Author Archives: Bob Rogers

How Mississippi Baptist churches struggled during the Great Depression

Copyright 2022 by Robert C. Rogers and the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board.

     During the Great Depression, nearly every church had financial struggles, whether the church was large or small. First Baptist Church in Natchez had already begun a new building when the stock market crashed, dedicating their building in 1930. Unfortunately, the debt of approximately $25,000 proved a heavy burden during the depression, and it took them until 1945 to pay it off. The pastor, W. A. Sullivan, asked that his own salary be cut, and the difference be applied to the church debt. Despite this and other sacrifices, in January 1932 the church was unable to pay the interest on their loan. To avoid default, the church took out another loan to pay the interest on the first loan. It was not until 1939 that the financial situation improved enough that they began to pay down the principal on the debt; it took the Natchez church until 1945 to get out of debt1

     First Baptist Church in Clinton borrowed money to build a new building in 1923, but struggled to pay the debt, as it was a small church, with a large majority of the members being college students with little income. The Clinton church’s building debt was a third of its income when the Great Depression came, and the church had little means to pay. In April 1933, the deacons recommended that the pastor serve a month without pay, and that payments to the debt be deferred for six months, paying only the interest. It would be another ten years before they finally paid the debt.2

     Calvary Baptist Church in Jackson was a large congregation of 1600 members in 1930, but many members lost their jobs and left Jackson seeking work elsewhere. The hard times caused them to appoint a five-man committee to present a plan to cut expenses. At first, they proposed moderate cuts, eliminating salaries for choir members, getting rid of one telephone, and urging “strictest economy” in electricity and water use. But as offerings continued to fall, they slashed other salaries and stopped purchasing Sunday school literature.3

     When the Great Depression started, C. J. Olander was pastor of several churches in the Rankin County area, including First Baptist of Brandon, Bethel, Fannin and Pisgah churches, and he started the church at Flowood. Olander wrote later, “The depression became so severe that the members [at Flowood] moved out for the time being and came back and reorganized.” The Brandon Church paid him $450 a year. To supplement his income, Olander sold milk to townspeople and kept a good garden for food. In 1935, Olander went to the Delta to pastor five churches at once, even though a friend warned him that if he went there, “you will never be heard of again and the folk will starve you to death.” Olander said, “It was bad, it was bankrupt, yet today as a result of that ministry there are six full time churches. There was Morgan City, Tchula, Blaine, Cruger, Sidon and Harmony.”4

     Some churches managed to thrive despite the Depression. A. L. Goodrich was called to pastor First Baptist Church, Pontotoc, just 30 days before the banks closed. Rather than let it dampen his spirits, Goodrich focused on sharing the gospel and helping his community. The energetic pastor joined local civic clubs, he took leadership positions in his Association and the State Convention, and he organized the “Pontotoc Cotton Plan” to give hundreds of dollars to the Mississippi Baptist Orphanage. God blessed the church with an increase of 232 members during his years as pastor, 1931-1935. The Pontotoc church’s Sunday night worship attendance was equal to morning worship; they started three choirs, paid off an old debt and installed a pipe organ.5

Dr. Rogers is currently writing a new history of Mississippi Baptists.

SOURCES:

1 “A History of First Baptist Church, Natchez, Mississippi, 1817-2000,” Unpublished document, Archives, Mississippi Baptist Historical Commission, 17-19; Daniel A. Wynn, “History of First Baptist Church of Natchez,” in Forward to Freedom: The 175th Anniversary Celebration, First Baptist Church, Natchez, Mississippi, April 26, 1992.

2 Charles E. Martin, A Heritage to Cherish: A History of First Baptist Church, Clinton, Mississippi, 1852-2002 (Nashville: Fields Publishing, Inc., 2001), 93-96.

3 Randy J. Sparks, Religion in Mississippi (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2001), 183.

4 Tom J. Nettles, The Patience of Providence: A History of First Baptist Church Brandon, Mississippi, 1835-1985 (First Baptist Church, Brandon, Mississippi, 1989), 69, 72-73.

5 The Baptist Record, January 3, 1935, 5.

The story of Dan Moulder, perhaps Mississippi’s greatest country preacher

Rev. Daniel W. Moulder, Jr. and his wife Unie

Copyright by Robert C. Rogers and the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board.

