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Cullen, Frederick Asbury (1868-1946) | Amistad Research Center

Name: Cullen, Frederick Asbury (1868-1946)

Historical Note:

The adoptive father of Harlem Renaissance poet, Countée Cullen, Rev. Frederick A. Cullen was a community and civil rights activist whose work with youth in Harlem and support of legal and social protests made him a significant figure in the New York African American community. The youngest of eleven children born to Isaac and Emmeline Williams Cullen, he was born in Fairmount, Maryland. After moving to Baltimore with his mother at the age of twelve, Rev. Cullen attended Maryland State Normal School (later Townson University), and later Morgan College (later Morgan State University).

Rev. Cullen's religious awakening took place in September 1894 at the Sharp Street Methodist Episcopal Church in Baltimore, and he was ordained in 1900. He was first appointed to a two-church circuit in Catlin, Maryland, where despite initial opposition to his appointment, Rev. Cullen successfully led the parish from 1900 to 1902. He was then assigned to St. Mark’s Church, a predominantly Black congregation in New York City. His initially worked the church's storefront mission, Salem Chapel, in Harlem. His outreach to neighborhood children as a way to encourage the church involvement of their parents led to the success of the mission, which was granted independent status in 1908.

Rev. Cullen continued his focus on youth activities throughout his career. This, along with his work in the area of social justice, led to his status within the African American community. He served as president of the Harlem branch of the NAACP, which grew to over one thousand members.

Rev. Cullen married Carolyn Belle Mitchell, a soprano and pianist from Baltimore, who assisted him with his religious work until her death in 1932. Although they had no children of their own, the Cullens unofficially adopted a teenage boy named Countée Porter prior to 1919. Porter assumed their surname and enjoyed a close relationship with his adoptive parents. After serving four decades leading the Salem Methodist Episcopal Church, Rev. Cullen stepped down due to health problems. He died in 1946 at the age of seventy-eight.

Sources: Gates, Henry Louis Jr and Evelyn Brooks-Higginbothom. African American National Biography, Vol. 2 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), pp. 507-508.
Note Author: Christopher Harter

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