committed to historic Baptist & Reformed beliefs

 

 

SOUTHERN BAPTISTS AND THE NEGRO

M. M. WELCH,

 

Office Secretary Home Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention.

The Negro's early moral and civil training
No tabulated statement can be prepared which would give an adequate idea of the benefits conferred upon the Negro by the white Baptists of the South. Indeed, it may be safely said that the greatest benefits which have come to the Negro as a result of his providential advent into America have emanated from that constant concern for his welfare by the white people of the South, which developed in acts of personal and individual kindness of which no records have ever been kept. In the earlier days his moral and civil training was largely in the hands of the wives and daughters of those in whose homes he was a servant. His religious instruction was much the same as that which was ministered to the white people. He was received into the churches and it was usual before the Civil War for Baptist churches in the South to be composed of white and Negro members jointly. In many instances the Negro membership was larger than the white. The old historic church at Beaufort, S. C., where W. B. Johnson and Richard Fuller, two distinguished former presidents of the Southern Baptist Convention, were baptized, was an instance. Before the war the largest white membership of that church was 180, while the colored membership was 3,557. In other instances distinguished preachers pastored Negro churches. A notable example of this character was the First African Baptist Church at Richmond, Virginia, of which the distinguished Dr. Robert Ryland, for many years president of Richmond College, was pastor during a term of twenty-five years. During that time Dr. Ryland baptized into the fellowship of this church many hundreds of Negro members. It is likewise true that there is scarcely a Negro church within the bounds of the Southern Baptist Convention to the building of which white Baptists have not contributed generously. It is a usual custom among the Negroes for their membership to make personal solicitations, with mite cards for small contributions until there are very few of their white friends who have not had an opportunity of making a contribution to every worthy enterprise undertaken by the Negro. (Solicitations of this character are made not only in behalf of the churches, orphans' homes and other benevolent institutions among the Negroes, but also for aid in caring for the sick and burying their dead.) To these appeals it has been the pleasure of the white people of the South to respond generously, and of this character of help no record has been kept.

Policy of the Southern Baptist Convention
In the organized efforts to aid the Negro along religious lines it has not been the policy of Southern Baptists to expend their energies in school work, mainly on account of three reasons:

First, The civil authorities of the Southern States have cared, by taxation, for the primary education of the Negro. In the report of the United States Commissioner of Education for 1908, Vol. 2, page 941, it is stated that since 1870 $165,000,000 have been expended in the Southern States for the maintenance of common schools for the Negroes. Mr. Richard Edmonds, Editor Manufacturers' Board of Baltimore, who is a recognized authority, has stated in a recent publication that: "In the sixteen former slave states and the District of Columbia since 1871, at least $175,000,000 have been spent upon common schools for Negroes."

The South and religious training
Second?The higher education of the Negro has been generously cared for by the philanthropy of our Northern white brethren, whose field in the work of education among the Negroes has been gratefully recognized by the Southern Baptist Convention. Also the Negroes themselves are doing a splendid work by the maintenance of excellent institutions of learning in some of the Southern States.

The Negro and higher education of the Negro
Third?It has been deemed wise by Southern Baptists, both white and colored, that the efforts of our people in behalf of the Negro should be directed along lines of religious training; more particularly of pastors, deacons and Christian workers than otherwise, believing that greater good would be accomplished by efforts of this character than by expending our resources in any other direction.