One of the greatest country preachers in the history of Mississippi was the remarkable Daniel Wesley Moulder of Lorena in Smith County. He served as pastor of as many as 11 churches at once. Born on November 26, 1867, Moulder was in his 60s at the time of the Great Depression, yet “Brother Dan” was still going strong. He preached at different locations every weekend, multiple times every Saturday and Sunday, and even occasionally on Friday night. Moulder eventually served 42 different churches in Smith, Simpson, Jones, Rankin, Hinds, Covington and Scott Counties, 16 of which he organized. In 1932, he preached 330 sermons in churches of which he was pastor, and 40 more sermons in other churches. He baptized 117 people in 1932, received 75 other new members, conducted 70 funerals, and performed six weddings. In 1933, Moulder was already serving 10 different churches at once as pastor when he organized another at Lorena in Smith County. During the Great Depression, each weekend he preached to churches scattered across Simpson, Smith and Rankin Counties. He once told a preacher who said he had nothing to preach, “Get your Bible and go among your people. You’ll receive more than you’ll ever be able to preach.” When he died in 1953, he was buried at Goodwater Baptist Church in Smith County, the church where he had been ordained. The Mississippi Baptist Convention annual honored Moulder as “one of Mississippi’s greatest country preachers,” and the Smith County Baptist Association remembered him as “Mississippi’s most widely known and best-loved minister.”

Dr. Rogers is currently writing a new history of Mississippi Baptists.

SOURCES:  The Baptist Record, March 17, 1932; January 5, 1933, 1, 5; December 13, 1990, 2; Minutes, Mississippi Baptist Convention, 1953, cover page; Minutes, Smith County Baptist Association, 1953; Letter, D. W. Moulder to J. L. Boyd, January 14, 1927, Archives, Mississippi Baptist Historical Commission.

The Mississippi Delta preacher and his train ticket

Photo by Omkar Pandhare on Pexels.com

Copyright by Robert C. Rogers and the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board.

     Mississippi Baptists are primarily a rural people, and during the Great Depression, many of these churches could only afford to pay their pastors with vegetables, chickens, eggs and meat from their gardens and farms. The only way that many small country churches could find a pastor was to have one come once or twice a month, and share him with other churches. In 1930, Will Turner, a leader from Straight Bayou Baptist Church in Sharkey County talked to C. C. Carraway, the young pastor of Midnight Baptist Church. Turner asked Carraway if he would preach at Straight Bayou, as well. Carraway, who was a student at Mississippi College, said he would. Turner asked how much his round-trip train ticket cost from Clinton to Midnight, and he said it was $4.28. Turner said, “Then that’s what we’ll pay you each time you come.”

Source: “Straight Bayou Baptist Church: The First Hundred Years, 1891-1991,” Straight Bayou Baptist Church, Anguilla, Miss., Unpublished document, Archives, Mississippi Baptist Historical Commission, 12.

Arthur Flake, the man from Mississippi who changed the face of Sunday School

Copyright by Robert C. Rogers and the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board.

     Arthur Flake was born in Texas, but moved to Winona, Mississippi in 1895 when he married Lena Nelson. A traveling salesman and department store manager, Flake was a gifted organizer who changed the face of Sunday School in the Southern Baptist Convention. In 1895 he organized the first Baptist Young People’s Union (B.Y.P.U.) in Mississippi in his church in Winona. He also served as a volunteer Sunday School superintendent in his church, and he was so successful that he was elected in 1909 as a field worker with the Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. In 1920, he was placed in charge of standardizing how Southern Baptists do Sunday School. He developed his famous “Flake’s Formula” for growing a Sunday School: discover the possibilities, enlarge the organization, provide a place, train the workers, and visit the prospects. Baptist historians point to God’s work through Arthur Flake as a major reason that Southern Baptists have had more growth through Sunday School than other denominations.

SOURCES:

 “Flake, Arthur,” in Encyclopedia of Southern Baptists, vol. 1, (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1954), 440-441; Jesse C. Fletcher, The Southern Baptist Convention: A Sesquicentennial History (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1994), 123.

Mississippi Baptists, Darwin’s theory and a confession of faith

Copyright by Robert C. Rogers and the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board.

     The hottest topic among Baptists in the 1920s was alarm over the teaching of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution; this concern resulted in the adoption, in 1925, of the very first confession of faith of the Southern Baptist Convention. Mississippi Baptists were directly involved in these events.

     The controversy heated up in 1921 when J. Frank Norris, the outspoken conservative pastor of First Baptist Church, Fort Worth, Texas, accused Baylor University of supporting Darwinism. Mississippi Baptists expressed concern over the teaching of the theory of evolution as early as 1922. On October 24, 1922, the Simpson County Baptist Association appealed to the State Convention to appoint a committee “to investigate the character of text-books used in the free schools and colleges of our state… especially if in these schools any teaching is discovered that contradicts the unmistakable teachings of the Word of God.” The State Convention president appointed a committee made up of Baptist educators, to investigate the matter. The committee failed to report in 1923, but that year, Mississippi Baptist evangelist Thomas T. Martin published an anti-evolution book entitled Hell and the High Schools: Christ or Evolution, Which? Martin criticized the educational elite, “a lot of high brows supported by your taxes,” and called on parents to take control of their children’s education.1    

