As American Baptists, we are proud of our collective history, the times we have stood on the right side for justice. In Wayne E. Croft Sr.’s book A History of the Black Baptist Church: I Don’t Feel No Ways Tired, he writes that in 1840, the American Baptist Antislavery Convention met, including Black Baptist leaders, white abolitionists, and missionaries from Burma. From the early days of our denominational organization (this was five years before the Southern Baptist churches removed themselves to form the Southern Baptist Convention), we have known that the freedom promised in Christ is manifest in our collective liberation.
However, we also know that our history shows times where whiteness has permeated our denominational life. For many years the American Baptist Publication Society only published materials by white authors, leading to the formation of the National Baptist Publishing House in 1893. While many Black Baptist Congregations have been dually aligned with the American Baptist Churches since it was known as the Northern Baptist Convention, it wasn’t until 1965 that the Black Caucus of the ABC was formed, and in 1970 the first Black president of the American Baptist Churches was elected. In 1999, the first clergywoman elected as president of ABC-USA was our own Rev. Dr. Trinette McCray from Milwaukee.
In February 2024, Rev. Dr. Gina Jacobs-Strain will begin as our new General Secretary of the American Baptist Churches: the first Black General Secretary and first woman to lead our denomination in this position. While the president conducts the business of the denomination, the Office of the General Secretary of the American Baptist Churches, USA functions in gathering the denomination, supporting congregations, regions, and national organizations, and creating space for local and global issues. We are proud of our history, but we must ask why it has taken so long to recognize in leadership the diversity we already know, love, and celebrate.
As American Baptist Churches of Wisconsin, the most diverse denominational body in this state, we celebrate Black History Month as a reminder that we are all part of Christ’s body together. We celebrate the establishment of Calvary Baptist Church in 1895, the oldest African American Baptist Church in the city of Milwaukee. Calvary was the first African American church in Wisconsin to join the Wisconsin Baptist State Convention, now the American Baptist Churches of Wisconsin, and in 1923, Rev. Samuel S. Russell helped organize Black Baptist Churches in the Washington Baptist Convention (now the Wisconsin General Baptist State Convention, Inc).
We encourage all our churches to learn their history and especially learn the history of Black Baptist Churches. A History of the Black Baptist Church: I Don’t Feel No Ways Tired by Wayne E. Croft, Sr. is available from Judson Press, www.judsonpress.com.