History of the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc.
By: Dr. Wilson Fallin, Jr., Convention Historian
In 1880, about 150 Baptist pastors met in Montgomery, Alabama, and formed the Baptist Mission Convention. On September 24, 1895 this Convention merged with two other conventions and formed the National Baptist Convention of the United States of America. The 1880 meeting and formation of the Foreign Mission Convention was accepted as the origin of The National Baptist Convention, USA, Incorporated. The path to the formation of the Convention was characterized by many previous cooperative efforts and throughout its history there have been many ups and downs, peaks and valleys, triumphs and failures, splits and attempts at unification.
The root of cooperative efforts began in the antebellum period. In the South there were some independent black Baptist churches which belonged to white associations. Attempts to form all black churches into associations or conventions were not allowed. The first attempts at cooperative efforts began in the North. Ohio and Illinois led the way. In 1834 black Baptists in Ohio formed the Providence Baptist Association. Following the lead of the Baptists of Ohio, in 1838 Illinois black Baptists formed the Wood River Baptist Association.
As early as 1840, black Baptists sought to develop a cooperative movement beyond state lines. Baptists in New York and the Middle Atlantic states formed the American Baptist Missionary Convention. The spirit of cooperation movements beyond state lines soon spread westward. In 1864 the black Baptists of the West and South Organized the Northwestern Baptist Convention and the Southern Baptist Convention.' In 1866 these two conventions met with the American Baptist Convention and formed the Consolidated American Baptist Convention. One of the great successes of the Consolidated American Baptist Convention was the support given to black Baptists in the South to form State Conventions. After emancipation black Baptists in the South, some with the support of the Consolidated Convention, formed their own State Conventions. Among these were Alabama, North Carolina, Virginia, Arkansas, and Kentucky. Despite the pioneer work of the consolidated convention, regionalism continued among black Baptists. In 1873 the black Baptists, of the West formed the General Association of the Western States and Territories, and in 1874 the East organized the New England Baptist Missionary Convention. This continued regionalism and other factors caused the decline and eventual demise of the Consolidated American Baptist Missionary Convention.
The formation of the Foreign Mission Convention was to some degree a result of the demise of the Consolidated Convention. Its death created a vacuum in mission work, especially for African missions. In response to this void, Rev. William W. Colley, a missionary to Africa under the Foreign Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention issued a call for black Baptists to meet in Montgomery, Alabama for the purpose of organizing a national convention to do extensive foreign missionary work. At the initial meeting, Rev. W. H. Alpine of Alabama was elected president, and he is considered to be the first president of the National Baptist Convention. Subsequently, two other national conventions were formed. In 1886, Rev. William Simmons of Kentucky led in the formation of the American National Baptist Convention, and In 1893 Rev. W. Bishop Johnson of Washington, D.C. was the leading person in the formation of the National Baptist Convention. With the desire to have one convention remained alive, This movement reached its fruition in 1895 at the Friendship Baptist Church in Atlanta, when these three conventions came together to form the National Baptist Convention of the United States of America. The heart of the organization of the Convention was that the three former conventions served as the three boards of the convention: Foreign Missions, Home Missions, and Education.
Rev. E. C. Morris was elected president of the National Baptist Convention when it was formed in 1895 and served for 27 years. His tenure was important for laying the foundation of the Convention. In addition to growth and organization, one of the greatest achievements during his presidency was the formation of National Baptist Publishing House in Nashville, Tennessee. One of the motivating factors for the formation of the National Baptist Convention was the desire of blacks to publish literature written by their own ministers. The American Baptist Publication Society had refused to publish writings of black ministers in their publications in 1890 because of resistance from their Southern clients. This event, more than any other, motivated blacks to desire their own Convention and publication agency. One year after the formation of the Convention, 1896, the National Baptist Publication Board came into existence. Under the leadership of Richard Boyd the National Baptist Publishing House was established in Nashville, Tennessee. It was given the right to supply National Baptist churches with all of their church and Sunday School supplies. In a short time the publishing house became the largest black publishing enterprise in the world. The twenty-seven years of Morris' leadership represented the formative period for the Convention.