    In 1924, J. W. Provine asked that the committee be relieved of its responsibility, “since the Committee is composed of those connected with the schools.” The Committee on Committees appointed a new committee at the 1924 State Convention, which reported a resolution the very next day, decrying that public school textbooks “almost universally teach Evolution,” and saying “the teaching of this hypothesis is both a perversion of science and a violation of the religious freedom of our people.” The resolution protested the use of tax dollars to oppose Christian doctrine, warned schools not to employ books or teachers that taught evolution, and petitioned the legislature of Mississippi to instruct the Text Book Commission “to adopt no books for use in our schools that teach the unproven hypothesis of Evolution.”2

     In 1925, the state superintendent of schools responded by banning the teaching of evolution in the state’s classrooms, although the Mississippi legislature rejected a law against teaching evolution. However, Tennessee did pass an anti-evolution law in 1925, which sparked a controversy that was literally heard around the nation. John Scopes, a teacher in Dayton, Tennessee, was put on trial for violating the law. The famous lawyer Clarence Darrow defended Scopes, and the prosecution was led by William Jennings Bryan, the three-time Democratic nominee for president. The Scopes “Monkey Trial,” as it was nicknamed, turned into a media circus, as it was aired live on the radio and heard by millions. The following year, Mississippi also passed a law against teaching evolution. The American Civil Liberties Union offered to represent any teacher willing to challenge the Mississippi bill in the courts, but no one took them up on the offer.3  

     It was in this environment that the Southern Baptist Convention adopted its very first doctrinal statement in 1925. Although local churches and associations had published statements of faith for years, larger Baptist organizations had resisted doing so, believing their only creed should be the Bible. In response to concerns raised by J. Frank Norris and others about liberalism, particularly evolution, Baptists began discussing the possibility of having an official statement of faith. This feeling was strong in Mississippi, as in 1924, Mississippi Baptists adopted a resolution that requested that the trustees and faculties of Mississippi Baptist schools prepare a statement of beliefs to which each teacher would be required to subscribe. Similar discussions were happening in other states and at the Southern Baptist Convention. In 1924, the Southern Baptist Convention rejected a call to make a doctrinal statement binding, but it did elect a committee to write a confession of faith, chaired by SBC president and Mississippi native, E. Y. Mullins. With the national attention of the Scopes trial, Southern Baptists were ready to adopt the Baptist Faith and Message, a statement of faith recommended by Mullins’s committee in 1925.4

     Mullins chose to model the Baptist Faith and Message after the New Hampshire Confession of Faith, which modified some of the strong Calvinist language of other Baptist confessions. Regarding God’s work of grace, the new faith statement said, “Election is the gracious purpose of God, according to which he regenerates, sanctifies, and saves sinners. It is perfectly consistent with the free agency of man…” Instead of saying that Baptists were the only true church, as Landmark Baptists would have it, it simply said, “A church of Christ is a congregation of baptized believers, associated by covenant in the faith and fellowship of the gospel…” While the statement did not mention evolution, it affirmed that “Man was created by the special act of God, as recorded in Genesis.” The next year, in 1926, George W. McDaniel explicitly stated in his presidential address that Southern Baptists rejected evolution. A resolution was adopted making this “McDaniel Statement” binding on all those working for Southern Baptist institutions. Likewise, in November 1926 the Mississippi Baptist Convention adopted a statement of faith that all college faculty were required to sign. In the first sentence, it affirmed belief in “God the creator of all things.”5

SOURCES:

1 O. S. Hawkins, In the Name of God: The Colliding Lives, Legends, and Legacies of J. Frank Norris and George W. Truett (Nashville: B & H Academic, 2021), 95; Minutes, Mississippi Baptist Convention, 1922, 28; Randy J. Sparks, Religion in Mississippi (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2001), 182.

2 Minutes, Mississippi Baptist Convention, 1924, 20, 26-28.

3 Sparks, 182; Thomas S. Kidd, American History, vol. 2 (Nashville: B & H Academic, 2019), 130-131.

4 Jesse C. Fletcher, The Southern Baptist Convention: A Sesquicentennial History (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1994), 141-142; Robert A. Baker, The Southern Baptist Convention and Its People, 1607-1972 (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1974), 398-399; Minutes, Mississippi Baptist Convention, 1924, 28.

5 Fletcher, 142-143; Baker, 398-399; Annual, Southern Baptist Convention, 1925, 72-73, Minutes, Mississippi Baptist Convention, 1926, 21-22.

The beginnings of William Carey University

Student Council of Mississippi Woman’s College, 1935

Copyright by Robert C. Rogers and the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board.

