Tanner was a leading clergyman, editor and intellectual of his day. Ordained as an AME minister and an editor of the church’s publication, the Christian Recorder, he became an important voice for equality and for memorizing African American heritage and contributions to the world. O.V. Catto became one of his dearest friends and it was Bishop Tanner, who first sought have a memorial erected for Catto. Tanner was among the founding members, with W.E. B. DuBois, of the American Negro Academy led by Alexander Crummell. Tanner was the father of artist Henry Ossawa Tanner and the grandfather of Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander.