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While Emancipation brought black Baptists from the North and South together,

their political and religious indifferences were never mended. Soon the political

differences and lack of trust reached the national leadership level.



Why Are We Separate?

An Ecumenical Study of the African American Baptists

By Paul White


The black Baptist movement stemmed from a religious and social system within the American culture that kept blacks isolated, segregated, and distant, both in society and within the worship experience. "Balcony style worship" at one point was tolerable. But eventually black religious freedom would become a must. The Africans rejected the second-class worship treatment. The anti-mistreatment movement of the church was soon organized. It is out of this frustration – yet determination - the black Baptist movement was found. 

Today, the Baptist church represents the largest sect found within the confines of the African American Christian experience. It was these ". . . early independent black Baptists [who] were thus the pioneers of the denominational cooperative organizations [and their historical fragmentation] that are the subject of this paper." Still fighting for equality while coming out of the closet of the "invisible church," the black Baptist movement remains both an internal and external issue of ecumenism.

The first black Baptist associations and conventions formed between 1834-1841 were in addition to other collective efforts formed to fight slavery and reform. Indeed, the race for abolitionism and equality paved the way for the many associations and conventions beginning in the 1800s. These denominational cooperatives were initiated in the antebellum American history and continued after emancipation as they exist today. Though there were several cooperatives in the early struggles for freedom (such as the providence Baptist Association, The Wood River Association, and The Amherstburg Association to name a few), these cooperatives were united and spaced across several geographical regions, all in the name of freedom. 

Together with these associations were the first two antebellum black Baptist conventions, namely the American Baptist Missionary Convention (ABMC) established in 1840 and the Northwestern and Southern Baptist Convention (NwSBC) organized formerly as the Western Colored Baptist Convention in 1853 and reorganized in 1864. Much like the black churches, these too were formed out of contention with white Baptist institutions. In these years the terms "associations" and "conventions" carried very distinct natures and responsibilities. The conventions represented those "statewide and national bodies" while the associations represented smaller entities, often carrying out similar agendas, but narrower in scope.

Though separate entities, all of these religious organizations were joined in the fight against slavery. There were also white and integrated conventions in support of the anti-slavery, abolitionist movement. Both early Baptist conventions sought wide but distinct regional influence. They were also both committed to standard Baptist concerns: antislavery, African missions, domestic evangelization, and the care of widows of deceased ministers-- to name a few.

In 1867 the two black conventions merged to form a national organization known as the Consolidated American Baptist Missionary Convention (CABMC). "The merger of the [first] two black conventions was justified by the participants on three grounds: First, the former abolitionist white Baptists in the Home Mission Society and the Southern Baptist Convention had given little past evidence that they were able to accept the idea of the ‘social equality’ of fellow Christians who were black. Second, Southern black Baptists could more easily and ‘naturally’ accept indigenous rather than white leadership. Finally, Northern black Baptists felt a natural right and inclination to have primary responsibility for the evangelization and perhaps also the education of black Southerners."

Unfortunately, the convention ended abruptly after 13 short years over internal disputes concerning "sectional tension and rivalries." More than anything else, sectional loyalty became the wedge that "defined friend and foe in a power struggle between black Baptists schooled in the radical politics of Northern abolitionism and those who had survived the rule of the Southern slave regime by accommodating to it." The black Northerners viewed themselves as being part of an  elite, given their education and other opportunities not provided to the Southerners. The black Southerners on the other hand believed that the Northern "Yankees" (as they were oftentimes called) had little or no identity with the struggles against slavery, though many of the Northerners were a part of the exodus from the South. 

While Emancipation brought black Baptists from the North and South together, their political and religious indifferences were never mended. Soon the political differences and lack of trust reached the national leadership level. The Northerners were accused by the Southerners of "trying to change [the] religious practices hallowed by generations of black Southern tradition. [Futhermore,] the CABMC’s constant requests for money was not matched by a comparable and visible harvest that had any immediate effect upon black Baptist life in the South. This cleavage between North and South exacerbated other areas of dispute, such as differences over national politics, and contributed largely to the disappearance of the CABMC."

