1882 – Professor Johnson
On Tuesday May 2, 1882, a good-sized crowd gathered at Hamilton’s MacNab Street (Colored) Baptist Church, located near the corner of MacNab Street North and Cannon Street West.
The occasion which prompted the assembly of that crowd was the first Hamilton public lecture by a man who would go on to become of the city’s most well-known and, occasionally, controversial characters.
Known at the time as Reverend C. A. Johnson, the lecturer was later be better known as Professor C. (Astronomical) Johnson, a black man who published a periodical known as The British Lion, a vehicle by which he disseminated his rather unique theories on his main interests, astronomy and religion.
Professor Johnson believed that the earth was a stationary object and that the sun moved across the sky. By the spring of 1882, he had already gained a wide reputation in many cities in both the United States where his personal appearances had gained wide publicity.
The gathering at the MacNab Street (Colored) Baptist Church would be the professor’s first appearance in Hamilton, a city which he later made his home. The vast majority of his audience on May 2, 1882 was white, and for most it would have been the first time they had entered that particular church building.
After the Rev. Mr. Harrison, pastor of that church began proceedings with a prayer, the church’s choir energetically performed a jubilee song “Join the Union,” to a rousing reception.
Then after being introduced, Professor Johnson took the lectern and delivered the following speech which was reprinted the following day in the city’s press.
“I have given this lecture in almost every city in the United States, and when I determined to deliver it in Canada; I made up my mind that I would give the people of Hamilton the first chance.
“I advertised this lecture and gave those who wished it an opportunity to come hear and confute my arguments. I am ready to hear at the close of my lecture any objections, and I want those who are not quite sure of the points I will touch on to relieve their minds about them before they go away.
“I am set in my opinions that the earth stands still and that the sun moves around it. (Cheers.) And I will continue to think so until my friends, the scientists convince me otherwise.
“Now, I propose to prove that most to prove that the sun does move. I know that most people think this is not so, but it is. (Cheers.) I have made a new discovery! (Cheers.)
“I have found that there always have been more suns than this great luminary which now lights up the world. There have been other suns which shone just as brightly. But I refer now to the sun which rises and sets every day as the great central sun.
“Somewhere in space, there are invisible suns, though we can see but only one. In a few years some of these will come out again, and light up the earth, and the result will be a complete disarrangement of the planetary system.
“This sun which is moving now, will probably collide with the earth, and the result will be disastrous to the earth. Scientists say that the sun stands still, but I never could find out how they know that. Though they are a very reliable class of men, they disagree among themselves so much that I have not a very good opinion of their reliability.
“They say the sun stands still, and the next minute, they say its turns of its axis. I don’t believe that it is a fiery mass, as they say. Again, one says that it is 95,000,000 miles away, and another that it is only 90,000,000 miles distant.
“I don’t believe that they ever measured the distance, and I never heard of the man who went to the sun and brought back the information. I can get more reliable information than the scientists have.
“A man will say the rising and setting of the sun is only an appearance, caused by the revolution of the earth, but I don’t believe it has any revolutionary movement. I believe what I see, and I see the sun move; it goes down one side and hurries around to come up their other side.
“It is recorded in the Bible that the sun rises and sets. Doesn’t that prove that it has motion? When Joshua was in trouble with his enemies, he managed to get divine influence on his side, and he commanded the sun and moon to stand still. What was the good of calling on it to stop if it was not moving? (Cheers.)
“It did stand still, and I believe the Scriptures before the scientists. I claim that the earth stands still, and someday it will come into collision with some heavenly body. Scientists say they have found the interior is filled with fire, but these men are mistaken about that; the earth is solid. All the theories of geography and astronomy have got to be reconstructed. I am quite certain of this – in my own mind. There is a German clergyman in the States, and people in England who think like I do.
“All the ancients, too, had the right theory about the earth being flat. I met a man in Washington, a State official, and he said to me : “What do you think about this matter?”
“I told him, and he said : “Those are my opinions exactly, send me your paper for one year.” (Cheers and laughter.)
“It’s a grand mistake, this alleged revolution of the earth. God created the darkness and the light separate, and the revolution of the earth has nothing to do with it. It is far more reasonable to think the earth is flat than to suppose it is revolving in space, supported by nothing.”
“If the earth turns upside down, the people on the other side must be in an embarrassing position. (Laughter.) I don’t remember ever having stood on my head. That theory is all wrong.
“John the Revelator saw angels at the four corners of the earth, which could not have been if the earth was round.
“Then there was a man named David, who got into a scrape once, though we won’t say anything about that. (Laughter.) He found that somehow that there were ‘ends of the earth.’ Where are the ends if the earth is round? (Cheers)
“I think I have demonstrated that the earth is flat and the sun moves! (Cheers and laughter.)
“If I have not quite satisfied you, I have given you food for reflection, and if you will buy the British Lion, you will probably be convinced, as I give a column to this subject in every issue.
“Now I am ready to hear your questions.”
“If Joshua commanded the sun to stand still and did not tell it to go again, isn’t it standing still now?”
“Does the gentleman wish me to answer that question now?”
“Well, I’ll give you three weeks.” (Laughter.)
“All right, thank you. Now, is there any other question?”
A voice from the choir – “If the sun is moving, why doesn’t it move away, and let the earth fall?” (Cheers)
“Do you want me to answer that now?”
“Thank you,” said Prof. Johnson, sitting down without answering it.
In conclusion, Professor Johnson rose to inform the audience that while he had invited them to ask questions, he had not promised to answer them.
With that, he declared the meeting adjourned.