Negro Baptists of North Carolina
THE WORK OF THE NORTHERN SOCIETIES FOR THE COLORED BAPTISTS OF NORTH CAROLINA.
THE AMERICAN BAPTIST HOME MISSION SOCIETY.
The American Baptist Home Mission Society, which was organized 1832, contemplated the uplift of all classes and conditions of the people. The Negro, although enslaved, naturally appealed to such an organization. The society, being an important factor in the general Convention of Baptists, North and South, did much in and through the early missionaries appointed to reach the Negro with the gospel. Much of the religious development and improvement, even in that dark period, may be traced to the work and influence of the society in the Negro's behalf. Much of the splendid results reported from year to year may be traced to the field work in North Carolina. It was the anxiety of the Home Mission Society, together with other Northern Baptists, which led to differences concerning this missionary work and to the final separation of the white Baptists North and South, and caused the organization of the two distinct bodies. The North contended that the institution of slavery in any form was wrong, and should be discouraged, especially by the Southern church member; the South contended for the continuance of slavery, and hence separation was the inevitable result.
Not only was this upheaval in the ecclesiastical councils, but the entire nation was stirred, and in almost every question which came before the Congress of the nation the question of slavery was injected. The clash of arms was the final outcome, and victory on the side of the Federal troops after one of the most bitter struggles the world has ever known.
To the society as well as others this seemed to be the hand of God. The door of opportunity was thrown wide, and among the first Christian organizations to enter the work of uplifting the homeless, ignorant Negro was the American Baptist Home Mission Society.
Others who became lifelong benefactors to the cause of education at Shaw were influenced through the society. Being the first institution of its kind in North Carolina, not only were the Baptists greatly benefited, but every denomination in the State owes something of its power and usefulness to the men in its ranks sent out from Shaw University. The great founder of Livingstone College at Salisbury, Dr. J. C. Price, laid the foundation for his education at Shaw University; and often referred to this beginning as the foundation for the inspiration which made him the man he was. While Shaw University was established as a Baptist institution it was always quite liberal, and many hundreds of all the denominations gathered there for instruction. It was only in the Theological Department that the distinctive principles of the Baptists were taught, and even there representatives of other churches were gathered and better prepared to preach the gospel to their own people.
If the American Baptist Home Mission Society had done no more than to give to North Carolina colored Baptists Shaw University and H. M. Tupper, that would have been a wonderful blessing. In the twenty-five years of Dr. Tupper's active and untiring service not only was he permitted to see the blessed light of intelligence in the Normal, Classical and Theological Departments, but Law, Medical and Pharmaceutical Departments. It is said that Rev. Tupper was called to the bedside of a poor colored woman in Raleigh, and upon inquiry found out that she had no doctor in attendance, and the reason was that she could not pay any doctor for lack of means, and hence had to be neglected. From that hour he decided on the Medical Department to prepare men of the colored race for this work. It has been further stated that his own embarrassment before the courts of Raleigh in the long trials he was called upon to meet and his difficulty to secure lawyers to defend him, led to the establishment of the Law Department.
Besides the educational work carried on by the society, missionary work was instituted from the beginning of its operation in the State.
The new condition afforded them an opportunity to prosecute the work of missions, not to the slave Negro as before, but to the Negro freeman. Not
merely to confine itself to missionary work, but to the erection of buildings for their education and general uplift. God moved upon the hearts of many noble men and women, not only to give their money to carry on this work, but to give themselves to volunteer service, both to preach to them the gospel, and to teach them in the day and night schools. The attention of the Northern philanthropist was turned to the helpless Negro in the Southland, and the society seized every opportunity to combine its forces, and while for a time much opposition was manifest to the new project, in the providence of God it was overcome, and soon the society began to pour its blessed treasures in North Carolina together with other Southern States.