     Since Mississippi College was an all-male school, Mississippi Baptists were looking to sponsor a college for women in the early twentieth century, and the opportunity fell into their lap in Hattiesburg.1

     A group of New Orleans businessmen had founded South Mississippi College in Poplarville in 1906, and then immediately moved it to land in the south part of Hattiesburg. Under the leadership of William I. Thames, it quickly grew, but then tragedy struck. On the night of February 28, 1910, a devastating fire destroyed the main building, eliminating classrooms, the library, and the auditorium. The school was forced to close. In 1911, W. S. F. Tatum, a wealthy lumberman and Methodist layman, bought the 10 acres and remaining two buildings. Tatum offered the property to the State of Mississippi for a “Normal College” (teacher’s college), but the site was rejected by the State. He then offered the property to his fellow Methodists, but they chose not to build another college, since they already had Millsaps College in Jackson. He then offered it to as a gift to the four Baptist churches in Hattiesburg. Those churches accepted the offer, formed a corporation, and the trustees hired W. W. Rivers from Arkansas to become president. Rivers secured a faculty, recruited students, and opened the school in September 1911 under a new name, Mississippi Woman’s College. They offered the debt-free college to the Mississippi Baptist Convention, and it was accepted by the State Convention on November 23, 1911.2

     John L. Johnson, Jr. served as president of Mississippi Woman’s College from 1912-1921, and during his administration an administration building, Tatum Court, was completed in 1914, and brick dormitories, Ross and Johnson Halls, were added, as well as an infirmary and a model home to be used as a laboratory for domestic science classes. Enjoying rapid growth in enrollment, the campus expanded to 40 acres, and gained accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools in 1926. By 1929, the college had 500 students. This school later became William Carey University, which will be the subject of a future blog post.3

Dr. Rogers is currently writing a new history of Mississippi Baptists.

SOURCES:

1 Minutes, Mississippi Baptist Convention, 1900, 63.

2 Donna Duck Wheeler, William Carey College: The First 100 Years (Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2006), 8, 16-17; Minutes, Mississippi Baptist Convention, 1911, 55-56.

3 Wheeler, 8; Minutes, Mississippi Baptist Convention, 1919, 22-23; 1929, 55.

The controversy that almost moved Mississippi College to Meridian

Copyright by Robert C. Rogers and the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board.

     Few Mississippians are aware that in the 1890s, there was a huge controversy among Baptists over an attempt to remove Mississippi College from Clinton to a more prominent location, ultimately favoring Meridian. Those in favor of relocating the school were nicknamed “removalists.” The removalist movement began sometime in the mid-1880s, as it was first suggested publicly at the State Convention in 1885, and the issue came to the forefront in 1891.1

     The trustees of Mississippi College tried to stop the movement by making changes in the administration of the college. The president, W. S. Webb, had served faithfully since 1873 but he appeared physically incapable of continuing as the administrator of the college. On August 11, 1891, after a closed-door meeting with the faculty, the trustees encouraged Dr. Webb to retire, which he agreed to do, and he was made an emeritus professor. Webb was succeeded by his son-in-law, Robert A. Venable, who left the pastorate of First Baptist Church of Memphis to become the college’s president. Two younger professors, R. M. Leavell and S. C. Mitchell, resigned in objection to these changes. Historian Z. T. Leavell implied that the changes involved a conflict between older and younger generations, writing that “the surging of young manhood, with progressive ideas opposed the staid thoughts of wise old age.”2

     At the same time that it was making administrative changes, Mississippi College was having financial problems. More than half of all Mississippi Baptist gifts went to the college in 1891, yet the college operated at a loss. The buildings needed repairs, and the finance committee was behind in paying professor’s salaries. The school reported these deficits to the Convention from year to year, but the deficits continued to increase. The trustees urged an increase in the college endowment from $40,000 to a “minimum” of $100,000, if the school were to compete with rival institutions. It was because of these challenges that the “removalist” movement arose. Some leaders contended that the removal of Mississippi College to a larger city would give it added prestige, thus furnishing an incentive for larger gifts for its endowment. Clinton was still a village of only 354 people in 1900, whereas Meridian had 14,050 citizens, making it the second-largest city in the State after Vicksburg’s 14,834.3

     At the State Convention meeting in 1891, a committee was elected to study other possible locations for Mississippi College. There was widespread interest in relocating the college, even some support among the college’s closest friends, as the study committee included two trustees of the college, and former college president W. S. Webb presided over the meeting, as he was serving as president of the Mississippi Baptist Convention at the time.4

