia.com – Elijah Parish Lovejoy
Christianity.com – Murder of Abolitionist Elijah P. Lovejoy
Altonweb.com – Report by the Alton Observer, November 7, 1837
State of Illinois Historic Preservation Agency – Lovejoy Monument
National Abolition Hall of Fame and Museum – Elijah Parish Lovejoy
Biography.com – Elijah Lovejoy