Active Leader: 1931-1975
When Rabbi Howard Z. Plummer accepted the mantel of Leadership, it was during a difficult period in American history. The Great Depression held the nation within the throes of its grip. Banks and businesses failed. The Stock Market Crash of October, 1929, reverberated throughout the 1930’s. The African-American population in general suffered greatly.
The shift from an agrarian to an urban population began immediately following World War I. A significant number of African-Americans moved northward away from Southern farms in hopes of benefiting from the shift from farms to urban industries. The Great Depression, however, saw these urban industries crippled and the workers deposited among the ranks of the unemployed. Among African-Americans, the unemployment figures were disproportionately high.
The Great Depression was no respecter of persons. All who lived in the United States during this time were in one way or another touched by the conditions. What few unskilled jobs there were available were now occupied by Whites who had traditionally left them for the unskilled African-American work force.
The need for change was obvious from every quarter. African-American’s political loyalty, since the time of the Civil War, had been to the Republican party of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. However, the promise of a “New Deal for all Americans” advanced by the 1932 presidential campaign of Democratic candidate, Franklin D. Roosevelt, however, generated some interest.
It was during this time of great challenge that Howard Z. Plummer began his reign as Executive Leader. He was, at 32 years of age, young, dynamic, protean, and driven. During the early years of development in Belleville, under the leadership of Bishop William H. Plummer, the young “Elder Howard,” as he was called, was his father’s right hand man in all affairs pertaining to Headquarters. Elder Howard had begun to see, under Bishop William H. Plummer, the events that led to the tremendous fallout that the Great Depression would eventually have on financial support to Headquarters.
Rabbi Howard Z. Plummer
Grand Father Abraham
Howard Zebulun Plummer was born on November 16, 1899, to William H. Plummer and his wife, Jennie E. Bonds, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. His siblings were John, Eva, Judah and Joshua.
His early years were spent in a normal family existence, but circumstances brought on by a series of events surrounding his father, which began during the year of Howard’s birth, would prove to vitally affect him throughout his lifetime. William H. Plummer had heard Prophet William S. Crowdy preaching and had become convinced of the legitimacy of his messages. He joined the Church of God and Saints of Christ and he and his family became intimately involved in its doctrine and work.
In August, 1900, in the city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Howard’s parents brought him to be blessed by the Prophet. He was the first child to be blessed by Prophet William S. Crowdy in O’Neil Hall, on Broad and Lombard Streets. The Prophet observed that throughout the blessing, Howard looked directly at him. The Prophet said, “Plummer, this boy is looking down my throat and taking in every word I say. Someday, he is going to be a great preacher.”
Howard joined the Church of God and Saints of Christ on December 10, 1908, when he was nine years old, being baptized by his father in Chelsea, Massachusetts. On April 20, 1917, during the Passover in Washington, D.C., Howard was ordained a Minister by his father. Following his ordination, he became affectionately known as “Elder Howard” to all of his friends and the membership. On August 26, 1917, during the Annual Assembly, his father appointed him General Superintendent of the Sabbath Schools.
Elder Howard had been courting a young lady, Althea Walker, of Providence, Rhode Island. Their courtship blossomed into love and on July 22, 1918, Elder Howard and Althea Walker were united in marriage at 15 Arnold St., Boston, Massachusetts, by Bishop William H. Plummer. Elder Howard and his wife, Althea, became the parents of a son born June 1, 1921. He was named Levi Solomon.
The year 1922 was one of a combination of happiness and grief for Elder Howard. He had been bolstered by the love and companionship of his wife and the pleasure of lovingly romping with his child, Levi. But on July 15, 1922, his wife, Althea, fell asleep. She was funeralized and buried in the Belleville Cemetery.
Elder Howard was an athlete of accomplishment, engaging in track, tennis, baseball, and boxing. In the midst of all of these various activities, his religious fervor never wavered, but seemed to increase.
Elder Howard and Beatrice Williams courted and his father told him that she would make himan “ideal wife.” In 1927, they were united in marriage by Bishop William H. Plummer, and on January 31, 1928, their first child, Sarah Elizabeth, was born.
After a prolonged period of illness, Bishop William H. Plummer fell asleep in Belleville, December 22, 1931. Following his funeral, his body was placed in a mausoleum in the Monument Grounds in Belleville.
Elder Calvin S. Skinner — the last survivor of the three men left by the Prophet to succeed him — at a meeting of Church Officials held December 28, 1931, in Belleville, proclaimed Elder Howard Z. Plummer, Grand Father Abraham and Leader of the Church of God and Saints of Christ. Elder Skinner and the Board of Presbytery consecrated him to the Bishopric.
