National Baptist Convention, USA, Annual Session

National Baptist Convention, USA, Annual Session

Date Observed: First week in September
Location: Varies

The National Baptist Convention, with more than seven million members, is one of the largest African-American religious groups in the United States and holds its Annual Session during the first week in September, including the Labor Day holiday. Various cities across the country have hosted the Convention, which draws thousands of delegates each year.

Historical Background

Since before the Revolutionary War period, black preachers - Baptists and Methodists - have organized congregations and churches. Black Baptists were among the first Americans to establish foreign missions. During the 1780s, former slave George Liele of Georgia, for example, founded churches in Jamaica, and David George, a slave, established a Baptist church in Savannah, Georgia. After joining British troops and gaining his freedom during the Revolution, George organized Baptist congregations in Nova Scotia, Canada, and Sierra Leone in west Africa.

Numerous African-American Baptist congregations existed before the Civil War, but these independent churches in the South were not allowed to function without being affiliated with white organizations. In the North, however, Baptists in Ohio and Illinois organized associations during the 1830s. By 1840, the American Baptist Missionary Convention was founded, bringing together African-American Baptists in New York and mid-Atlantic states. Other black Baptist conventions formed in the West and the South during the 1860s, and after the Civil War, African-American Baptists in the South created state organizations.

During the 1870s, regional conventions organized in the West and East, but it was not until 1880 that the beginning steps were taken for a national convention. About 150 Baptist ministers met in Montgomery, Alabama, where they formed the Baptist Mission Convention. Fifteen years later, the National Baptist Convention of the United States of America (NBCUSA) was born when the Mission Convention joined forces with two other conventions - the Foreign Mission Convention and the National Baptist Educational Convention.

Although the NBCUSA organized operations among the varied African-American Baptist churches, unity did not prevail. Conflicts developed over the location of the Foreign Mission Board, ownership of the Publishing Board of the NBCUSA, and cooperation with white Baptists. Arguably the split that received the most attention was the formation of the Progressive National Baptist Convention in 1961, which left the NBCUSA because of its lukewarm support for the civil rights movement and its leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (see also Martin Luther King Jr.'s Birthday). Another rocky time for the NBCUSA occurred in the mid-1990s, when the president of the convention, Henry J. Lyons of St. Petersburg, Florida, became embroiled in legal problems over finances. Lyons eventually served a prison term of nearly five years for grand theft racketeering. A new president, Reverend William Shaw took over in 1999, and after paying off the debt for NBCUSA's headquarters in Nashville, Tennessee, and establishing new financial controls, he was reelected in 2004.

In spite of NBCUSA's ups and downs, the convention spearheaded an assembly of delegates from four major African-American Baptist groups - the NBCUSA, the National Baptist Convention of America, the Progressive National Baptist Convention, and the National Missionary Baptist Convention of America. In 2005 delegates representing 15 million believers gathered in Nashville to participate in a dialogue about social and political issues affecting African Americans. Reverend Jesse Jackson, who attended and spoke at the convention, noted in the Chicago Tribune: "We can be out of slavery, out of segregation, have the right to vote, but still starve to death unless you get to the fourth stage, access to capital, industry and technology. . . . That's what the four conventions reconnecting is about."

Creation of the Annual Session

The 1880 meeting of Baptist pastors in Montgomery is considered the origin of the Annual Session of the NBCUSA held each year during the first week of September. Since its inception, the Annual Session convenes to address the business of the Convention, provide opportunities for Christian fellowship, and offer instruction for delegates on various economic, health, and civil rights issues.

Observance

Cities such as Washington, D.C.; Cincinnati, Ohio; Denver, Colorado; Miami, Florida; Atlanta, Georgia; and New Orleans, Louisiana, have hosted NBCUSA Annual Sessions. Each Session begins with messages from officials. As the week progresses there are prayer breakfasts; worship services and sermons; reports on Christian education, prison ministries, housing, and evangelism; addresses by leaders of auxiliaries; and receptions, banquets, and concerts.

Contact and Web Site

National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc. 1700 Baptist World Center Dr. Nashville, TN 37207 866-531-3054

Further Reading

"Baptists." In Encyclopedia of Black America, edited by W. Augustus Low and Virgil A. Clift. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1981. Brachear, Manya A. "Black Baptists Forge Agenda: Focus on Schools, Jobs, Health Care." Chicago Tribune, January 28, 2005. Fitts, Leroy. "National Baptist Convention, U.S.A." In The African-American Experi- ence: Selections from the Five-Volume Macmillan Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History , edited by Jack Salzman. New York: Macmillan, 1998.
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