Alexander Crummell was born in New York City in 1819. His father was a slave but his mother had been free for several generations. He was educated at the African Free School in the city before continuing his studies at the Noyes Academy in Canaan, New Hampshire. He also spent time at the Onedia Institute.
He studied for ordination in Boston. He also worked as a lay missionary in Rhode Island before being ordained as a priest by the Episcopal Bishop of Delaware. In 1844 he established a small mission in Philadelphia. He soon became involved in politics. This included the campaign for equal suffrage and the abolition of slavery.
In 1847 Crummell, accompanied by his wife and four children, moved to England. He gave sermons and lectures on slavery in the United States. In 1853 Crummell was awarded a degree from Queen's College, Cambridge. Later that year he moved to Liberia where he became a missionary-educator.
During the American Civil War Crummell made tours of the United States giving talks trying to persuade skilled and educated Afro-Americans to resettle in Africa.
Crummell was a black nationalist and held Pan-Africanist views. This made him unpopular with mulattos and white missionaries. In 1873 he decided to return with his family to the United States. He settled in Washington where he became "Missionary-at-Large".
Crummell continued to campaign for a wide variety of issues. In 1897 he was an important figure in the establishment of the American Negro Academy.
Alexander Crummell died in 1898.