     When the State Convention met again in 1892, the committee reported an offer from the city of Meridian to donate 20 acres of land and erect a building by October 1893, if the college would relocate there. Immediately after the report, W. H. Hardy proposed that the offer of Meridian be accepted. Hardy was a resident of Meridian, former State Convention president, and one of the most prominent businessmen in the State. However, there was fierce opposition to the proposal. Walter Hillman of Clinton delivered a well-prepared speech against the relocation. Hillman was the former president of Hillman College and Mississippi College, and he had given financial aid to the college during the Reconstruction period when no one else could. Both Hardy and Hillman were respected, influential leaders. Sharp lines were drawn, but those favoring removal were in the majority. Speeches, motions and counter motions were made on each side. J. S. Solomon of Meridian raised the offer to 80 acres of land and the “removalists” guaranteed $50,000 from business men of Meridian, to remove the college to Meridian, while the opposition could only offer to repair the buildings at Clinton. Debate continued until 1:30 in the morning, when the exhausted messengers finally voted, 96-66 in favor or removing the college to Meridian. Mississippi College was to be removed from Clinton.5       

     While the question was settled by a vote of the Convention, it was not settled in the minds of Mississippi Baptists. The State Convention of 1892 was “the stormiest of the 19th century.” Central Association, where Clinton was located, was discontented, and the people of Clinton were determined to exhaust every resource before giving up the college. The State was deluged with circular papers condemning the removal. The debate was so heated, that editor of The Baptist Record decided to stop printing letters and circulars on the subject. W. H. Hardy pointed out that the Convention had already voted, and it was a moot issue.6

     At this point, a lawyer for the Mississippi College trustees dropped a bombshell. On January 11, 1893, Judge David Shelton presented his opinion to the trustees that the college charter from the legislature fixed the name, and location of the college at Clinton, and that the Baptists took control of Mississippi College identified by name and location. Therefore, removal of the college would be a breach of the charter and the Baptists would forfeit control. The trustees took no action, but this legal opinion ultimately became the death blow to the removal movement. The committee appointed by the State Convention to supervise the relocation of the college did nothing. Meridian became impatient by the inaction and gave the Baptists a deadline of March to begin the removal. When nothing happened, Meridian withdrew its bid. As powerful as William H. Hardy was, he could not win this battle. Hardy built a railroad from Meridian to New Orleans and built another railroad from Jackson to Gulfport, Hardy established the towns of Hattiesburg and Gulfport, and Hardy had even persuaded reluctant Baptists to organize a more efficient State Convention Board, but Hardy could not move Mississippi College.7

Dr. Rogers is currently writing a new history of Mississippi Baptists.

SOURCES:

1 Richard Aubrey McLemore and Nannie Pitts McLemore, The History of Mississippi College (Jackson: Hederman Brothers, 1979), 95.

2 McLemore, The History of Mississippi College, 111;  Z. T. Leavell, Baptist Annals or Twenty-Two Years With Mississippi Baptists, 1877-1899, 76, 78-79; Minutes, Mississippi Baptist Convention, 1891, 39.

3 Leavell, 77-78; Minutes, Mississippi Baptist Convention, 1891, 38-39; U.S. Census of 1920, “Mississippi: Population of Incorporated Places: 1920, 1910 and 1900,” 17-18.

4 Minutes, Mississippi Baptist Convention, 1891, 31; McLemore, The History of Mississippi College, 118-119.

5 Minutes, Mississippi Baptist Convention, 1892, 11-12, 15-16; Boyd, 191; Leavell, Baptist Annals, 82-83; McLemore, The History of Mississippi College, 120.

6 Boyd, 171; McLemore, The History of Mississippi College, 123.

7 Leavell, Baptist Annals, 85-92; Minutes, Mississippi College Board of Trustees, January 20, 1893; The Baptist Record, February 2, 1893, March 2, 1893; Boyd, 249-251.

The racial segregation in Mississippi Baptist churches after the Civil War

Copyright by Robert C. Rogers and the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board.

    One the most significant social changes among Mississippi Baptists after the Civil War was the racial segregation of churches. Before the war, African slaves constituted a substantial portion of Mississippi Baptist congregations, as I have discussed in previous blog posts. In the decade after the war, black Baptists gradually celebrated their new freedom by separating into independent, self-governing churches. In some areas this happened suddenly, and in other areas of the State it was more gradual. The First Baptist Church of Clinton, for example, had a membership of 283 in 1860, including 113 black members. In 1866, with the absence of college students and withdrawal of black members, the Clinton church was reduced to 36 members, and worship was only held once a month, led by a pastor from Raymond. In 1864, Jerusalem Baptist Church had 65 black members, but all of them were gone by 1866. Bethesda Church in Hinds County agreed in 1867 to allow blacks to hold a separate revival meeting, and later in the same year the church granted the following request: “The colored members signified a desire to withdraw from the church to organize an independent church and asked permission for the use of the church house one sabbath each month.” Likewise, black members of Academy Church in Tippah County met separately after the war, and had a black preacher, but used the Academy church building until the 1870s. Charles Moore, a former slave and preacher after the war expressed the common desire of black Baptists, “I didn’t spec’ nothing outten freedom septin’ peace an’ happiness an’ the right to go my way as I please. An’ that is the way the Almighty wants it.”1  