In any estimate of work done by Southern white Baptists for the Negro consideration should not be limited to the organic efforts of the Southern Baptist Convention. Each of the different states within the territory of the Southern Baptist Convention has a mission board through which more or less aid is extended to the Negroes in the respective states. A reference to this character of work is had in a letter recently written by Rev. William Alexander, D. D., pastor of Sharon Baptist Church, Baltimore, Md. He says: "To the Southern Baptist Convention indirectly and directly is largely due credit for the organization and growth of our colored Baptist churches in Maryland. For more than a quarter of a century the Maryland Baptist Union Association, which is a part of the Southern Baptist Convention, contributed liberally to establish churches in Baltimore City and in all parts of the state and to assist churches in supporting their pastors...when the Association began its work of evangelization among the colored people, 200 colored Baptists could not be found in Maryland. When the Association turned the work over to our colored State Convention, about ten years ago, we had more than 50 churches and about 6,000 members. The church I am now serving was constituted by me and eight other persons while I was serving as General Missionary of the Maryland Baptist Union. It was constituted February 5, 1885. The present membership is 1,100 and the Sunday-school is one of the largest colored schools in Baltimore."

The trend and interest toward the Negro continuous
It should be added that the Maryland Union Association is still giving moral and financial aid to the Negroes in their religious work, and similar facts may be disclosed in connection with the work of their states.

A review of the attitude of the work of the Southern Baptist Convention for the Negro, as shown in the records of the Home Mission Board and of the Convention itself, would furnish interesting facts for consideration. It is not practicable in a presentation of this character to make extensive quotations from such records. A few, however, may be given as indicating the general trend and interest which Southern White Baptists have maintained toward the Negro During all these years.

A retrospective thought is embodied in the following language, which is quoted from the last annual report of the Home Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention: "It would be interesting to restate something of the history of the Negro in America and the universal concern for his religious welfare cherished by Southern Christian people through all the trying vicissitudes of three hundred years. Especially would it be of interest to review the emphasis Southern Baptists have placed upon giving the gospel to the Negro, and the unfailing loyalty with which they have incorporated this character of work into all their missionary plans and efforts from the organization of the Southern Baptist Convention in 1845 to the present time. Within the scope of this report we cannot, however, undertake any comprehensive review of facts in connection with the work as they have developed from year to year. Suffice it to say that during all these years there has never been a time when Southern Baptists raised a question about their Christian obligation to the Negro or abated their interest in his behalf in any measure below that of their opportunity and ability. The work of seeking to help the Negro has been earnestly pressed forward under varying conditions and by different plans, the methods adopted being always determined by the view of securing the best possible results."

Determined to give the Negroes the gospel
As soon as the Convention was organized at Augusta, in 1845, and Southern Baptists were free to prosecute their work according to their convictions, they put ringing emphasis upon giving the gospel to the colored population. While the old Triennial Convention had done something in this direction, the new Southern Baptist Convention sought to do more. From that time until the present the work has been prosecuted under instructions from the Convention as regularly as any other department of our general mission work.

The whites recognize their moral obligation to the Negro
The first annual report of the Home Mission Board, submitted to the Convention at Richmond in 1846, contained the following: "Add to this matter the wants of our colored population. Although vast numbers of them enjoy religious advantages far superior to multitudes of our poor white citizens, yet greater numbers are in condition to require the special attention of this body. It is gratifying to see the increased interest on this subject in our churches."

In connection with this report, which was approved by the Convention in session, the Convention declared that "masters are as much the moral guardians of their servants as of their children."

At the second annual meeting of the Board the following resolution was adopted:

"Resolved, That in consideration of the Providential manner in which the colored population of our country have been gathered from a region of idolatrous darkness into one blessed by Christian privileges, and in view of the facility with which they can be reached and the gladness with which they receive the gospel, and intimate relations which exist between us and them, we regard them as presenting a field of missionary effort second in importance to none other, and one which should be occupied as speedily as possible."

Slaves responded to the missionary efforts of the master
The fact that as early as 1849 there had been received into the fellowship of Baptist churches in the South 330,000 Negro communicants is a testimony of the Christian fidelity of those by whom they were instructed, and to the religious zeal and comprehension of a race of people so lately from a land of idolatry, which should challenge the gratitude of both races.

In its report for 1851 the Board says: "This department of our labor is increasing in interest every year. Missionaries of the Board hold separate services for the special benefit of the slaves; and all bear favorable testimony to the happy influence of the gospel upon the hearts and lives of that people."