"It took sixteen years for the black Baptists to form a national denomination to replace the CABMC." In the meantime, two national conventions were formed to attempt to handle problems that remained at the conclusion of the CABMC. In 1880, the Baptist Foreign Mission Convention of the United States (BFMC) was formed to manage global evangelization and mission efforts particularly in West Africa. Emmanuel Love, president of the BFMC in 1889 explains: "'We have met to think, talk, pray, and give in order that the gospel may be given to Africa, the land of our fathers. There is no doubt in my mind that Africa is our field of operation, and that Moses was sent to deliver his brethren, and as the prophets were members of the race to whom they were sent, so I am convinced that God’s purpose is to redeem Africa through us. The evils of slavery were turned to gracious account, conferring upon us the blessings of civilization, and in return placing the [Negro] Christians of this great country under lasting obligation to the work of African evangelization. This work is ours by appointment, by inheritance, and by choice.’" However, the BFMC ran into very similar financial waters as the CABMC. It absorbed far too many resources in the area of African missions.

In 1886, the American National Baptist Convention (ANBC) convened to deal with the issue of developing a national Baptist denomination to essentially replace that of the CAMBC. It was "the most ambitious attempt to found a black Baptist national denomination since the demise of the CABMC." The convention’s second article specified: "The object[ive] of this Convention [is] . . . to consider the moral, intellectual and religious growth of the denomination, and to deliberate upon those great questions which characterize the [black] Baptist churches. And further, to devise and consider the best methods possible for bringing us more closely together as a church and as a race."

The ANBC (with some assistance from the BFMC) utilized most of its resources in forging a black Baptist denomination that would speak to the concerns of the black race and the black denomination. Unity was soon becoming the ecumenical order of the day. Perhaps the most significant achievement in this call for unity was the rise of a younger, more educated, and more energy-filled leadership board. Motivated by its youthful leader, William James Simmons (age 37), Baptist unity was heralded as a galvanizing and realistic achievement. They believed "black Baptist unification would lead to greater cooperation among Baptist missionary endeavors."

 Solomon Clanton, one of ANBC’s young and vibrant leaders "declared it was the will of God that black Baptist unity should ring from the Atlantic to the Pacific. . . . In this way, prejudice, which is the child of ignorance, will be removed, the color-line, which is an invention of Satan, will be wiped out and race recognition on the ground of merit alone, without social amalgamation, will be secured on terms worthy of immortal men." Though the words of one, they represented the voice of many who worked to "rally black Baptists," the largest denomination among blacks in the USA.

The ANBC's attempts at national unification were met with much strife and controversy. Soon after the ANBC became victorious in their battles over recognition in national publications, the organization was stunned over the death of its leader, William Simmons, at the youthful age of 42. Simmons’ death set off a parade of internal power struggles and identity crises that lasted four years. Some began questioning the exact purpose of the organization. Leadership, of course, became a lasting issue. The organization was also beginning to become overshadowed by the missionary work of the BFMC, since "visions of redeeming the African homeland had traditionally provided the rationale for forming black Baptist organizations above the congregational level."

As the smoke began to settle, and the ANBC became excited about its new leader, Elias Camp Morris, the work of ecumenism, along with black Baptist support and national recognition, re-energized the vision and mission of the organization that is, the desire and need for "unity along with concrete actions to combat racism." Despite several blockage attempts by white supremacists and other hate groups, the black Baptist movement furthered on to the cause of unity. The workings of the envisioned black Baptist denomination was summed as follows: "The Bible demands that there be . . . oneness among the Baptists. We are commanded to speak the same thing, and be perfectly joined together in the same mind, and in the same judgment, and that there be no division among us. [Furthermore], [w]e should have one general plan for work in regard to home and foreign missions; . . . one general plan for raising the revenue to carry on the work of our denomination, and all should be willing and ready to come under the one rule for the good of our zion."

