George Alexander McGuire

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George Alexander McGuire (1866-1934).

George Alexander McGuire (1866-1934) was a bishop and founder of the non-canonical African Orthodox Church,[1] as well as chaplain-general of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA).

Early Life

McGuire was born on March 26, 1866 at Sweets, Antigua, in the Caribbean. He was educated in the local school system, then at the Antigua branch of Mico College for teachers and at the Moravian Miskey Seminary in the Danish West Indies. From 1888 to 1894 McGuire was pastor of a Moravian Church in the Danish West Indies.

Episcopal Church

In 1894, McGuire arrived in the United States and initially joined the African Methodist Episcopal Church. On January 2, 1895, however McGuire joined the Episcopal Church and two years later became an ordained priest.

McGuire led small mostly black Episcopal churches in Cincinnati, Richmond, Virginia and Philadelphia. St. Philip’s Episcopal Church of Richmond, Virginia lists a certain “Reverend George Alexander McQuire,” as rector from April 1898 to November 1900. Interestingly, Robert Josias Morgan (Fr. Raphael Morgan) is listed as the rector for a short time from “1901-April 1901,” indicating that the two men likely knew eachother.

By 1901 McGuire was appointed rector of St. Thomas' Episcopal Church in Philadelphia. Saint Thomas' served the African American elite of Philadelphia and was one of the most prestigious congregations in African American Christianity, having been started in 1794 by Absalom Jones, one of the founders, together with Richard Allen, of the African Methodist Episcopal Church.[2] He is listed as the rector of St. Thomas' in Philadelphia from 1902-05, succeeded as rector there by A.C.V. Cartier (1906-12), the man whom Fr. Raphael Morgan had recommended for Orthodox ordination to the Ecumenical Patriachate.

From 1905 to 1909, McGuire served as Archdeacon for Colored Work in the Diocese of Arkansas, becoming the church's highest ranking African American and the first to achieve the rank of Archdeacon, where he zealously labored to increase the number of missions from one to nine. He also encountered opposition from the local Episcopal bishop who believed blacks should be separated from whites and placed in their own church jurisdiction.

Eventually McGuire resigned and moved to Cambridge Massachusetts where he established St. Bartholomew’s Church for West Indians living in the Boston area. While in Cambridge, McGuire studied at Boston College of Physicians and Surgeons, receiving his M.D. degree in 1910. When his small church was not recognized by the Episcopalian diocese, McGuire resigned in 1911. As he traveled across the U.S. he became even more discouraged by the dismal prospects of blacks in the Episcopal Church and left the denomination.

In 1913 McGuire returned to the West Indies, settling in British-controlled Antigua to care for his sick mother. While there he volunteered at a local parish, serving as a minister in the Church of England, and gained acclaim for practicing medicine on the island. When a strike of local sugar cane workers led to rioting and burning of the sugar cane fields, British colonial officials urged local and religious leaders to oppose the strikes but McGuire refused and urged them to provide the workers with decent, living wages.

African Orthodox Church

McGuire returned to the United States in 1918 and soon afterwards joined the UNIA. Marcus Garvey, the UNIA’s president, appointed him first Chaplain-General of the organization, at its inaugural international convention in New York in August 1920. In this position he wrote two important documents of UNIA, Universal Negro Ritual, and Universal Negro Catechism, the latter containing both religious and historical sections, reflecting his interest in religion and race history.[3]

On September 2, 1921 McGuire founded the "African Orthodox Church" (AOC)[4] envisaged as a home for blacks of the protestant Episcopal persuasion who wanted ecclesiastical independence. The church, based on traditional Catholic doctrines, was open to all but under complete black leadership and control. McGuire declared to his followers: “You must forget the white gods. Erase the white gods from your hearts. We must go back to the native church, to our own true God.”

Shortly after the UNIA convention in August 1924, McGuire broke with Garvey and focused on expanding his church which mostly attracted Anglican West Indian immigrants.

McGuire would have liked to have seen AOC designated as the official church of UNIA, but Garvey was unwilling to grant such an exclusive priviledge to any denomination. McGuire accordingly resigned from his position at UNIA on the formation of AOC. He ensured official "orthodox" status for his new church by arranging apostolic succession for himself. He had himself reordained bishop in the American Catholic Church (ACC);[5] he was then ordained first bishop of the new AOC by a representative of the Russian Orthodox Church.[6]
In 1924, the newly organized conclave of AOC unanimously elected McGuire archbishop of the church. During the remaining decade of his life McGuire built AOC into a thriving international church. Branches were eventually established in Canada, Barbados, Cuba, South Africa, Uganda, Kenya, Miami, Chicago, Harlem, Boston, Cambridge (Massachusetts), and elsewhere. The official organ of AOC, The Negro Churchman, became an effective link for the far-flung organization. Wherever it existed, AOC remained a sort of ecclesiastical reflection of Garvey's ideas of racial independence and uplift.[7]

McGuire founded a parish of his denomination in West Palm Beach, Florida in 1925. Two years after that, he consecrated an African clergyman as Metropolitan Archbishop for South Africa and central and southern Africa, William Daniel Alexander. At the same time McGuire was elected Patriarch of the denomination with the title Alexander I. The church then spread to Uganda, as well.

On November 8, 1931 McGuire dedicated Holy Cross Pro-Cathedral in New York City. His church maintained its greatest strength in NYC.

At the time of his death on November 10, 1934, the African Orthodox Church claimed over 30,000 members, fifty clergy and thirty churches located on three continents: North America, South America and Africa.

See also


  1. The African Orthodox Church is a non-canonical, primarily African-American denomination, in the Anglican tradition.
  2. Tony Martin. McGuire, George Alexander. Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance. Volume 2. Cary D. Wintz, Paul Finkelman (Eds.). Taylor & Francis, 2004. p.776.
  3. Tony Martin. McGuire, George Alexander. Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance. Volume 2. Cary D. Wintz, Paul Finkelman (Eds.). Taylor & Francis, 2004. pp.776.
  4. Not be confused with the canonical Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America (AOC).
  5. The "American Catholic Church" (ACC) was an off-shoot of the Episcopalian Church, a sect founded by Joseph René Vilatte. It included the jurisdictions and groups which had come out of Joseph René Vilatte's Episcopal ministry or were under his oversight. Among them were French and English speaking constituencies, and Polish and Italian ordinariates. The ACC began on August 20, 1894, at a synod held in Cleveland, Ohio, where Polish-speaking parishes joined the jurisdiction of Bishop Vilatte, however the ACC was actually incorporated in July 1915.
  6. Tony Martin. McGuire, George Alexander. Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance. Volume 2. Cary D. Wintz, Paul Finkelman (Eds.). Taylor & Francis, 2004. pp.776
  7. Tony Martin. McGuire, George Alexander. Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance. Volume 2. Cary D. Wintz, Paul Finkelman (Eds.). Taylor & Francis, 2004. pp.776

External Linls




  • Rachel Gallaher. McGuire, George Alexander (1866-1934).
  • Byron Rushing. “A Note on the Origin of the African Orthodox Church.” The Journal of Negro History 57:1 (Jan., 1972).
  • John Hope Franklin and August Meier (Eds.). Black Leaders of the Twentieth Century. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1982.
  • Rayford W. Logan and Michael R. Winston (Eds.). Dictionary of American Negro Biography. New York: W.W. Norton, 1982.
  • Tony Martin. McGuire, George Alexander. Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance. Volume 2. Cary D. Wintz, Paul Finkelman (Eds.). Taylor & Francis, 2004. pp.776-777.