In Memoriam: Leontine T.C. Kelly, 1920-2012

Leontine Kelly, an educator and social activist who was the first Black woman bishop in a mainstream Christian denomination, died late last month at a retirement home in Oakland, California. She was 92 years old.

In 1984, Kelly was named a bishop of the United Methodist Church and served for four years as head of the church in northern California and Nevada. After retiring as a bishop, she taught at the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, California, and the Hartford Seminary in Connecticut.

A native of Washington, D.C., Kelly moved to Cincinnati as a child. Her father was a minister and served four terms in the Ohio legislature. Her mother was a co-founder of the city’s chapter of the National Urban League. The family lived in a parsonage that in the pre-Civil War period had been a station on the Underground Railroad.

Kelly enrolled at West Virginia State University but left school to get married. After raising three children, she divorced and remarried. In 1960, at the age of 40, she earned a bachelor’s degree at Virginia Union University in Virginia. She later earned a master of divinity degree from the Union Theological Seminary. Kelley was ordained a deacon in the Methodist Church in 1972.

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