University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill Library
James Meriles Simms was born into slavery in Savannah, Georgia in 1823. Simms was a carpenter by trade, and using money he earned from additional work, he was able to buy his freedom in 1857 for $740.
Simms was baptized into the First African Baptist Church of Savannah in 1841. Shortly after he was baptized, he was expelled from the church for lack of humility. He did not return to the church until 1858.
In 1864, Simms moved to Boston, MA, where he was ordained a minister (his ordination was not recognized by the Baptist church in Georgia). In 1865, Simms returned home to Georgia, where he worked for the Freedmen's Bureau and was a Union League organizer. Simms was one of the 916 black ministers to sign a petition protesting poor treatment of blacks in the Union Army, and he was an ardent supporter of voting rights for blacks.
In 1867, Simms established the Southern Radical and Freedmen's Journal (renamed the Freemen's Standard in 1868). Simms was elected to the Georgia House of Representatives in 1868. Soon afterward, he and all other African-Americans elected to positions in the Georgia government were expelled, but were reinstated to their posts in 1870 by Congressional order. In 1888, Simms published The First Colored Baptist Church in North America, a history of the First African Baptist Church in Savannah, Georgia.
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