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Bishop Frederick C. James was born on April 7, 1922, in Prosperity, South Carolina, to Rosa Lee Gray and Edward James. James received his A.A. degree in 1941 from Bettis Junior College, in Trenton, South Carolina, his B.A. degree in history and English in 1943 from Allen University, in Columbia, South Carolina, and his M.Div. degree in 1947 from the Howard University School of Divinity, in Washington, D.C. He also attended Dickerson Theological Seminary, in Columbia, South Carolina, and Union Theological Seminary, in New York, New York.
James became pastor of Friendship AME Church in 1945 and of Bishop Memorial AME Church in 1946, both in Columbia, South Carolina, and of Wayman AME Church, in Winnsboro, South Carolina, in 1947. In 1949, James became dean of Dickerson Theological Seminary, and, in 1950, pastor of Chappelle Memorial AME Church in Columbia. In 1953, James moved to Sumter, South Carolina, to assume the pastorship of Mt. Pisgah AME Church. In 1960, James was elected director of social action of the AME Church. In 1962, James helped organize and chaired the Sumter Citizens Committee. In 1963, he became president of the Effective Sumter Movement. In 1972, James was elected the 93rd Bishop of the AME Church. He served the 18th and 15th Episcopal Districts from 1972 to 1976, the 12th from 1976 to 1984, the 7th from 1984 to 1992, and the 2nd from 1993 to 1996. James led Shorter College, in Little Rock, Arkansas, to full accreditation in 1981 and Allen University to full accreditation in 1992. That same year, he served as Ecumenical Bishop and Chaplaincy Endorsement Officer of the AME Church. James retired in 1996.
James has served as chair of Allen University and of the Howard Junior High School Center in Prosperity, South Carolina, and as a member of the Columbia Housing Authority. He was a member of the delegation to attend the inauguration of South African President Nelson Mandela in 1994. James is a former member of the White House Advisory Board on Historically Black Colleges and Universities and of the U.S. State Department’s Advisory Board on Religious Freedom and served as National Vice President of the Interfaith Alliance. James is a life member of the NAACP and Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity and is a 33 degree Mason. James also served on the board of directors at the National Bank of South Carolina and as a member of the Greater Sumter Chamber of Commerce.
James holds an honorary doctorate of humanities from Monrovia College, in Liberia. James received the Order of the Palmetto in 2003 and the Leon A. Love Lifetime Achievement Award from the South Carolina African American Heritage Foundation and Columbia SC 63: Our Story Matters in 2020. James has been inducted into the South Carolina Black Hall of Fame and the Columbia Housing Authority Wall of Fame
James lives in Columbia, South Carolina, where he resided with his late wife, Theressa Gregg.
Bishop Frederick C. James was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on November 11, 2021.