Southern Baptists Say the Study of Black Southern Baptist History Is Needed to “Maintain the Unity of the Spirit in the Bond of Peace”

Black History Month gives Americans a yearly spotlight on such key figures in U.S. history as Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass and Martin Luther King Jr.

Few Southern Baptists, however, have considered key African American figures in SBC history like Garland Offutt, Emmanuel McCall and Fred Luter — the first African Americans respectively to attend a Southern Baptist Convention seminary, serve on an SBC entity staff and be elected SBC president.

Yet some Baptist historians hope the study of black Southern Baptist history will flower in years to come in light of new resources, including events hosted by the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, books published by LifeWay Christian Resources and SBC ministry reports containing information on ethnic participation.

Kevin Smith, executive director of the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware, said the history of African American involvement in the SBC is “part of the broader Southern Baptist us/we/family, and we need that knowledge … of one another to pursue” the Ephesians 4:3 mandate to “maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

Former managing editor of The Journal of African American Southern Baptist History (JAASBH), Smith told Baptist Press in written comments he is eager “to learn how various ethnicities became Southern Baptist and are now enthusiastically pursuing the Great Commission.”

In his editorial for the inaugural issue of JAASBH in 2003, Smith wrote that “many books that have claimed to be broad Baptist histories merely noted the presence of black Baptists in passing (or, worse, ignored them altogether). This oversight must be corrected.”

The journal did its part to make that correction over a seven-year run by publishing articles on, among other topics:

— The withdrawal of some 100,000 blacks from Southern Baptist churches following the abolition of slavery.

— The first African American church to officially reenter Southern Baptist life in 1951 after the SBC lost all black congregations by the early 20th century.

— The Foreign Mission Board’s appointment of 48 black missionaries during its first 35 years of existence.

— Southern Baptist efforts to share the Gospel with members of the Nation of Islam.

JAASBH’s “most significant accomplishment,” Smith said, was developing a “written, scholarly record of black contributions to Baptist life.” The journal’s founder Sid Smith, who died in 2009, “was deliberate about these journals being in the libraries of our seminaries and state conventions.”

In more recent times, the study of African American involvement in Southern Baptist life has been advanced by a 2015 ERLC Leadership Summit on “the Gospel and racial reconciliation” as well as books published by LifeWay’s B&H Academic division.

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Source: Baptist Press | David Roach