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Bishop Matthew Wesley Clair Sr. (October 21, 1865-June 28, 1943) was one of the first African-Americans elected bishop in the predominantly white Methodist Episcopal Church. He was born in Union, Monroe County. His family moved to Charleston where, at age 15, Clair became a member of Simpson Methodist Episcopal Church. In 1889, he graduated from Morgan College in Baltimore, was licensed to preach, and was admitted on a trial basis into the Washington Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, an administrative district serving African-American church members in the Baltimore-Washington area.

Clair served a church in Harpers Ferry from 1889 to 1893. From 1897 to 1902, he was presiding elder of the Washington District. He earned his Ph.D. in 1901 from Bennett College in Greensboro, North Carolina. Resuming a pastor’s position, Clair returned to Washington to pastor the Asbury Church from 1902 to 1919. While there, he edited the Banner, the conference paper, and spearheaded the construction of an 1,800-seat sanctuary for Asbury Church.

After serving as district superintendent of Washington, Clair was elected bishop in 1920 and assigned to the church’s flourishing mission in Monrovia, Liberia. He stayed there for eight years, returning to Washington for a visit in 1924 where he was invited to offer the prayer at President Calvin Coolidge’s dedication of a statue honoring Methodist Bishop Francis Asbury. Clair became a member of the Board of Education of the Republic of Liberia and of the American Advisory Commission on the Booker Washington Agricultural and Industrial Institute of Liberia.

Reassigned as bishop of the Covington, Kentucky, Episcopal Area in 1928, Clair served the black conferences in the Midwest for eight years, retiring in 1936. The only Methodist Episcopal bishop to have a son who also became a bishop, Bishop Clair died in Covington, Kentucky.

This Article was written by Debra K. Sullivan

Last Revised on November 03, 2023

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Sullivan, Debra K. "Matthew Wesley Clair Sr.." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 03 November 2023. Web. 29 May 2024.


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