Born Missionary

Available now!

Born Missionary

The Islay Walden Story

A New Book by

Margo Lee Williams

In Celebration of the 140th Anniversary

of the founding of

Strieby Congregational Church,

Randolph County, North Carolina

Available from Amazon in both paperback and kindle, and paperback from Barnes and Noble

In 1879, Islay Walden, born enslaved and visually impaired, returned to North Carolina after a twelve-year odyssey in search of an education.  It was a journey that would take him from emancipation in Randolph County, North Carolina to Washington, D. C., where he earned a teaching degree from Howard University, then to the New Brunswick Theological Seminary, in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Along the way, he would publish two volumes of poetry and found two schools for African American children. Now ordained, he would return to his home community, where he would found a Congregational church (today called Strieby Congregation U. C. C. Church) and common school. Despite an early death at age forty, he would leave an educational and spiritual legacy that endures to this day.

Born Missionary uses Walden’s own words as well as reports from newspapers and church publications to follow his journey from enslavement to teacher, ordained minister, and community leader.

Winner: 2021 Phillis Wheatley Literary Award from the Sons and Daughters of the United States Middle Passage

Associated Media

An interview on “Write Talk,” with Zsun-nee Miller Matema, at historic Tolson’s Chapel, in Sharpsburg, Maryland

Research at the National Archives and Beyond: Blogtalk Radio Interview with Bernice Bennett, 27 May 2021

ISLAY WALDEN’S UWHARRIES STORY IS RELEVANT TODAY by Ruth Ann Grissom for UNC-Charlotte Urban Institute

Reader Reviews

“For far too long, stories of this forgotten corner of the Piedmont remained untold. In Born Missionary: The Islay Walden Story, as in her two previous books, Margo Lee Williams has worked diligently and masterfully to bring to light its nuanced history.” Ruth Ann Grissom, conservationist and columnist for the Montgomery Herald and the UNCC Urban Institute 

 Inspiring story of a young man’s path to preacher and community leader. In “Born Missionary, the Islay Walden Story”, Margo Williams builds on her previous work, “From Hill Town to Strieby”, by greatly expanding the back story of its most prominent citizen. This is the story of his life, long overdue and richly deserved, and Ms. Williams is the right person to tell it. Her research is exhaustive as usual, and her deep connections to the people in his community past and present round out the narrative.

The generous samples of Islay Walden’s poetry and other writings throughout this story give a deep insight into his determination to help others, as he rises from slavery to freedom, illiteracy to author, and from student to educator and preacher. His life story is a journey both geographic and spiritual. In addition, we see accounts of the many people who influenced and assisted him along the way, and observe the maturing of his character under their influences.

Anyone with an interest in African-American history, literacy, education, religion, and personal triumphs, will find inspiration in the story of Islay Walden. Rik Viegland.

Blind hope = God’s favor. Walden was ahead of his time. One could argue he was a modern day “prophet” in a sense.

To be a blind ex slave in search of a better education was a dream to many in the late 1800s. Not only did Walden fulfill his dream, it’s clear the Lord was with him on his entire journey.

He overcame many obstacles (mistreatment as a blind black man) on his journey, but he kept his faith and dream alive.

He is proof that your circumstances should not define the destiny God has for all of us.

He did A LOT in his short 40 years but the last 15 years of his life is still alive well today thanks to the “precious few” that has kept his dream alive and lived in the same faith as Rev Islay Walden. Tasha Laughlin Hall

Self determination has no boundaries! Ms. Williams’ extensive research is unparalleled. This is a story about grit and the human spirit, and of a black man who was determined to get an education and give back to his community. He did this in spite of his limitations. This book should be in everyone’s library! Harvey Boone