At the 1895 Atlanta meeting, more than five hundred delegates came together and agreed on "the most successful consolidation of Afro-American Baptist forces (consisting of the BFMC, ANBC, & the National Baptist Educational Convention) since the collapse of the CABMC in 1879." Led by the first president, Elias Camp Morris, the National Baptist Convention (NBCUSA) was formed (later incorporated as the National Baptist Convention, U.S.A., Inc. after an internal split as discussed below). It wasn’t long however, that this long anticipated vision soon developed into schisms. Soon after it’s pronouncement, a small minority of cooperationists (those who wanted to join efforts with white Baptist organizations), who disagreed with the convention’s headstrong segregationist and black nationalist ideologies, but supposed those ideologies to be a force too strong to reckon with, focused its protest efforts on the convention’s area of greatest weakness: the foreign mission program. 

The foreign mission program became the "weakest . . . because it inherited a moribund foreign mission program that had been practically devastated by the sudden death of its corresponding secretary and by the grave financial hardships resulting from the Depression of 1893." Consequently, only three months following the NBCUSA’s second annual convention, the cooperationists formed the "Lott Carey Foreign Missionary Society (LCFMC)," which was later called a convention. The LCFMC derived its name from Lott Carey, a black Baptist missionary whose work in establishing churches and foreign ministries in Africa made him an icon and inspiration in the missionary ministry for black Baptists. Carey died in 1828 in Liberia.

From its first major schism in 1896 to 1916, the NBCUSA remained a sound, unifying denominational force for African-Americans, and more specifically black Baptists. However, in 1915 another political and constitutional development arose within the mainstreams of the organization. The issues centered around the ABCUSA’s National Baptist Publishing Board organized in 1896 for purposes of controlling and issuing its own ministry materials, statements, and news media. No longer was the organization going to allow the criticisms and stereotypical statements and accusations made of them by national newspapers, and more specifically those publishing centers (such as the American Baptist Publication Society) owned by their white Baptist counterparts. 

It was the vision and leadership of the one Richard Boyd, secretary of the publishing board, who had the entity chartered in his own name that "gave rise to conflict over how boards should be managed by the convention." Before the publishing board became a financial and monetary success, there were relatively few questions concerning the appropriateness of its operations. Boyd contented the "leadership of the parent body seemed more interested in other matters of Baptist work at home and abroad." Boyd’s publishing success opened financial doors for other publishing ventures. But  Boyd soon "enjoyed the success of the board and found it difficult to surrender control over its activities." Boyd disregarded authority at times, and continued making his own initiatives. 

An entire decade prior to the actual split of the convention was characterized by intervals of disturbances concerning the popular policy of conventional control of all boards. Throughout the decade there were obvious "discussions, arguments, and investigations made as to the rightful ownership and control of the National Baptist Publishing Board. The failure of the Publishing Board to obey the [directives] of the convention led ultimately to the question: Does the Publishing Board belong to the convention?"

Boyd’s controls and his lack of reporting to the convention’s board eventually led to a legal battle. The convention ministers were forced into one of two camps: "pro-Boyd or pro-Morris." A judge who favored Boyd since the publishing board was incorporated in his name soon heard the legal issues. It was "Judge Smith of Chicago, IL [who] … pronounced the Boyd group a ‘rump’ convention and dissolved an injunction which they had taken out against President . . . Morris and other officers of the [NBCUSA]." Boyd "argued that the [NBCUSA’s] constitution did not mention the development of a publishing concern. Hence, his work related to publishing was a matter of private activity that had never received much support from the convention. From [Boyd’s] perspective, the convention’s demands related to the publishing house were an indefensible power play." 