The outstanding presidency of Morris was marred by two splits. In 1897, a group of National Baptist pastors left the convention and formed the Lott Carey Foreign Mission Convention. The separation was centered on two issues: the location of the foreign mission board and greater cooperation with white Baptists. The second split came in 1915 and over ownership and operation of the Publishing Board. Of all of the agencies of the convention, the Publishing Board was the most successful, under the leadership of R. H. Boyd. Leaders and pastors of the convention became suspicious of the actions of the Publishing Board when they did not receive the reports they thought the convention ought to receive. A debate ensued concerning the ownership of the Publishing Board. Those who supported Boyd and his view that the Board was independent of the convention formed the National Baptist Convention of America. It became known as the unincorporated convention. Because of the question of incorporation, leaders who remained in the original convention led a movement to incorporate the convention. The constitution was amended in 1916 and the convention was later incorporated, naming itself the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc.
Upon the death of E.C. Morris, L. K. Williams became President of the Convention in 1924. Several notable accomplishments were made during his sixteen years. One of his major concerns was a publishing board. Williams appointed L. G. Jordan as General Secretary of the Board and laid plans for a new building. The building was opened for inspection in 1925. On the recommendation of President Williams, it was named the Morris Building in honor of the noble service and legacy of E. C. Morris. During the Williams tenure a Laymen's Department was also established.
David V. Jemison succeeded Williams as President of the Convention. The two major accomplishments during the thirteen years of Jemison's presidency, 1940 to 1953, were paying off the mortgage on the Morris Memorial Building and the purchase of the Bath House in Hot Springs, Arkansas.
In 1953, Joseph H. Jackson of Chicago became President of the Convention. Jackson served longer than any president, 1953 to 1982. Among President Jackson's many contributions was the adding of many new commissions and the restructuring of the convention. He also purchased the National Baptist Freedom Farm and set up an unrestricted scholarship at Roosevelt University.
It was during the Jackson tenure that a third split occurred in the convention. The two key issues were tenure and the lack of support of the civil rights movement. Dr. Gardner C. Taylor of New York challenged Jackson for the presidency, but lost. After the election, a group led by Dr. L. Venchael Booth, formed a new convention at the Zion Baptist Church, Cincinnati, Ohio in 1961, calling itself the Progressive National Baptist Convention.
In 1983, T. J. Jemison became President of the Convention and served in that position for twelve years. His crowning achievement was the building of the Baptist World Center, which provided a Headquarters for the Convention.
Henry Lyons of Florida was elected President in 1994. The Lyons tenure was characterized by much activity. He established a Unified Program, reduced the debt on the Baptist World Center, and dissolved the debt on the Sunday School Publishing Board. In addition, many commissions were added to the convention. Legal problems, however, forced Lyons to resign from the presidency. Dr. S. C. Cureton, Vice President-At-Large, took over the leadership of the Convention and served the remainder of the Henry Lyons tenure.
In 1999, William J. Shaw, Pastor of the White Rock Baptist Church of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania became the Convention's president and continues to serve in that capacity. His presidency has been centered on the motto and theme, VISA, Vision, Integrity, Structure and Accountability. Even though the Shaw administration has just recently started, he is striving hard to reestablish integrity and credibility in the Convention, and to make the Convention a leader for black people in the nation.
National Baptist Convention, USA Inc.
Rev. Dr. William J. Shaw 1999 -
Rev. S. C. Cureton Mar. 1999 - Sept. 1999
Rev. H. J. Lyons 1994 - Mar. 1999
Rev. T. J. Jemison 1982-1994
Rev. J. H. Jackson 1953- 1982
Rev. D. V. Jemison 1940- 1953
Rev. L. K. Williams 1922-1940
Rev. W. G. Parks Sept. 5, 1922 - Dec. 8, 1922
Rev. E. C. Morris 1893- 1922
Rev. M. Vann 1891 - 1893
Rev. E. W. Brawley 1890- 1891
Rev. W. J. Simmons 1885- 1890
Rev. W. A. Brinkley 1884- 1885
Rev. J. A. Foster 1883 - 1884
Rev. J. Q. A. Wilhite 1882- 1883
Rev. W. H. McAlpine 1880- 1882