Cooperative Ministries: A History of Racial Reconciliation -- By: T. Vaughn Walker

Journal: Southern Baptist Journal of Theology
Volume: SBJT 08:2 (Summer 2004)
Article: Cooperative Ministries: A History of Racial Reconciliation
Author: T. Vaughn Walker


Cooperative Ministries:
A History of Racial Reconciliation

T. Vaughn Walker

T. Vaughn Walker is Professor of Black Church Studies and holds the WMU Chair in Christian Ministries in the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism, and Church Growth at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He directs the Doctor of Ministry Program in Black Church Leadership and the Ph.D. in Black Church Studies. Dr. Walker has served as Senior Pastor of First Gethsemane Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky, for the past twenty years.

Southern Baptists and the issues surrounding racial reconciliation have a varied and interesting history. Racial attitudes have been an essential or critical issue and at the heart of many debates from the very inception of the convention. Sid Smith writes,

When Norris Fulfer cast the tiebreaking vote, after death threats, to admit predominately African American Community Baptist Church in Santa Rosa, CA, into the Redwood Empire Southern Baptist Association, the courageous moderator had no idea he was unlocking a major door of progress for Southern Baptists. Since Washington Boyce led the church into the Southern Baptist Convention in 1951, the number of Black churches in the convention has grown to more than three thousand.1

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in a bold move awarded G. K. Offult, an African American, the Th.D. degree in 1948, although he was not allowed to matriculate in regular classroom settings or participate in graduation exercises. Seminary professors provided him private tutoring in their seminary offices. Later J. V. Bottoms Sr., B. J. Miller Sr., and Claude Taylor, other African Americans, continued advance studies through the seminary but had to sit in the hallways to listen to professors lecture. This practice was in keeping with a Kentucky ordinance, “Day Law,” which prevented Blacks and Whites from being educated in the same classroom. In 1952, Bottoms, Miller, and Taylor became the first African American students to participate in graduation ceremonies. It appears that certain Southern Seminary professors, as well as other individuals affiliated with the convention, became the leaders for the convention in the area of racial reconciliation long before the convention proper assumed any significant leadership role.

Nationally, racial attitudes were well entrenched. In southern states, particularly, moves toward racial reconciliation were spotty and minimal at best. There seems to be little evidence that the church, especially Southern Baptists, assumed any more progressive role in the issues of racial reconciliation than that found in secular society. As late as the 1960s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was often...

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