The Story of Kansas

Kansan traveled world for faith

This is one in a series of vignettes celebrating history. The series’ name comes from the state motto, Ad astra per aspera: “To the stars through difficulties.”

There were few places Eureka native John A. Gregg wouldn’t go.

As a young man, he enlisted in the Spanish American War and served with Kansas soldiers.

Later, he became a missionary and traveled to South Africa.

Upon his return from Africa, he became the first African-American appointed president of Howard University in Washington, D.C. — but declined, deciding instead to devote time to his ministry.

During the height of World War II, Gregg was called upon by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who asked him to tour military sites in Europe and the Pacific to help improve the morale of black troops.

Gregg was born Feb. 18, 1877 and graduated from Eureka High School in 1896.

Shortly after, he enlisted and was sent to Santiago, Cuba. When the war ended, he returned to Kansas to attend the University of Kansas, where he received his bachelor’s degree in 1902.

By then, Gregg had begun preaching in local African Methodist Episcopal churches in Kansas and Missouri.

At the turn of the 20th century, Gregg was sent as a missionary to South Africa, where he served for 2½ years. While there, he became principal of the Chattworth Institute.

He returned to the United States in 1906 and was ordained an elder in the A.M.E. church. In 1926, he was designated a bishop.

In that position, he developed an international reputation as an effective speaker and motivator. In 1930, he was a featured speaker at an international Christian conference in Berlin that drew 11,000.

He died in 1953.

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