Early in the spring of 1942, St. Beatrice Plummer, G.M.S., became ill. For many years, shehad labored lovingly as a wife, mother, head of the Daughters Auxiliary, member of the choir, featured singer of the Belleville A Capella Choir, and Matron of the Belleville Industrial School and Widows and Orphans Home, Inc. On November 11, 1942, St. Beatrice Plummer, G.M.S., fell asleep. Members from all over the country were in attendance at her funeral held in Belleville, November 15.
Bishop Plummer’s religious life embraced contact with many of the country’s leading ministers and educators and collaboration with them in numerous activities. His earnest and productive accomplishments resulted in his being awarded the Doctor of Divinity Degree by Wilberforce University, Wilberforce, Ohio, in 1944.
Bishop Howard Z. Plummer and L. Bernice Copeland courted and were united in marriage January, 11, 1946. Bishop Robert N. Butler performed the ceremony.
Bishop H. Z. Plummer had personal contact with President Franklin D. Roosevelt, visited him occasionally, and wrote some of the prayers used by the President in his speeches. Some of the gifts received by Bishop Plummer after the death of the President included a personalized ash tray which held a daily rose, a complete service of dishes for one person (china, crystal, silverware, napkin), also a Christmas Greeting signed by President Roosevelt and his wife, Eleanor, with the fountain pen used to sign, attached. During the Passover of 1947, Bishop Plummer displayed some of the personal items of the President which had been given to him as keepsakes by Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt after the President’s death.
A son was born to Bishop H. Z. Plummer and his wife, L. Bernice, on July 11, 1947. He was named Howard Zebulun, Jr.
In 1973, Rabbi Howard Z. Plummer began to experience health problems that required extensive medical attention. They increased to the point where he was no longer able to function to his satisfaction as Leader of the Church. He informed his son, Rabbi Levi S. Plummer, who gave up his Pastorate in Providence, R.I. and returned to Belleville. In 1975, he turned the reigns over to his son, Rabbi Levi S. Plummer, with these words, “My work is finished.” He further stated to the Church membership, with reference to Rabbi Levi S. Plummer, “I am leaving you in good hands.”
Educational and Civic Activities
Bishop H. Z. Plummer was noted for his humanitarian efforts and the recipients of his loving concern and generosity are far too numerous to mention. He was very active in the educational and civic affairs of the Tidewater area.
With Bishop Plummer’s great concern for his people and his commitment to America and her ideals of freedom and democracy, his patriotism placed him in the forefront of serving in a voluntary and non-combatant effort against the ideology promulgated by Nazism and Fascism. He had an Observation Tower for Aircraft Spotters erected in Belleville. This endeavor to assist in the war effort is documented by the following article by Bishop Plummer that appeared in the April 10, 1943 edition of the Afro-American Newspaper:
“No doubt it will be interesting to you to know that here in the Churchland area, we have an ‘observation tower’ directly under government supervision which we believe to be the only all-colored station in the United States.”
Bishop Plummer led his religious body through a myriad of difficult times and trying circumstances. From the dark days of the depression in the thirties, the Korean Conflictand the changing American family of the fifties, the permissive sixties and into the rebellious seventies, his steady hand kept his Church members and many other individuals ona true and straight course in the midst of the stormy seas of world politics, the changing values of a confused society, and the search for a lost God by those whose god had died. He truly was a tower of strength and, as the Scripture says, “… a rock in a weary land.”
One of his prime interests was that of the education of young people. He made numerous personal sacrifices to achieve this goal. When what is presently Norfolk State University was first established in 1935, it was designated as a unit of Virginia Union University, Richmond, Virginia, with 85 students in three rooms. In 1942, the institution became Norfolk Polytechnic College. It later became the Norfolk Division of Virginia State College.
Norfolk State College formed the Norfolk State College Foundation. Its Officers and Board of Directors were composed of area residents who were elected and subscribed to its purposeas listed in its Articles of Incorporation, mainly that of assisting as many young men and women as possible to receive an education.
Bishop Plummer was a member of this Board and served for many years. He was listed in its 1978-1979 annual report and Honor Roll of Donors as one of the “University Fellows” who “contribute between $500 and $999 to the University to support its continued growth.” At its 1979 Board of Directors Meeting, the status of Director Emeritus was conferred upon him.
