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THE WORK OF THE AMERICAN BAPTIST HOME MISSION SOCIETY FOR THE NEGROES OF THE UNITED STATES

BY REV. H. L. MOREHOUSE, D. D., LL. D., CORRESPONDING SECRETARY

 

The American Baptist Home Mission Society was organized in New York City in 1832, shortly after the last northern State had passed an act abolishing slavery within its borders. In 1833 the anti-slavery Association was organized for the purpose of ridding the land of slavery by constitutional enactments of the general government. Discussion on the subject waxed warm and broke out in meetings of the Society. The climax came in the meeting at Philadelphia in 1844 when Dr. Bartholomew T. Welch, of New York, answered the question by Dr. Richard Fuller, of Baltimore, "What would you do if you had the power?" The reply which electrified the great audience was this: "Do? Do? Proclaim liberty throughout all the land, to all the inhabitants thereof. That is what I would do." The next year the Southern Baptists withdrew from the Society, as also from the Baptist Missionary Union, and organized the Southern Baptist Convention, naturally, from that date until the war, for about twenty years the Southern States were closed against the Society. "When the Almighty opened the doors of access to the freedmen, the Society was swift to enter and for almost fifty years has maintained its distinctive work on their behalf. Before the war, its announced policy was that its missionaries should "deliver their message to every creature within their reach, the rich and the poor, the bond and the free."

The Society hears the call to Christianize the slaves
During the war, from 1861-1865, the Society took high grounds concerning the significance of the great struggle, declaring their conviction "that Divine Providence is about to break the chains of the enslaved millions in our land," and that "the Divine Hand most distinctly and most imperatively is beckoning us to the occupancy of a field, broader, more important, more promising than has ever yet invited our toils." This was early in the great struggle. In 1862, when the Society directed its Executive Board "to supply with Christian instruction, by means of missionaries and teachers, the emancipated slaves, whether in the District of Columbia or in other places held by our forces."

The Society loyal to the government during the war
On January 30, 1862, the Board had taken the initiative in a preliminary inquiry into the condition of the Negro refugees within the Union lines. During the next three years, its missionaries and teachers were sent to various points occupied by the Union forces in the District of Columbia, in Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Mississippi and Louisiana. In the darkest hours of the conflict, in 1864, the Society adopted a series of resolutions expressing its unshaken faith in the triumph of the government and pledging its loyalty to the great President, Abraham Lincoln, to whom a special committee of prominent men was sent with its message of cheer and hope and to whom he made a noble reply. During this period, of course, the work of missionaries and teachers was of the simplest sort. The spelling book and the Bible were the principal text-books. Missionaries were teachers and teachers were missionaries.

A definite policy as to work among freedmen
Immediately after the war, when emancipation had become an accomplished fact, a more definite policy was adopted by the Society to which Baptists of the North had committed this work for freedom. It expressly declared that its workers in the South must be men "emphatically loyal to good government and to God and who feel the strongest and tenderest sympathy with downtrodden humanity." Its plans were the appointment of general missionaries to win men to Christ and to gather them into churches; to impart education to all in order that they might read and understand the Scriptures; and to instruct ministers through classes organized at central points.

Noble men and women give themselves to the work
The Northern Baptists were profoundly moved to do their part in the uplift of the newly-emancipated race. Some of the best men and women of their churches gave themselves heroically to the task, leaving homes and good positions there for life and toil among the lowly. Among these were Rev. Henry Martyn Tupper, D. D., founder of Shaw University, Raleigh, N. C., Rev. Chas. H. Corey, D. D., of Richmond, Virginia Theological Seminary; Rev. G. M. P. King, D. D., of Wayland Seminary, D. C.; Rev. D. W. Phillips, D. D., of Roger Williams University, Nashville, Tenn.; Rev. Lyman B. Tefft, D. D., of Hartshorn Memorial College, Richmond, Va.; Miss Sophia B. Packard and Miss H. E. Giles and Miss Lucy H. Upton, of Spelman Seminary, Atlanta, Ga., and many others of like spirit. Dr. Nathan Bishop, for a while Corresponding Secretary of the Home Mission Society, when criticised for his deep interest and liberal gifts to this work, made this noble reply: "I expect to stand side by side with these colored men on the Day of Judgment. Their Lord is my Lord, they and I are brethren; and I am determined to be prepared for that meeting."

The preparation of Christian leaders emphasized
The dominant theory of the Society in this work, from the outset, has been that emphasis must be laid upon the training of competent, consecrated Christian leaders for the uplift of the race; and that Christian culture and character are fundamental thereto.

Hence, its efforts have been concentrated chiefly on Christian education for this purpose. At the same time, all through these years, many missionaries to the Negroes have been in the Society's service, mostly Negroes themselves, in the Northern and Western States, as well as in the South.

