Leontine Turpeau Current Kelly was a bishop of the United Methodist Church, making history on this day in 1984. She became the first African-American woman, and just the second woman overall, to be ordained by a major Christian denomination.
Leontine Turpeau was born on March 5, 1920 in Washington. D.C. Her father, David Turpeau Sr., was a prominent Methodist minister and Ohio congressman for many years. Turpeau completed her undergraduate studies at Virginia Union 1960 and studied at various institutions before earning her master of divinity degree from the Union Theological Seminary in 1976.
Kelly’s first marriage was to the late Gloster Current, a minister and former deputy executive director of the NAACP. The pair had three children together. In 1956, she married Rev. David Kelly. Kelly was a Certified Lay Speaker in the church in the late ’60’s and was later ordained a deacon and elder. Kelly’s first calling was the classroom and her call to the ministry came after the death of her second husband.
According to reports, the school district wanted Kelly to enter the ministry in her late husband’s stead, but she initially resisted as she didn’t get the call from God to do so. In her words, God called eventually did call her to ministry where she rose to become one of the more visible members of her denomination, becoming an icon for international women’s rights and job equity for all. Kelly was later inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.
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