Thus the records run each year and the work continued with unabated interest until interrupted by the Civil War. Notwithstanding all that our people had suffered, in that trying day, the South still loved the Negro and the Negro still loved the South, and when the work of the Convention was resumed this was one of the first departments taken up by the Home Mission Board. The report of the Board for 1866 contains the following reference: "A large number of intelligent and pious missionaries have been employed to preach to freedmen of the South. The colored prefer white missionaries to those of their own color. This is owing, in no small degree, to the fact that white ministers are better qualified to instruct them, and this is what they need good, sound, theological instruction. These people are greatly improved and show signs of advancement."

The report of the Board in 1868, on this same subject, contains the following: "A large amount of earnest and faithful labor has been spent upon these missions during the year. No class of people seem more anxious for the Bread of Life than the freedmen of the South. Thirty churches have been constituted by our missionaries, twenty-four meeting houses commenced, eleven finished and mostly for the benefit of these people. 611 have been baptized and many converted through the labors of missionaries, but baptized by others whom they were assisting."

These extracts containing the best thought and pulsing with the heart-throbs of Fuller, and Broadus, and Jeter, and Boyce, and Manly, and Tichenor and other like giants of those early days, are a heritage that Southern Baptists cannot and will not ignore.

During more recent years the Board has annually urged upon the Convention the great importance of this work and has reported good results accomplished, and the Convention has as frequently approved the work of the Board and its recommendations looking to still larger things.

The Convention help graciously received
In 1883 the Board reports as follows: "No part of our work requires greater wisdom or larger liberality than the work among the colored people. In conjunction with the State Board of Georgia we have appointed Bro. W. H. McIntosh to labor in that state among that class of population as theological instructor. Though he has been in the field only about three months he has found abundant reason for encouragement. More than one hundred preachers and deacons have attended his lectures and given unmistakable evidence of their interest in his work and their appreciation of it. Overtures for similar arrangements with other State Boards have been made and we hope during the next year greatly to increase this department of our work. We are most deeply impressed with the importance of this field and we are rejoiced to see the difficulties, which have surrounded it on every side, giving way. Many of our most thoughtful people are feeling that we have too long neglected our full duty to a race whose claims upon us we cannot ignore. The $15,000 the Board asks for this work is far too small to meet all its needs; we have reduced our request to this insufficient sum only because we fear the liberality of our churches is not prepared to go beyond it."

The earnestness and interest of the convention
This above item of $15,000 may at this time seem to be an appropriation of ordinary proportion. But it is lifted into prominent significance by the fact of the impoverished condition of Southern Baptists at that time, and from the further comparative fact that it was an amount equal to one-half of the entire amount of contributions made by all the Southern States for the support of the whole mission work of the Home Mission Board during that year. This report was carefully considered by a committee of the Convention of which Dr. William E. Hatcher was Chairman, and heartily approved by the Convention in the adoption of the committee's report which contained the following language: "We cheerfully approve the plans of the Home Mission Board in the prosecution of their labors among the colored people, and most heartily recommend that the amount asked for in their report be granted."

Gratifying reports received
The report of the Home Mission Board for the year 1886 contains the following interesting record (attention is directed to the mile-posts of progress indicated by these various reports, the one now about to be quoted marks an important epoch in the process of development):

"For the first time in the history of this Convention more than twenty colored preachers are enrolled among its missionaries." This the Convention cheerfully and heartily approved. This character of quotation and citation, showing the purpose of Southern Baptists to prosecute the work of evangelizing and elevating the Negroes among them might be continued indefinitely. It may be sufficient, however, to say that from the beginning the work has been prosecuted under instructions from the Convention as regularly as any other department of mission work.