The friction led to a schism – a new convention formed in 1916 called the National Baptist Convention, Unincorporated, and was later known as the National Baptist Convention of America (NBCA). "The schism fostered a sense of mistrust among Baptists resulting in continued friction. Furthermore, the dislike between these two conventions made it extremely difficult to act on the mission zeal voiced prior to 1915." In 1916, "the new convention published a document entitled" 'The Right and Lawful Ownership of the National Baptist Publishing House' . . ." establishing that the legal ownership of the Board was owned by no convention group since that Board was a legal separate entity "created by the state of Tennessee on the 15th day of August, 1898, under the acts of legislature of 1875, chapter 142."

The strife and indifferences between the two conventions continued over the contentious attempts of both boards to claim the same original founding dates of the National Baptist Convention. "As late as 1933, Rev. L. G. Jordan, historian and general missionary of the [NBCUSA], made a critical report on the new convention. He referred to the new convention as the ‘Boyd National Convention’ and rejected its claim to an organizational date earlier than 1915." The schism within the black Baptist organization became known as the greatest cleavage within the structure of the organization.

Since the two schisms, attempts have been made for merger and reconciliation. The closest the LCFMC and the NBCUSA have come to reuniting has been in the form of joint mission coalitions. "In as much as [the NBCUSA] did not have a foreign mission board initially, it negotiated for several years with the [LCFMC] to channel a combined foreign mission program." In 1924 the two conventions formed a " formal pact" that bridged their foreign mission efforts. The NBCUSA and the NBCA have also made strides for reuniting, but with much less success than that of the NBCUSA and the LCFMC. 

In his 1957 address at the Annual Convention of the NBCUSA then President Joseph Jackson remarked: "I would suggest that steps be taken for the union of the two National Baptist Conventions among [black Baptists]. Since we were separated over a publishing house forty-two years ago, it seems in this length of time we ought to have enough grace to overcome the problems of real estate, . . . and form one big family of Negro Baptists throughout the nation." 

In 1972, another effort was made to arrange a joint session of the NBCUSA and the NBCA while both were meeting in Texas, but that initiative failed. Twelve years later, Jackson's successor, T.J. Jemison, preparing to take up the challenge anew, declared: "Those who divided us have all long gone . . . -and we who are still here, we are still out in left field, still bickering . . .. [I've] said to the [NBCA], . . . if we can't merge, it's time to meet somewhere and let God know we're going in the same direction. And so we are going to meet in 1988 in the same city, talk about the same God, live the same truth, and let the world know we are not playing with God. Such a meeting will be a hopeful sign. And perhaps it is as much as can be expected at this time. [Regardless of the issues that separate us,] the forces for maintaining existing structures are powerful. Partially out of deference to this reality, many church leaders have turned in recent years to cooperative endeavors [like the one between the NBCUSA and the NBCA] rather than merger as an alternative mode of reunification. Whichever, the vision of [unity among the two organizations] . . . endures."

The third major schism to occur within the ranks of the NBCUSA began in 1952 when a group of ministerial leaders within the Convention found concern regarding the NBCUSA’s unlimited tenure policy for elected officers. A research tenure committee was formed and reported its developments at the 1956 annual session. In summary, the committee’s work suggested the need for tenure within the ranks of all officers, particularly that of the president. It also recommended that  no officer "could retain his position for longer than four years."

However, President Jackson, in his attempts at overturning the committee’s decision, calling tenure unconstitutional, found himself in heavily debated legal proceedings.

Prior to this, several meetings were arranged by the disgruntled ministers to discuss their positions. In one such meeting, the objective was not to stage a walkout of any type, put to find ways of improving relations amongst the leading officials. However, the hard-felt expressions of the meeting found its way in published material, creating greater tension among Convention leaders. Rather than the meeting strengthening relationships, greater opposition developed. At the next annual meeting, "a chair throwing session brought great disgrace to [the] Baptist Family," not to mention heightened intensity among the discontentment.

Later, a federal court ruled in favor of President Jackson. Afterwards, many of Jackson’s constituents viewed him as exercising too much power and control over the Convention. A large majority of ministers sought change and a new direction of leadership. Gardner C. Taylor, pastor of the Concord Baptist Church in New York, was one of those who led the fight towards change. Several of Taylor’s supporters including such courageous black Baptists heroes as Martin Luther King Jr., Ralph Abernathy, and Benjamin Mays forwarded Taylor’s name "as a candidate for presidency during the 1960 meeting." 

