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REV. BERTHA CREAR, Spiritualist Leader


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Bertha Crear was born Bertha Smith in 1879, daughter to ex-slaves Wilson and Brilla Hines Smith who had emigrated to South Charleston, Ohio. She attended her first séance when she was 17 years old. At that time, she was told she would be a leader in the Spiritualist movement. Bertha was married and widowed by 1900. Her second husband, Elick Gregg, was with her in Columbus, Ohio from 1910-1917 when she worked as a medium under the name Bertha Gregg.

After divorcing Gregg, she married her third husband, Charles Osborne Crear in 1918. Charles worked as an undertaker with J.W. Adams. They had no children, but Bertha was known for her compassion and mothering instincts with girls. At the time she married, she was already the pastor of the Christian Spiritualist Church located on Long Avenue in Columbus. She advertised herself as a spiritual advisor and held weekly seances. By 1914, she was holding lectures and seances across the state. The large crowds showed that she was popular with both black and white Spiritualists.

Bertha was the first African American to receive a commission from the Ohio Spiritualists Association. She became a missionary for the National Spiritualists Association (NSA) and was chosen with two others to represent the United States at the International Spiritualists Congress in London in 1922.

Among other things, she was a guest at the Ealing Spiritualist Church in London and addressed a large number of women, giving clairvoyant advice and messages. In the evening, she spoke to an overflowing crowd. While at the congress, she was introduced to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle whom she befriended.  When Doyle toured the U.S. later that year, he wrote that Bertha was an excellent resource and medium for blacks who were interested in Spiritualism. The same year, Bertha also signed a newspaper article that condemned Houdini for calling all Spiritualists frauds. She then became the first U.S. citizen to receive a diploma from the Spiritualists National Union in England.

Berth’s popularity did not allow her to escape the discrimination rising in the United States. At the NSA’s 1922 convention, members were informed that they wanted two separate organizations, one for whites and one for blacks. Bertha was not happy with the plan, and when it was put in place in 1925, she surrendered her credentials.

When she visited London, Bertha told the British women that she hoped to visit them again, but unfortunately, she would never return. In 1927, she died after going into shock from a surgical procedure. She passed on at the young age of 48. In her obituary that appeared in the National Spiritualist, June 1, 1927, she was said to be an “outstanding figure in the story of American Mediumship.”

For more information, watch Charvonne Carlson’s YouTube video.

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