     In other areas, black members continued to worship alongside whites in the same churches for a decade or more. Ebenezer Church in Amite County continued to refer to “colored” members frequently through 1874, and then there was one more mention in 1877 of a “colored” member who asked to be restored so that he could join New Hope Church. Although most churches remained integrated for several years, tensions began to arise, sometimes fueled by resentment over events of the war. For instance, in September 1865, five months after the war ended, “Eliza a colored woman” joined Sarepta Church in Franklin County by her experience of faith, and “it was moved and seconded that the right hand of fellowship be extended which was done with the exception of one brother who refused to give the right hand of fellowship to the colored woman Eliza.”2

     Despite this occasional white resentment, most white Baptist leaders expressed goodwill to black Baptists. In 1870, Salem Association in Jasper County recommended that if black members “wish to form churches of their own, that they should be dismissed in order and assisted in doing so, but where they wish to remain with us as heretofore and are orderly, we think they should be allowed to do so.” Black membership in Salem Association declined from 206 in 1865 to 122 in 1870. As late as 1872, 81 blacks continued to worship in biracial churches in the association, and blacks continued in the records of Fellowship Church as late as 1876. The Mississippi Association reported 131 black members in 1874.3

Segregation of Mississippi Baptist churches started out as a celebration of freedom for blacks, but by the 1890s, it had also become an expectation of whites. The Mississippi Baptist Convention assumed that their churches were made up of white members only. For instance, the 1890 State Convention referred to itself as: “The Mississippi Baptist Convention… representing a denomination of 80,000 white Christians…” However, the State Convention maintained friendly relations with “colored” Baptists, as they were politely called. When the General Baptist Convention of Mississippi, made up of African-Americans, met at the same time as the Mississippi Baptist Convention, they frequently exchanged telegrams of Christian greetings. Mississippi Baptist pastors frequently led Bible institutes for black Baptist pastors and deacons, and the State Convention encouraged white pastors to donate their time to teach at these institutes across the State.4

SOURCES:

1 Charles E. Martin, A Heritage to Cherish: A History of First Baptist Church, Clinton, Mississippi, 1852-2002 (Nashville: Fields Publishing, Inc., 2001), 36; Randy J. Sparks, Religion in Mississippi (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2001), 139.

2 Minutes, Ebenezer Church, Amite County. November 1, 1873, May 2, 1874, October 3, 1874, July 1, 1877; Minutes, Sarepta Church, Franklin County, September 1865.

3 Sparks, 139-140; Minutes, Mississippi Baptist Association, 1874.

4 Minutes, Mississippi Baptist Convention, 1890, 31; 1891, 14; 1897, 20-21.

Dr. Rogers is currently revising and updating A History of Mississippi Baptists.

Prayer to hear God’s whisper

Photo by Julia Volk on Pexels.com

Copyright by Bob Rogers.

Almighty God, I have no trouble hearing You speak in the fire, the storm, and the earthquake, but sometimes I miss Your still, small voice. Gently nudge me by Your Spirit to step out of my cave of self-focus and hear Your quiet voice. Help me to draw so close to You, that I can hear Your whisper and I can even feel the warmth of Your breath. In the Name of the Word made flesh I pray. Amen. 

The first Baptist missionary to the Mississippi Gulf Coast, John B. Hamberlin

Oyster Fishing in Biloxi, MS. Source: Library of Congress.

Copyright by Robert C. Rogers and the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board.

Although Baptists were well-established in the rest of Mississippi, they were late getting started on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. In 1868, the Mississippi Baptist Convention listed the names of the Baptist ministers in Mississippi and their post offices, nearly all of which were in north or central Mississippi. Not a single Baptist minister resided on the Mississippi Coast. In 1873, W. H. Hardy of Meridian called attention to the lack of Baptist churches in Jones, Perry, Greene, Harrison and Hancock counties, and “the populous towns along the sea shore.” He called for the Convention to send missionaries to Pascagoula or Pass Christian “or some other convenient point.”

In 1875, the Mississippi Baptist Convention sent John B. Hamberlin as a missionary to the Mississippi Coast, where, he reported, there was “only one little Baptist church, and that in a disorganized state.” This church was located three miles in the country from Ocean Springs, and he relocated it in the town. He also started a church in Moss Point, which built a house of worship. Next, he targeted Biloxi, where “Roman Catholicism overshadows everything.” He found “a poor old widow” who was the only member left of a small Baptist congregation that once had a house of worship there. “He got possession of the old house, made some repairs upon it; has conducted two special meetings, and has recently organized a church of seventeen members.” Sadly, a yellow fever epidemic in 1876 took the life of Hamberlin’s wife while they were in Biloxi, and he sent his small child inland to get away from the epidemic, while he returned to his mission work on the Coast. Hamberlin wrote, “My wife is dead; my home is broken up; my child is gone, and my heart is desolate; but I hope in the future to be a better man, and to do more and better work for Christ than ever before.”