But Jackson was quickly re-elected as president, without Taylor’s name ever appearing on the ballot. "When the Jackson camp made it clear that the election would not be reevaluated, those opposed to this move staged a sit-in until after the end of the convention and then held another election with Taylor as the victor." However, the second election was not acknowledged by the convention. This reelection attempt, along with the legal debates to oust President Jackson, led to the dismissal of 10 leading ministerial protesters, including Taylor.

Before introducing the resulting new convention, it’s important to also discuss what many believe to be the nucleus behind the call for new leadership within the Convention. Many leaders within the organization believed that President Jackson was too conservative in his views concerning the Civil Rights Movement. They wanted someone with a strong voice of reasoning against the social injustices of the day, and not a gradualist. Jackson, in his much-alleged tensions with the political views of some of the leadership--particularly that of Martin Luther King Jr., responded to the allegations by suggesting that he "did not oppose change. Rather, he viewed Martin Luther King Jr.’s approach to change troubling because, from Jackson’s perspective, King did not take seriously the importance of the U.S. Constitution and its democratic vision for social transformation." 

Jackson also argued the Convention’s stance against social injustice and their support to those organizations such as the NAACP whose mission carries with it a full agenda towards equality and the fight against the systemic evils of racism and social & economic poverty. In what was seen as a frustrated environment for social change, the exiled leaders regrouped on November 14-15, 1961 in Cincinnati, OH at the Zion Baptist Church to form the Progressive National Baptist Convention (PNBC). The PNBC "completely lost [its] freedom to worship, participate and grow in the kingdom work as it is expressed in the [NBCUSA]. [No longer could they] trust the integrity of its peace-loving Christians to unite in a fellowship that they [could] trust." The break with the NBCUSA was complete, and the PNBC "progressively" moved forward in the struggle for civil rights and the freedom of all peoples. Unlike the NBCUSA, "[e]very member, every church and convention that registered, in the Cincinnati Meeting were committed to ‘tenure.’"

As is inherent in its name, the PNBC was committed to a progressive fight for human rights and provided a ". . . full voice, sterling leadership and active support to the American and world fight for human freedom." Today, the PNBC "is the [leader] among all Baptists in its identification with and support of civil rights."

Since the split, there has been little conversations regarding a possible merger. Today, the NBCUSA & the PNBC represent the two largest black Baptist denominations in the United States with the NBCUSA posting a membership size of about 8.5 million members, and the PNBC having a membership size of about 2.5 million members.

Recently, there has been another major schism taking place within the "Baptist Family." Despite little available information, I will attempt to summarize the scope of the ecumenical issues. In 1994, the Full Gospel Baptist Church Fellowship (FGBCF) "held its first convention at the Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana.  More than 30,000 Baptists attended. At the time of its formation, there was concern among the leadership of the . . . [NBCUSA] as to the group's purpose." Organized by its founder in 1993, the Bishop Paul S. Morton, pastor of the Greater St. Stevens Full Gospel Baptist Church, FGBCF "wanted to give the Baptist a choice." The choice that Bishop Morton was referring to were either to remain under the mainstreams of the traditional Baptist denomination, or consider a movement geared towards younger pastors and ministers.

The FGBCF’s "focus is on two contrasting additions to traditional African American Baptist Church history. First, ‘a more Pentecostal approach to worship including speaking in tongues and the laying on of hands.’ Second, ‘a structural hierarchy that many Baptists do not support.’ The introduction of bishops, elders and other denominational titles into the African American Baptist Church threatened Baptist polity that adheres to the autonomous nature of the church. Morton, however, sees his group as giving a space for African American Baptists to express themselves without feeling constrained by tradition."

