June 28, 1943: Bishop Matthew Wesley Clair, Senior Dies

This Week in West Virginia History.

Bishop Matthew Wesley Clair Sr. died in Covington, Kentucky, on June 28, 1943, at age 77. He was born in Monroe County to former slaves just months after the Civil War ended.

His family moved to Charleston, where Clair joined Simpson Methodist Episcopal Church. He graduated from college in 1889 and began a four-stint leading the Methodist Episcopal Church in Harpers Ferry.

After earning a doctorate, Clair served as pastor of Asbury Church in Washington, D.C., from 1902 to 1919. While there, he edited the conference’s newspaper and spearheaded a campaign to build an 1,800-seat sanctuary.

In 1920, Clair became one of the first two African-American bishops in the predominantly white Methodist Episcopal Church. For the next eight years, Bishop Clair was assigned to the church’s flourishing mission in Monrovia, Liberia, where he became involved in education initiatives. 

In 1928, he was reassigned to Covington, Kentucky, and served black Methodist conferences in the Midwest until retiring in 1936. Matthew Wesley Clair Sr. and his son, Matthew Wesley Clair Jr., are the only father-son bishops in the history of the Methodist church.