Scott, Isaiah Benjamin (1854–1931)

By: Robert G. Sherer

Type: Biography

Published: June 1, 1995

Updated: January 27, 2021

Isaiah Benjamin (I. B.) Scott, black Methodist Episcopal pastor, presiding elder, college president, newspaper editor, and missionary bishop, the youngest of fourteen children of Samuel Benjamin and Polly (Anderson) Scott, was born in Midway, Woodford County, Kentucky, on September 30, 1854. His father had been a carpenter and also worked with the underground railroad. Although his mother and some of his siblings had been slaves, both his parents were freed before the Civil War. After his father's death in 1866, Scott's mother took her children to Austin, Texas, to rejoin her five children who had been taken there as slaves. Scott was educated at home and at public and private schools. After a college preparatory course at Clark Seminary (now Clark College) in Atlanta, Georgia (1874–77), he received his A.B. in 1880 from the Theological Department of Central Tennessee College (now Walden University) in Nashville, Tennessee. There he married Martha (Mattie) Jane Evans on May 24, 1881. Of their six children three survived childhood. Scott received an A.M. in 1883 from Central Tennessee College and a D.D. in 1893 from New Orleans University. He began his ministry on the Nashville Circuit of the Tennessee Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, North. In 1881 he transferred to the Texas Conference, where he was ordained a deacon in 1882 and an elder in 1884. His Texas ministry included Trinity Church in Houston (1881–82), St. Paul's in Galveston (1883), and Ebenezer in Marshall (1886). In 1884–85 he was supernumerary while teaching at Prairie View State Normal and Industrial College, and he was presiding elder of the Marshall District from 1887 to 1890 and the Houston District in 1891–92.

In 1893 the Freedmen's Aid and Southern Education Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church chose Scott to be the first black president of Wiley College in Marshall. From its beginning in 1873 the school for black students had been led by White presidents. Wiley was deeply in debt because of the building program of Scott's predecessor, P. A. Cool, and the panic of 1893. Since the school's poor students depended heavily on financial aid, Wiley's income decline from $14,297 in 1892 to $4,674 in 1897 led to an attendance drop from 425 (1892–93) to 277 (1895). In troubled economic conditions Scott made a major contribution by keeping Wiley open and laying the foundation for the outstanding, nearly half-century career of his successor, Matthew Winfred Dogan. In 1896 the church's General Conference named Scott editor of the Southwestern Christian Advocate in New Orleans, Louisiana, a post he held for eight years. This paper for black Methodists covered local to international events. Scott's editorials consistently supported the Republican party, attacked racial discrimination, and condemned lynching, against which he urged his readers to arm themselves for self-defense or in retaliation if necessary. In 1904 Scott became the first and only black Methodist Episcopal missionary bishop chosen without racial designation by a General Conference in the United States. He served in Monrovia, Liberia, where his bishopric was quite successful. He helped begin several new interior missions and developed those on the coast. Membership grew from 3,194 in 1908 to 16,916 in 1916, when he retired. He returned to Nashville, Tennessee, to live near his wife's parents and remained active in local church affairs until his death on July 4, 1931. Scott's honors included election to five general conferences (1888–1904); service on the church's General (National) Book and Missionary committees; Ecumenical Methodist conferences in Washington (1891), London (1901), and Toronto (1911); appointment as one of the black commissioners from Texas at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair and the 1895 Atlanta Exposition; and knighthood in the Liberian Humane Order of African Redemption (1909).

J. Tremayne Coppleston, History of Methodist Missions, Vol. 4: Twentieth Century Perspectives, 1896–1939 (New York: Board of Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church, 1973). Nolan B. Harmon, ed., The Encyclopedia of World Methodism (2 vols., Nashville: United Methodist Publishing House, 1974). Joseph C. Hartzell, Africa Diamond Jubilee Documents (New York: African Diamond Jubilee Commission, Board of Foreign Missions of the Methodist Episcopal Church, 1908). Methodist Bishops' Collection, Bridwell Library, Southern Methodist University. National Cyclopaedia of American Biography, vol. 14 (New York: White, 1891-). Who's Who in America, 1930–31.


  • Education
  • University Presidents and School Administrators
  • Journalism
  • Peoples
  • African Americans
  • Religion
  • Educators
  • Methodist

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Robert G. Sherer, “Scott, Isaiah Benjamin,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed January 24, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

June 1, 1995
January 27, 2021

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