Though maybe not a true schism in the sense of the word, the establishment of the "so-called" FGBCF denomination, which was birthed from the NBCUSA (given that Bishop Morton’s church was once a member until 1995), is worth mentioning.

The resulting issues of ecumenism that lie behind this movement are not as much doctrinal related, as much "whether or not newly established Full Gospel member churches would be allowed to retain their membership in the nation’s largest African American protestant denomination." To do so would cause a financial burden to many churches that would be forced to divide their internal resources among two large denominational bodies. This matter of financial support opened the door to "potential division." At the first annual conference in New Orleans, Full Gospel member churches were advised to withdraw their memberships from the NBCUSA before the arm of the National Baptists forced them.

Despite these converging differences, both organizations continued with the individual churches deciding which organization they were going to commit to. During these perilous times, Bishop Morton and then President of the NBCUSA Henry Lyons remained distant colleagues. It’s estimated that the FGBCF maintains a membership of more one million congregants.

The black Baptist movement, as discussed, has been comprised of periods of both unity and struggle. It was through their trials and tribulations that the black Baptists persisted and progressed from an age of hatred, racism, and segregation, to an age of political, religious, and social power. It has been these defying moments that have made the movement what is today, a movement determined to "press towards the mark - that they may see God."

In its internal squawks, the schisms were the result of sociopolitical differences more so than doctrine. But it was these differences that bound the organizations inseparable in the one common goal: the liberation and social humanization of African Americans.

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Paul E. White, a Christian and committed Believer, is a member of the Simmons Memorial Baptist Church in Baltimore. He’s active in the Trustee, Men’s Sunday School, and Evangelism Ministries. Recently Paul was called to further his teaching and evangelism ministries to the area of preaching. Currently he’s pursing a master’s degree in the field of theology at St. Mary’s Ecumenical Institute in Baltimore. Paul is a graduate from the University of Baltimore, and is currently in his 6th year of his Baltimore based accounting practice (

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1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created

By Charles C. Mann

I’m a big fan of Charles Mann’s previous book 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, in which he provides a sweeping and provocative examination of North and South America prior to the arrival of Christopher Columbus. It’s exhaustively researched but so wonderfully written that it’s anything but exhausting to read. With his follow-up, 1493, Mann has taken it to a new, truly global level. Building on the groundbreaking work of Alfred Crosby (author of The Columbian Exchange and, I’m proud to say, a fellow Nantucketer), Mann has written nothing less than the story of our world: how a planet of what were once several autonomous continents is quickly becoming a single, “globalized” entity.

Mann not only talked to countless scientists and researchers; he visited the places he writes about, and as a consequence, the book has a marvelously wide-ranging yet personal feel as we follow Mann from one far-flung corner of the world to the next. And always, the prose is masterful. In telling the improbable story of how Spanish and Chinese cultures collided in the Philippines in the sixteenth century, he takes us to the island of Mindoro whose “southern coast consists of a number of small bays, one next to another like tooth marks in an apple.” We learn how the spread of malaria, the potato, tobacco, guano, rubber plants, and sugar cane have disrupted and convulsed the planet and will continue to do so until we are finally living on one integrated or at least close-to-integrated Earth. Whether or not the human instigators of all this remarkable change will survive the process they helped to initiate more than five hundred years ago remains, Mann suggests in this monumental and revelatory book, an open question.

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The finest chapter in The Persistence of the Color Line is so resonant, and so personal, it could nearly be the basis for a book of its own. That chapter is titled “Reverend Wright and My Father: Reflections on Blacks and Patriotism.”  Recalling some of the criticisms of America’s past made by Mr. Obama’s former pastor, Mr. Kennedy writes with feeling about his own father, who put each of his three of his children through Princeton but who “never forgave American society for its racist mistreatment of him and those whom he most loved.”  His father distrusted the police, who had frequently called him “boy,” and rejected patriotism. Mr. Kennedy’s father “relished Muhammad Ali’s quip that the Vietcong had never called him ‘nigger.’ ” The author places his father, and Mr. Wright, in sympathetic historical light.

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