Bishop Plummer was a member of the Interracial Interdenominational Hampton Ministers Conference. In 1954, he was elected President of the Conference and it was during his administration that Dr. Gardner Taylor and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. made one of their memorable appearances as Conference Preacher.
He aided Hampton’s Chaplain and Executive Secretary of the Conference, Dr. Vernon P. Bodein, by using members of his own office staff — at no expense to the Conference — to help with the registration for the annual sessions in June. They also were instrumental in contacting large numbers of Ministers in the area, both Black and White. Through their efforts, attendance at the Conference increased significantly.
He brought with him to the Conference his famous Belleville A Cappella Choir to render selections for the Conference Sessions. Conference history records that his interest and wholehearted participation resulted in the Conference changing its Constitution to elect him for an unprecedented third year as President.
In May, 1954, his Imperial Majesty, Haile Selassie, Emperor of Ethiopia, made an official visit to the United States of America. During his stay in Washington, D.C., the Emperor was feted at a reception on May, 27, to which many Black Leaders over the country were invited. Bishop H. Z. Plummer received an invitation and attended the reception. During the festivities, he was personally greeted by the Emperor and engaged by him in conversation. Bishop Plummer later remarked that it was quite an auspicious occasion.
On May 9, 1962, a Community Leaders Conference on Equal Employment Opportunity was called by the President’s Committee on Equal Opportunity. The Honorable Lyndon B. Johnson, Vice President of the United States, was Chairman of the Committee. The President’s Committee informed the participants that they had been carrying on a five-fold program aimed at insuring equal employment opportunity in Federal Government employment and in employment on Government contract work.
Bishop Howard Z. Plummer attended this Conference as Leader of the Church and took with him Ezra C. Brent, as a Representative of the Belleville Industrial School. Upon returning from the Conference, strenuous efforts were made to acquaint Church members and the community with the work being done by the Administration of President John F. Kennedy. An Affirmative Action Program was the result of these efforts that has done much to alleviate some of the unfair burdens suffered by this country’s minorities.
Rabbi Howard Z. Plummer Falls Asleep
After a lifetime of giving, Rabbi Howard Z. Plummer fell asleep February 24, 1980, and his funeral was held in the Tabernacle in Belleville, Virginia, February 28, 1980. Saints from all over the United States and Jamaica were present.
Rabbi Jehu A. Crowdy presided and eulogized the deceased Leader. His text was Joshua 1:2,“Moses My Servant is Dead….” In his powerful yet sorrow-filled message, he likened his Leader and his personal friend’s life to that of Moses, who also led Israel for over forty years through difficult and triumphant times. His son, Rabbi Levi S. Plummer, G.F.A., the Leader of the Church of God and Saints of Christ, gave remarks. Rabbi Plummer was interred at the Monument Grounds in Belleville.
The man who had been anointed by the last of “these three,” Counselor Elder Calvin S. Skinner, had again joined that connective link for the third time. First, on December 28, 1932, at Rabbi H. Z. Plummer’s consecration, secondly, on February 24th, the date on which each fell asleep, and lastly, at their final resting places at the Monument Grounds.
The prophetic tradition and legacy of Prophet William S. Crowdy, Chief Joseph W. Crowdy, Bishop William S. Plummer and Elder Calvin S. Skinner continued with the Leadership of Rabbi Howard Z. Plummer, Grand Father Abraham. Because of the success of Prophet William S. Crowdy, the religious tradition of the Church of God and Saints of Christ was prevailing in America at the time of Howard’s birth, but at that time no one knew that young Howard would develop it even more.
He was raised in a religious atmosphere. His father’s Leadership of the Church laid the foundation for Howard’s interest in the ministry. He accomplished many things early in life, but his greatest accomplishment came as the Executive Leader of the Church of God and Saints of Christ. During his Leadership, he made an immeasurable impact in education and masonry, and he brought to the Congregation a greater awareness and fulfillment of Biblical Judaism. He undergirded it with a prophetic consciousness, thus fulfilling the plan of Prophet William S. Crowdy, which stands above all else.
His interest in the philosophy of education insisted that the purpose of education was not only to free peoples’ minds, but also to lift them from second class citizenship, poverty, oppression, and suffering. Moreover, Rabbi Plummer was a person of extraordinary intellectual ability. He distinguished himself as an educator, scholar, orator, theologian, mason, and humanitarian. Likewise, he lectured and preached throughout America on the essential goodness of God and the teachings of Prophet William S. Crowdy. In addition, he taught about developing a sense of selfhood, loving and caring for one another, a feeling of being both spiritually and physically inextricably bound together for liberation.