It was the good fortune of North Carolina to have as its first volunteer Rev. Henry Martin Tupper, who, in the special Providence of God, saw much of the needs of the colored people while fighting in behalf of the Union and the freedom of the Negro. The argument which overcame the opposition which we have mentioned in the ranks of the society, was the fact that the education intended was to prepare men and women to teach in the schools, and especially to prepare men of the Negro race to preach the gospel to their own race. At first, according to the resolution which settled the conflict, only such money could be used even in this work as should be sent into the society specified for the mission work and education for Negroes. While everlasting gratitude is due to the heroism, ability and energy of Rev. Tupper, still more is due to the American Baptist Home Mission Society, which made it possible for Rev. Tupper to do the great work he did at Shaw University.
Five hundred thousand dollars were contributed by this society besides other gifts from other sources to the establishment and maintenance of Shaw University previous to the year 1908. The society not only gave out of its treasury the magnificent sum just mentioned, but opened up the way for Rev. Tupper to reach others throughout the North.
Considering the destitute circumstances and conditions of the people so recently emerged from slavery, nothing could so stimulate and strengthen all classes as the missionary who was thrown in daily contact with the people in their homes, churches and elsewhere. With the advantages of education the missionary was quite an improvement to many of the pastors in the churches, and his message was both encouraging and enlightening. He was not only required to go into the towns and cities, but in the rural sections. His work was not only to preach in churches already established, but to go where there were no churches and establish them. Many churches owe their existence to the missionary work of the American Baptist Home Mission Society. The society not only gave the missionary for this kind of work, but in many instances gave from their Church Edifice Fund the money to pay for its erection. In some instances this money was borrowed, in others it was given, just as the individual case demanded. Self-dependence was the instruction given to the missionary; and it proved far better where the churches were taught self-support. Indulgence in some cases proved detrimental not only to the church, but to the society. Like the Missionary Colporter of the American Baptist Publication Society, the missionary of the Home Mission Society was instructed to hold special revival services with the pastors and churches, and in this way many thousands were added to the churches through conversion in these meetings. Some of the strongest and best men in church work came to Christ through the preaching of the Home Mission Society's missionary. The Scripture that says "Iron sharpeneth iron" was often verified in the missionary of the society and the country pastor. This proved very helpful to the pastor and the church, as so many were deprived of the opportunity of an education.
While the Southern Baptist Convention, the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina formed a part of the cooperative forces in the plan of cooperation in North Carolina, it had its foundation largely in the Home Mission Society. Dr. Henry L. Morehouse, who was then corresponding secretary of the society, drew the entire plan, together with the courses of study laid down in the original plan. If the society had done no more for the colored Baptists than to formulate this plan and bring about the combination of the white Baptists South with the Negro Baptists for the prosecution of cooperation, that of itself would have been a wonderful assistance, for of all the work done from the Emancipation in 1863 to 1908, the few years of cooperation proved to be the most helpful. North Carolina Baptists hardly seemed like the same people. At once they took the lead of all the other denominations numerically, and in educational and missionary work.
The reports of the different secondary schools at the close of the time of the plan of cooperation showed that fifty thousand dollars were raised annually by the colored Baptists of North Carolina in support of their schools.
From 1900 to 1908 the society not only gave support to Shaw University but gave partial support to Waters' Normal Institute at Winton, N. C., the New Bern Industrial Institute at New Bern, N. C., and the Thompson Institute at Lumberton, N. C. But for the aid given these schools they could never have proven the blessing they did prove to their communities.
The American Baptist Home Mission Society did so much for the colored Baptists of North Carolina and in so many ways it was thought by some of the Baptists of other States that the society was partial to North Carolina Baptists, and to an extent the charge was doubtless true, for it was claimed by certain leading Home Mission Society representatives that the Negro Baptists of North Carolina were the most grateful and loyal people with whom they were associated in Christian and educational work, and hence they were necessarily inclined to do more for North Carolina.
