African-American Baptists

African-American Baptists
   From the days of slavery, the majority of African-American Christians have been Baptists. While many have always affiliated with the wider Baptist community, a rich community of independent African-American Baptist churches, organizations, and institutions emerged; they continue to play a unique and important role in Protestant life in the United States.
   The Baptist movement initially spread among African Americans during the First Great Awakening of the 18th century. The first African-American Baptist church was founded around 1774 at Silver Bluff, South Carolina, its members drawn from residents of John Galphin's plantation. A similar church was formed at Williamsburg, Virginia, and a third in Charleston, South Carolina, the latter's membership including both slaves and free blacks. One of the founders of the Silver Bluff and Charleston congregations, David George (1742-1810), would later found churches in Nova Scotia and Sierra Leone. His colleague George Lisle (c. 1750-1820) founded the Baptist movement in Jamaica.
   Similar congregations in the northern states did not form until the beginning of the 19th century, prominent among them the Jay Street Church in Boston and the Abyssinian Church in New York, both founded by the Rev. Thomas Paul (1773-1831). In subsequent years, members of these congregations would find the colonization movement a ready vehicle for the initiation of missionary activity, and in 1824, Lott Carey (c. 1780-1828) and Collins Teague became the first African-American foreign missionaries.
   Most of the few African-American Baptist churches of that era joined white-led pan-congregational associations. After the American Civil War (1860-65) one of these groups, the American Baptists (now the American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A.) initiated a variety of efforts to assist the recently freed slaves, especially in areas of education and Christian literature. But some black leaders felt the need to control efforts to evangelize and educate their own people, and in 1880 they created the first of a series of African-American church organizations, the Foreign Mission Baptist Convention of the U.S.A. Other organizations focusing on publishing and education evolved into the National Baptist Convention in the U.S.A. in 1895.
   The latter remained the dominant organization among African-American Baptists throughout the 20th century, although internal tensions led to the formation of several important rival bodies - the National Baptist Convention of America (1915), the Progressive National Baptist Convention (1961), and the National Missionary Baptist Convention of America (1988). Many African Americans remained affiliated with the American Baptist Churches, fully a third of whose members are African American.
   The Progressive Baptists originated out of differences over the convention's role in the Civil Rights movement led by Martin Luther KING,Jr. Black Methodists and Baptists formed the core of King's support and of the leadership of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Prominent Baptists supporting King included Ralph D. Aber-nathy (1926-90), Jesse Jackson (b. 1941), and Fred Lee Shuttlesworth (b. 1922).
   Today the majority of African Americans identify themselves as Baptist; through the several conventions they support major Baptist institutions such as Shaw University (North Carolina), Morehouse School of Religion (in cooperation with the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, Georgia), and the Central Baptist Theological Seminary (Indiana).
   Further reading:
   ■ Leroy Fritts, A History of Black Baptists (Nashville, Tenn.: Broadman Press, 1985)
   ■ J. H. Jackson, A Story of Christian Activism: The History of the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc. (Nashville, Tenn.: Townsend, 1980)
   ■ Sandy D. Martin, Black Baptists and African Missions: The Origins of a Movement 1880-1915 (Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 1989)
   ■ Owen Pelt and Ralph Lee Smith, The Story of the National Baptists (New York: Vantage, 1960).

Encyclopedia of Protestantism. . 2005.

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