National Baptist Convention (1895–)

National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc. (1895--)
National Baptist Convention, Detroit, 1927
Image Ownership: Public Domain

The National Baptist Convention, USA, Incorporated (NBCUSA) is made up of approximately 7.5 million African American Baptists, making it the largest African-American organization in the country. It was founded in Atlanta, Georgia in 1895 when the leaders of the American National Baptist Convention, the Baptist Foreign Mission Convention and the National Baptist Educational Convention joined to form the National Baptist Convention (NBC).

The NBC was rooted in the Consolidated American Baptist Missionary Convention (CABMC), which was formed in the 1860s and provided a platform for black Baptists at that time. The CABMC’s survival was contingent on the support of northern white Baptists and lost its funding after Reconstruction. In 1890, the call for a national black Baptist organization was renewed when a controversy arose in the religious publishing world. The Baptist Teacher, published by the white-run American Baptist Publication Society, asked three black Baptist authors to write for the publication. The white Southern Baptist Convention complained and the editors rescinded the offer.  Black Baptists were offended and angered. The National Baptist Convention was formed in 1895 in order to unite black Baptists and consolidate their influence. Elias Camp Morris was elected the first president and served until his death in 1921.

The NBC’s work included foreign missions, funding for education, and the establishment of newspapers and journals. The NBC also created the National Baptist Publishing Board (NBPB) in 1896, which produced hymnals, Sunday school materials, and the National Baptist Union-Review.

In 1915, the NBC split into two separate factions, the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc. and the National Baptist Convention of America. The split stemmed from another publishing controversy. The National Baptist Publishing Board was run by Richard H. Boyd, who argued that it was a separate entity that should not be controlled by the NBC. President Elias Camp Morris and other prominent Convention leaders opposed Boyd and claimed that the NPBP was under NBC control. Boyd and his followers split with the NBC in 1915 and formed the National Baptist Convention of America. Court battles over control of the NPBP followed until 1921, when both Morris and Boyd died.

The NBCUSA split again in 1961, this time over the issue of civil rights. Convention president Joseph Harrison Jackson promoted a conservative approach to civil rights, in contrast to Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.’s nonviolent civil disobedience. While King did not wish to cause a schism, his supporters encouraged him to run for president. King and his allies eventually left the NBCUSA and formed the Progressive National Baptist Convention.

The NBCUSA continues to represent a large portion of the African-American religious community. Recently NBCUSA President Reverend William Shaw was named to President Obama’s Faith Based Advisory Council.