To bring together northern and southern Black Baptist churches, back in 1895, more than 2,000 clergies attended a meeting in Atlanta. At the time, the three largest conventions of the day were the Baptist Foreign Missionary Convention, the American National Baptist Convention and the National Baptist Educational Convention. The three of them merged to form the National Baptist Convention of the United States of America. Among the delegates was Rev. A.D. Williams, pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church and grandfather of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., according to the African American Registry website.

However, the more Black churches sparred against the racial intolerance and violence targeted against them, the more the churches and their members were punished. Within the church, the Presbyterians and Episcopalians also saw the division of their memberships into white and Black denominations. As my pastor’s sermon this past Sunday, “The Most Segregated Hour,” pointed out, each of the two Black churches having some 100,000 members by 1900.

In 1908, The Christian Index published the “Colored Methodist Bishops’ Appeal to White America-1908.” In their statement, church leaders responded to the surge of mob violence and lynching occurring across the country, denouncing Jim Crow laws and terrorism waged against Blacks and imploring the country to suppress the spread of anti-Black violence. As anti-Black terrorism proliferated into the 20th century, Black churches grew increasingly vehement in their calls for the castigation of racial violence. Also, on Sept. 15, 1915, the National Baptist Convention of America was formed.

In Black churches, African Americans were consistently exposed to social, political, and economic opportunities that all members could seek and have equally. The symbolic structure of African American churches confirmed Black preachers as religious and community leaders. The sermons of many Black preachers expounded messages of Christianity analogized to the daily experiences of Blacks. Thematic expressions of overcoming oppression and “lifting while climbing” were first articulated in church sermons.

During the past century’s civil rights era, Black churches were well-established social and political power bases for African Americans. Some churches and their organizations were completely opposed to this political struggle, while others participated passionately, organizing rallies, protests, and marches, while teaching Christianity and community involvement.

In the late 1940s, ’50s and ’60s, the Black church functioned as the institutional center for Black mobilization. They provided an organizational base and meeting place for African Americans to strategize their moves in the ongoing fight against racial segregation and oppression. As Black churches became an epicenter of the social and political struggles for Black equality, they increasingly became targets for racially motivated violence, such as burning Black churches.

The bombing and burning of Black churches during this time translated into an attack upon the core of civil rights activism and the larger Black religious community. The most infamous example of racist American church destruction occurred on Sept. 15, 1963, when the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, was firebombed. The explosion was felt by the entire Black community. Four children were killed in the attack, several others were injured, and a community’s sense of security within their church was forever traumatized.

Like many other churches bombed before and after, the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church was a Black church, and this act signified the depths to which racial hatred could fall. Though the Ku Klux Klan was implicated in this crime, members of the KKK were not the only ones. Unfortunately, this was not an isolated incident. Let it be known that these racially motivated arsons did not destroy the souls of Black communities — with all of the turmoil and abuse African Americans have endured, this is just another day.

In 1988, the National Missionary Baptist Convention of America was formed. In the 21st century, the Convention movement of the African American Baptist Church has undergone several changes. The Black church is also at a crossroads due to “white flight,” gentrification and systemic capitalism. 

Lyndia Grant is a speaker/writer living in the D.C. area. Her radio show, “Think on These Things,” airs Fridays at 6 p.m. on 1340 AM (WYCB), a Radio One station. To reach Grant, visit her website,, email or call 240-602-6295. Follow her on Twitter @LyndiaGrant and on Facebook.

Lyndia Grant

A seasoned radio talk show host, national newspaper columnist, and major special events manager, Lyndia is a change agent. Those who experience hearing messages by this powerhouse speaker are changed forever!

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