School established for the training of Negro leaders

Helping the Negro to help himself
Schools, most of which have become strong institutions, were established under the Society's auspices, as follows: Maryland Seminary, Washington, D. C., 1864 (now consolidated with the University at Richmond, Virginia); Richmond Institute, Virginia, 1865, which developed into Virginia Union University in 1896; Shaw University, Raleigh, N. C., 1865; Roger Williams University, Nashville, Tenn., 1865; Leland University, New Orleans, La., 1865; Augusta Institute, Georgia, which was started in 1867, transferred to Atlanta, 1879, and now called Atlanta Baptist College; Benedict College, Columbia, S. C., 1870; Natchez Seminary, Mississippi, 1877, transferred in 1882 to Jackson and now known as Jackson College; Bishop College, Marshall, Texas, 1881; Spelman Seminary, Atlanta, Ga., 1882. Besides these schools, there are a number of others that were started by Negro Baptists that for many years have had the benefit of generous aid from the Society, both in the support of teachers and in their building enterprises, as Alabama Baptist University, Selma, Ala.; State University, Louisville, Ky.; Arkansas Baptist College, Little Rock, Ark.; Western College, Macon, Mo.; Howe Normal and Bible Institute, Memphis, Tenn.; Waters Normal Institute, Winton, N. C.; Thompson Institute, Lumberton, N. C.; Walker Institute, Augusta, Ga.; Jeruel Academy, Athens, Ga.; Americus Institute, Americus, Ga.; Florida Baptist Academy, Jacksonville, and Live Oak Institute, Live Oak, Fla.; Houston Academy, Texas. Several other minor institutions have also received help. The Mather School at Beaufort, S. C., has been maintained mainly by the Woman's American Baptist Home Mission Society, which also has given largely for the maintenance of Spelman Seminary and has supported teachers in other schools. The Society has extended its aid to these schools, mostly of a secondary character, in order to develop the spirit of self-help and administrative ability on the part of the Negro Baptists, and has been gratified at the results attained. About sixty Negro instructors are annually under appointment by the Society and one of the foremost of the Society's schools has a Negro president.

The influence of the schools upon the race
It has been greatly to the advantage of the Negro in the South to have been brought in contact with a large number of devoted Christian teachers from the North, deeply imbued with the missionary spirit, with high ideals of character and service. Many of these have made a profound impression upon their pupils, about 80,000 of whom have been enrolled in the institutions aided by the Society. Their ever-widening influence is incalculable in the transformation of conditions in homes, in social circles, in churches and Sunday-schools, in public schools, in religious work and moral reforms, in missionary enterprises and in many other respects. Many of the foremost preachers of the Gospel and others prominent in the denominational activities of the Negro Baptists, received their training in these Christian institutions.

The principle upon which the society has worked
The Society has proceeded upon the theory that the black man has essentially the same nature and endowment as those of the white man, though in many respects the higher qualities have been undeveloped; and that is the duty of the race that has attained to the highest degree of civilization to help its unfortunate brother onward and upward. Results have fully justified its faith and its works. Emphasis has been laid on the making of character rather than on making better servants for the white race. The educational work has been mostly of an academic grade, though a goodly number of students have pursued successfully the college course. Theological instruction has been given in the higher institutions, usually in connection with intellectual training in the academic work; a two years' course in English being provided for those desiring to take it. The one higher theological school is Richmond Theological Seminary, a department of Virginia Union University, whose course of study corresponds in its general features to that of Theological Seminaries at the North. The Leonard Medical School, of Shaw University, at Raleigh, N. C., has a superior faculty, a four years' course of study and has made a creditable record. About $25,000 is to be expended soon by the Society in providing better equipment, which will give it a front rank in institutions of this sort in the South. At Spelman Seminary there is a Nurse Training School in connection with the McVicar Hospital Building. There also is an excellent Normal Teachers' Training Department.

At several other schools special attention is given to the training of Christian teachers for the nearly two million of Negro children in the South, who must be taught chiefly by those of their own race. Industrial instruction has long been given in several schools to a considerable extent for both sexes. The missionary spirit has been stimulated, pupils being impressed with the idea that education is not merely an accomplishment for personal advancement, but the means whereby its possessor may become more useful to the world and can better serve his Maker.

In 1895, as a result of a conference at Fortress Monroe, between representatives of the American Baptist Home Mission Society and upon the initiative of the latter body, a plan for holding institutes for Negro Baptist ministers was worked out and put into effect in several Southern States, with great benefit. Besides these two organizations, the co-operation of the white and of the Negro Baptists Conventions in each state was secured; thus bringing them into closer Christian relationships. The general direction of the work was in the hands of the Negro Baptist Conventions and the missionaries representing them. Through the disinclination of some of the white organizations to continue appropriations for this work, it has been discontinued in several states. The Home Mission Society is now, 1910, contemplating another method with the same end in view, namely, the establishment of summer schools for several weeks directly after the close of the regular work of the year, when Negro preachers can occupy vacated rooms in the school buildings and at small expenses receive helpful instruction.

Splendid buildings of the institution
Very substantial and commodious are most of the school buildings erected by the Society. At Virginia Union University there are six imposing stone structures; at Shaw University seven of brick; at Benedict College five brick and three frame buildings; at Atlanta Baptist College, three of brick and a fourth in process of erection; at Spelman Seminary, eight of brick; at Jackson College, four of brick and one frame; at Bishop College, five of brick and two frame. When the buildings of Roger Williams University at Nashville, Tenn., were destroyed by fire in 1905-6 it was decided best to dispose of the site, which had become quite valuable, and to apply part of the proceeds for the re-establishment of the school in another location and under the immediate auspices of the Negro Baptists of the State.

The value of school property and cost of maintenance
The annual cost to the Society for the maintenance of this educational work is about $140,000; the value of school properties which it has been instrumental in securing is nearly or quite one million dollars and its total expenditures for the uplift of the American Negro, since emancipation have been in round numbers four and a half million dollars. These large figures, however, represent but part of the investment given by the administrative officers of the Society and by Presidents of Institutions and their associates, in the aggregate hundreds of years of thought, and talent and energy and the best that could be laid upon the altar for Christ in connection with this service.

 
 
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