SOURCE:

Minutes, Mississippi Baptist Convention, 1868, 22-23, 29-30; 1873, 17-18; 1875, 12; 1876, 24-25. 

Comparing abortion rights to slaveholder rights

Photo by Brett Sayles on Pexels.com

Copyright by Bob Rogers.

When the Supreme Court Dobbs decision of 2022 returned to the States the authority to decide their own policies on abortion, many observers noted that the last time we had such division among the United States was when we had “free” and “slave” States. Of course, both pro-life and pro-abortion leaders prefer to identify themselves with the “free” States.

The historical reality is that back then, both sides also saw themselves on the side of protecting their rights. Abolitionists wanted to protect the rights of slaves to be free, but slaveholders saw themselves as defending their rights to own slaves.

When Mississippi seceded from the Union, it published “A Declaration of Independence” which framed slave ownership in much the same way as modern abortion rights activists frame their claim to a right to abortion. Mississippi complained of how the abolitionist movement endangered their rights, saying, “it denies the right of property in slaves and refuses protection to that right… It has recently obtained control of the Government…We must either submit to degradation, and to loss of property worth four billions of money, or we must secede from the Union.”

Like it or not, slaveholders saw themselves as victims of having their rights stripped away. Even some of their Northern friends saw it that way. When Francis Wayland of Rhode Island wrote to slaveholders in the South, he said, “You will separate of course. I could not ask otherwise. Your rights have been infringed.”

The truth is that anybody can demand their rights; the real question is which right is greater. The so-called “right” to hold somebody in slavery violated the human right of that slave. Those who desire a right to abortion loudly shout, “My body, my choice.” However, the babies in the womb are unable to speak up about their bodies; they have no choice, unless somebody speaks up for their right to life. We must ask ourselves, which right is more important?

Rev. T. C. Teasdale’s daring adventure with Jefferson Davis and Abraham Lincoln

Copyright by Robert C. Rogers and the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board.

One of the most amazing but lesser-known stories of the Civil War is how a Mississippi Baptist preacher got both Jefferson Davis and Abraham Lincoln to agree to help him sell cotton across enemy lines in order to fund an orphanage. Although the plan collapsed in the end, the story is still fascinating.

Since over 5,000 children of Mississippi Confederate soldiers were left fatherless, an interdenominational movement started in 1864 to establish a home for them. On October 26, 1864, the Mississippi Baptist Convention accepted responsibility for the project. The Orphans’ Home of Mississippi opened in October 1866 at Lauderdale, after considerable effort, especially by one prominent pastor, Dr. Thomas C. Teasdale.1

     Rev. Teasdale was in a unique position to aid the Orphans’ Home, because of his influential contacts in both the North and South. A New Jersey native, he came to First Baptist Church, Columbus, Mississippi in the 1850s from a church in Washington, D.C. When the Civil War erupted, he left his church to preach to Confederate troops in the field. In early 1865, he returned from preaching among Confederate soldiers to assist with the establishment of the Orphans’ Home of Mississippi. He launched a creative and bold plan to raise money and solve a problem of donations. A large donation of cotton was offered to the orphanage, and the cotton could bring 16 times more money in New York than in Mississippi, but how could they sell it in New York with the war still raging? Since Teasdale had been a pastor in Springfield, Illinois and Washington, D.C. and had preached to the Confederate armies, he was personally acquainted with both U.S. President Abraham Lincoln (from Illinois) and Confederate President Jefferson Davis, and many of their advisers. In February and March 1865, he set out on a dangerous journey by horseback, boat, railroads, stagecoach and foot, dodging Sherman’s march through Georgia, crossing through the lines of the armies of both sides, and conferred in Richmond and Washington, seeking permission from both sides to sell the cotton in New York for the benefit of the orphanage.2