When the disposition of many Baptists in other States and a few in North Carolina was to criticise and turn away from the society, the great majority of North Carolina Baptists stood firm and unchangeable in their high esteem and loyal support of the Home Mission Society. "Cooperation with religious bodies for the advancement of the Master's kingdom and economy in Foreign Mission work" was the watchword throughout North Carolina; and although at times the contest was bitter, even with some of the brethren of the extreme eastern and western sections of the State, the Convention stood firm and true to the great and good people of the Home Mission Society, who had stood by them in times of greatest need, and who stood ready all the way to lend the same helping hand. It was rather a sad spectacle in North Carolina to see a few men educated in the schools of the American Baptist Home Mission Society turn away with the basest ingratitude, and with their greatest efforts, though feeble at best, strike back at the society. The sincerity of the rank and file was so manifest, and God's bountiful blessing to the grateful was so constant, the opposition which at a time was so threatening soon passed away and the Baptists of North Carolina declared in unmistakable resolution their abiding faith and loyalty to the Home Mission Society and its interests in North Carolina and elsewhere as far as they were able. This spirit paved the way to the society's partial benefactions and to their decided and rapid growth and development along all lines.
Others may with ingratitude turn away from the Home Mission Society, but for all time the rank and file of Negro Baptists of North Carolina will hold in grateful remembrance and appreciation the great Home Mission Society which did so much to shape their destiny.
THE AMERICAN BAPTIST PUBLICATION SOCIETY.
As soon as it was practicable, after the emancipation of the negroes of North Carolina, together with the Negroes of the rest of the Southern States, the American Baptist Publication Society, with headquarters in Philadelphia, began its colportage and missionary work among them. The organization of the Sunday School forces of North Carolina is due more largely to the work of this society than to all the other forces combined. The State Sunday School Convention of North Carolina owes its existence to the society. Its first representative in North Carolina was Rev. E. E. Eagles, the ablest representative of his day. With his exceptional ability, though ignorance and superstition had lordly sway, much information was gained through his teachings and still more through the distribution of Bibles, tracts and other literature. Rev. A. Shepard, then a student at Raleigh, was appointed to the same position, and it was through his labors that much strength was given to the new organization. Rev. Shepard undertook to strengthen the parent body by the organization of the different counties of the State into county conventions as auxiliaries. Out of these organizations came the Oxford Orphan Asylum, which has since been turned over to the State as a State institution. Hence it may be said also that the colored Orphan Asylum of Oxford, N. C., owes its existence to the American Baptist Publication Society as well as the State Sunday School Convention.
While the American Baptist Home Mission Society of New York has done its work in North Carolina among the colored people along educational lines, secular and Christian, and through its missionary effort in the churches, side by side the Publication Society has done its work through the Sunday school missionary and the printed page.
All of the leading ministers of North Carolina among the Negro Baptists owe in part their preparation to the help given them by the Publication Society. Many of them were furnished libraries from which the greater part of their instruction was derived.
Thousands and tens of thousands have been brought to a saving knowledge of their Redeemer through teachings coming to them from the tracts and other religious literature sent out by the society. Not only have many been thus brought to a saving knowledge of Christ, but much of the soundness of their faith is due to this wholesome influence and instruction. Indeed, it proved an efficient means of disseminating the principles as taught by the Baptists.
Emerging from the bondage of slavery, with faint ideas of homes and home training, one of the greatest needs after securing some place which might be called by the name of home, the next greatest necessity was the proper training in the home. The work as outlined and followed by the society met this condition as nothing else could. The duty as specified to the colporter was not only to leave the literature in the home but a prayer and the necessary instruction, and hence much valuable information came to the people through this medium, which in many instances did more than the printed page which was many times cast aside in his absence, while the truth to the unlettered coming into his hearing found its way into his heart, his life and his character.
THE CLASS OF MEN APPOINTED BY THE SOCIETY.
The society could never have accomplished so much among the colored Baptists of North Carolina but for the class of men appointed to do its work. Almost without an exception the men proved themselves to be men of rare ability, Christian piety and devotion. We have already mentioned Rev. E. E. Eagles, the Baptist veteran of his day, and following him Rev. Augustus Shepard, who spent eighteen years in the society's service. He not only wielded great power in the Sunday School work, but was equally serviceable in the church Conventions. Possibly no one man in his day has done so much to lift up the people as did this pious servant of God. Then following him was Rev. A. W. Pegues, Ph.D.; although serving but a short time took up the work where Rev. Shepard left it
Rev. P. F. Maloy held the position for the same length of time as did Rev. Pegues, Rev. Joseph Perry, Rev. M. C. Ransom, Rev. C. H. Williamson for short periods. Then came Rev. G. W. Moore and Rev. A. B. Vincent. These two held the place for a number of years, and with these years accomplished great things along Sunday School lines. For two years Rev. J. W. Faulk, Jr., was associated with the work in the eastern section of the State. North Carolina Baptists proved their appreciation to the society to that extent that they enjoyed not only the appointments mentioned but one of the district secretaries, Dr. S. N. Vass, was born in North Carolina, and, although partly educated in an Episcopal institution, reading one of the tracts of the society saw what seemed to him the only right way, became a Baptist, and after completing his education was appointed to serve as missionary in Virginia, afterward appointed District Secretary for the Southern States.