In the earnestness of our people to help the Negro in the most practical way, methods of work have been varied from time to time to suit conditions and circumstances. It will be recalled that during the year 1894 the lamented Dr. T. T. Eaton of Kentucky, introduced a resolution at the meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention, at Dallas, Texas, calling for the appointment of a committee to confer with the American Baptist Home Mission Society for the purpose of formulating some co-operative plans for enlarged missionary operations among the Negroes. As a result of the conference thus brought about, the co-operative work under what was known as the New Era Plan was inaugurated and for a number of years was conducted with varying degrees of success. This work was conducted in six of the different states; but for one reason or another it failed to meet with sufficient encouragement to become permanent. The Home Mission Board is still aiding in this character of work in Virginia and to a limited extent in Missouri.

Co-operation best obtained through the Nat'l Baptist Convention
It having been the policy of the Home Mission Board to help the Negro along lines that would enable him to help himself to become an independent, manly Christian forces, the way seemed to open in the development of the National Baptist Convention for the better accomplishment of this policy by co-operating with the Home Mission Board of that Convention.

The present plan of co-operation in our mission work is the outgrowth of a conference of representatives of the Home Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention and the Home Mission Board of the National Baptist Convention held in Chattanooga, Tenn., November 28th, 1900. This conference was favored with the presence and counsel of Dr. J. M. Frost, Corresponding Secretary of the Sunday-School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, who had proven his concern for and confidence in the work of the National Baptist Convention in a very helpful manner. The conference in question was called by the honored and lamented Dr. F. H. Kerfoot, at that time Corresponding Secretary of the Home Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. While attending a meeting of the National Baptist Convention in Nashville, Dr. Kerfoot had been impressed with the outlook of greater things for Negro Baptists through the establishment of a general convention patterned largely after the Southern Baptist Convention. His prophetic vision discerned a new and helpful avenue for organic co-operation in mission work among the Negroes. Dr. Kerfoot has passed to his reward, but there remains those among both races who took part in the inauguration of this plan of work who now rejoice with grateful hearts for the divine blessing which attends it.

The result of Co-operation a splendid success
The result of the work under the plan, which has been in successful operation for a number of years, has been pleasing to the Home Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, and the Secretary, Dr. R. H. Boyd, of the Home Mission Board of the National Baptist Convention, has stated publicly that among the greatest benefits derived from this assistance has been the unification of Negro Baptists into one solid working organization. This plan contemplates the appointment of capable, consecrated Christian Negro men, who are chosen with great care as joint missionaries in the various states, and who devote themselves largely to holding Bible conferences where ministers, deacons and other Christian workers receive proper religious training. These conferences have the sympathy and co-operation of the white Baptists of the respective states in which the work is conducted. Indeed, the work is conducted on the same principle, with some added care in the selection of missionaries, as that in which the American Baptist Home Mission Society participates in the State of Virginia at present and did participate formerly in other states under what was known as the New Era or Fortress Monroe Plan.

Number of workers and service rendered under co-operation
In cooperation with the National Baptist Convention the number of missionaries employed last year (1908) was 33. They preached 9,739 sermons; reported 2,270 baptisms, with 2,045 additions by letter, making a total of 4,315 additions to the membership to churches during the year. They held 374 Bible conferences with an aggregate attendance of 29,887 preachers and others who enjoyed the benefit of their instruction.

A remarkable record of Christian advancement
The above co-operative work between the Home Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention (white), and the Home Mission Board of the National Baptist Convention (colored), is still operative and is being prosecuted in fourteen states of the Union in this the year of 1909. A general fact that when the Southern Baptist Convention was organized in 1845 there were 2,800,000 Negroes in the South, 125,000 of them were Baptists. At present there are 10,000,000 of whom over 2,300,000 are Baptists. One person in five among the Negroes of the South is a Baptist. While the race has increased something less than four-fold, the number of Baptists among them has increased more than sixteen-fold. Surely this splendid record of Christian advancement among a people so recently from an uncivilized country is a marvelous development, and is a tribute to the fidelity of those from whom the Negro has received his moral impressions and religious training, as well as to the intelligent comprehension of, and fidelity to the Word of God by Negro preachers and Christian workers.

 
 
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