     Confederate President Davis readily agreed, and on March 3, 1865, Davis signed the paper granting permission for the sale. Next, Dr. Teasdale slipped across enemy lines and entered Washington, a city he knew well, since he was a former pastor in the city. He waited in line for several days for an audience with President Lincoln, but he could not get in, since government officials in line were always a higher priority than a private citizen. Finally, he sent a note to Mr. Lincoln, whom he knew when they both lived in Springfield, Illinois, saying that he was now a resident of Mississippi and that he was there on a mission of mercy. Lincoln received him, and he listened to the plea for cotton sales to support the orphanage, but the president was skeptical. Why should he help Mississippi, a State in rebellion against the United States? In his autobiography, Teasdale records Lincoln’s words: “We want to bring you rebels into such straits, that you will be willing to give up this wicked rebellion.” Dr. Teasdale replied, “Mr. President, if it were the big people alone that were concerned in this matter, I should not be here, sir. They might fight it out to the bitter end, without my pleading for their relief. But sir, when it is the hapless little ones that are involved in this suffering, who, of course, who had nothing to do with bringing about the present unhappy conflict between the sections, I think it is a very different case, and one deserving of sympathy and commiseration.” Lincoln instantly said, “That is true; and I must do something for you.” With that, Lincoln signed the paper, granting permission for the sale. It was March 18, 1865. However, a few weeks later, on April 9, 1865, General Robert E. Lee surrendered his Confederate Army to Union forces under General Ulysses S. Grant. By the time Teasdale returned home, the war was over, the permission granted by Jefferson Davis no longer had authority, Lincoln was assassinated, and Teasdale abandoned his plans. Teasdale said, “This splendid arrangement failed, only because it was undertaken a little too late.” Undaunted, Dr. Teasdale volunteered as a fundraising agent for the orphanage and staked his large private fortune on its success. Rarely has there been a more daring donor to a Christian cause!3

Dr. Rogers is currently writing a new history of Mississippi Baptists.

SOURCES:

1 Minutes, Mississippi Baptist Convention, 1866, 3, 12-17; 1867, 29-31.

2 Jesse L. Boyd, A Popular History of the Baptists in Mississippi (Jackson: The Baptist Press, 1930), 131.

3 Thomas C. Teasdale, Reminiscences and Incidents of a Long Life, 2nd ed. (St. Louis: National Baptist Publishing Co., 1891), 173-174, 187-203; Boyd, 130-132; Minutes, Mississippi Baptist Convention, 1866, 3, 14-16.

M.P. Lowrey, Mississippi’s “fighting preacher” in the Civil War

Copyright by Robert C. Rogers and the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board.

    One of the most interesting Mississippi veterans of the Civil War was M. P. (Mark Perrin) Lowrey. Lowrey was a veteran of the Mexican War, then a brick mason who became a Baptist preacher in 1852. When the Civil War began, he was pastor of the Baptist churches at Ripley in Tippah County and Kossuth in Alcorn County. Like many of his neighbors in northeast Mississippi, he did not believe in slavery, yet he went to Corinth and enlisted in the Confederate Army. He was elected colonel and commanded the 32nd Mississippi Regiment. Lowrey commanded a brigade at the Battle of Perryville, where he was wounded. Most of his military career was in Hood’s campaign in Tennessee and fighting against Sherman in Georgia. He was promoted to brigadier-general after his bravery at Chickamauga, and played a key role in the Confederate victory at Missionary Ridge. In addition to fighting, he preached to his troops. One of his soldiers said he would “pray with them in his tent, preach to them in the camp and lead them in the thickest of the fight in the battle.” Another soldier said Lowrey “would preach like hell on Sunday and fight like the devil all week!” He was frequently referred to as the “fighting preacher of the Army of Tennessee.” He led in a revival among soldiers in Dalton, Georgia, and afterwards baptized 50 of his soldiers in a creek near the camp. After the war, Lowrey founded Blue Mountain College in Tippah County, and the Mississippi Baptist Convention elected Lowrey president for ten years in a row, 1868-1877.

SOURCES:

John T. Christian, “A History of the Baptists of Mississippi,” Unpublished manuscript, Mississippi Baptist Historical Commission Archives, Clinton, Mississippi, 1924, 135, 197; Robbie Neal Sumrall, A Light on a Hill: A History of Blue Mountain College (Nashville: Benson Publishing Company, 1947), 6-12.

Dr. Rogers is currently revising and updating A History of Mississippi Baptists.

Psalm 23 in rhyme

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Copyright by Robert C. Rogers.

My shepherd is the Lord,

There is nothing that I lack.

He leads me by river fords,

On green pastures I lay back.

He makes my life new

And leads me on right paths.

Dark valleys I get through

With His rod and His staff.

A table for me You prepare

Before those that I oppose.

Your pour oil upon my hair;

My cup fills up and overflows.

You follow me with goodness and grace

For the rest of my earthly days.

I will dwell in my Heavenly place

By Your city forever amazed.

A prayer when you don’t know what to pray

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Copyright by Robert C. Rogers.

Lord, this is a situation out of my control. I don’t even know what to pray. But You have told us in Your word, that when we do not know what to pray, the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with unspoken groanings (Romans 8:26). So Holy Spirit, search my heart, and please put it into the language of the angels, and send my request before the throne of Almighty God. I have nothing more to say, other than my simple groanings of faith, as I hope in You. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.