From the beginning Rev. Vass showed rare ability, but with the advance of years he proved to be one of the ablest men of the entire race throughout the country. By the organization of a publishing company of colored men in Nashville, Tenn., and this organization having behind it the National Baptist Convention required able management and skill to enable the Publication Society, which it was claimed was a white concern, to hold its place in the estimation of the colored people, but Dr. Vass proved himself equal to the occasion, and, while much of the patronage of the colored people was given to the Negro Publishing House, much was left to the American Baptist Publication Society through the influence of Dr. Vass. In fact, with the extension of the Sunday School work in North Carolina among the colored people, with their growing intelligence and increasing demands for Sunday School literature, even with the introduction of the Negro Publishing House literature, the American Baptist Publication Society maintained its usual hold in point of Sunday School supplies.
After a lapse of years, just as it should have been at first, both houses received recognition according to the wishes of the individual, or according to the merits of each as seen by the schools.
SUNDAY SCHOOL INSTITUTES.
With the State Sunday School Convention fully organized and cooperating with the society in doing its work in the State; with County Conventions in every section, and with its literature spread in every destitute corner, the society found it necessary to undertake a new kind of work from the missionary and colporter. In fact the people asked for more advanced Sunday School work, and the institute plan was adopted and proved to be very effective in sending out men and women in the different sections better prepared and inspired to do the work of teaching in the schools. The missionary was not only seen with his budget of books but with blackboard and other facilities holding Sunday School Institutes. To meet the demands the society arranged general meetings with the missionaries of other States so as to better prepare all for their special fields, and it was not long before the schools were filled with better men and women who received much of their instruction and inspiration from the institutes. Fortunately the Home Mission Society, cooperating with the Church Convention, just as the Publication Society was cooperating with the Sunday School Convention, was holding just such meetings in connection with the churches, and sometimes even joint meetings were held, which enabled the colored Baptists of North Carolina to leap into prominence and usefulness both in their church and Sunday School work. Through such influences many strong men and women were sent forth as leaders, not only to meet the demands of the State, but in other States, and as missionaries into the regions of dark Africa.
We have already mentioned the many thousands who were converted to Christ through the work of the society in the distribution of its literature and its missionary work, but as in the instance of the demands for institutes there came as well a demand for direct means of bringing the children to a saving knowledge of Jesus. And, too, at that time evangelism was the watchword in nearly every section of the country, especially among the white Baptists of the North and West. The missionaries sent out conjointly by the society and the State Sunday School Convention were instructed to hold evangelistic meetings wherever it was practicable to do so. Such meetings always proved very helpful, and many who afterward became great leaders in Sunday School and church work were converted in these meetings.
From 1902 to 1908 the reports showed that the society paid out to its missionaries and to the District Secretary for salaries three thousand dollars a year.
When it was considered that this Christian organization began with the colored people in the days of their adversity, and did so much for them in that dark period, it is not surprising that their gratitude was too deep to turn away from them in later years.
North Carolina took the lead of all the States in its manifestation of gratitude. At the time when it looked as if all the States among the colored people would turn away North Carolina held firmly on, and while much patronage was given to the other house the orders increased to the American Baptist Publication Society. The Children's Day exercises were encouraged, and comparatively large sums were sent up from the different Sunday Schools of the State; yet it was admitted that the great good done by the society in the general uplift of the colored people of North Carolina, as well as elsewhere, could never be repaid in dollars and cents.
The Reformed Reader Home Page
Copyright 1999, The Reformed Reader, All Rights Reserved