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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

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.

How Baptists acquired Mississippi College

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

    Mississippi College had been founded at Clinton in 1826 as Hampstead Academy, by a group of local citizens interested in education for their children. Thirty students enrolled for the first time in 1827. Its founders were influential people; they included H. G. Runnels, who was to become governor of the State. In 1827 the legislature changed its name to Mississippi Academy, and then in 1830 the name was changed to Mississippi College, with the authority to grant “such degrees in the arts, sciences and languages, as are usually conferred in the most respectable colleges in the United States.”1

    Mississippi College was divided into a female and male department, each with its own faculty. The female department prospered better than the male department, and in 1831, the college became the first coeducational institution in America to grant degrees to women: Alice Robinson and Catherine Hall. The curriculum for women in 1837 included Latin, Greek, French, music and fine art. Supporters of Mississippi College hoped it would be adopted by the legislature as the State University, especially since the legislature allowed it to be financed by public land monies. However, in 1840 the legislature established the University of Mississippi, and began to select a location (eventually choosing Oxford), which ruled out a possibility of Mississippi College becoming the state’s university. At this point, the trustees looked for a religious denomination to sponsor the school. They offered the college to the Methodists, who accepted but then quickly rescinded their decision in 1841, since they had created their own school, Centenary College, not far away in Brandon Springs. The trustees then turned to the Presbyterians, who accepted, and in 1842 the Clinton Presbytery of the Mississippi Synod assumed control of the college. The Presbyterians operated the institution from 1842 to 1850 with considerable success. However, the Presbyterian denomination was suffering theological and political schisms between “Old” and “New” schools, dividing between North and South, much as Baptists had divided. These struggles, along with competition for funds from with another Presbyterian school, Oakland College, forced the trustees to offer Mississippi College to the State in 1848 a “normal” college to educate teachers. The legislature refused, so in 1850 the Clinton Presbytery severed ties to the college, and the trustees surrendered the school to the citizens of Clinton.2

     Clinton was not able to manage the college by itself. Although Hinds County in 1850 was a prosperous, growing county, with a population of over 25,000, and a railroad line had been completed from Vicksburg, through Clinton to Jackson, Clinton itself was still only a village of a few hundred people. The citizens of Clinton could not support the college by themselves, and the enrollment of the school was not yet large enough to support the college on its own. Even the faculty selected for the 1850-51 session, which included a Baptist as president, William Carey Crane, were unable or unwilling to accept the responsibility. At this point, a Methodist pastor suggested giving Mississippi College to the Baptists, and a wealthy Baptist leader seized on the opportunity. Rev. Thomas Ford, minister of the Methodist Church in Clinton, suggested that the Mississippi Baptist Convention sponsor the college. Benjamin Whitfield, a wealthy planter and pastor in Hinds County, and one of the founders of the Mississippi Baptist Convention, was elected a trustee of the college on August 12. If the transfer was to be made to the Baptists, quick action was needed, because there was a rival proposal for the Baptists “of building up a college at Raymond,” which was going to be presented to the State Convention in November. A committee that included Whitfield negotiated the deal on November 1, and when the Mississippi Baptist Convention met in Jackson on November 7, the committee recommended that the project at Raymond be rejected as “impracticable, because of the expense it would involve the Convention.” Then the committee said, “The Trustees of the ‘Mississippi College,’ located at Clinton, Hinds county, offer control of the College, unincumbered by a cent of debt…  The property is understood to be worth eleven thousand dollars. It is recommended, that the tender be at once accepted.” The resolution passed, and the dream of Mississippi Baptists for a college of their own was realized.3

SOURCES:

1 Board of Trustees of Mississippi College, Minute Book I, 3, 5, 7. Also see Isaac Caldwell to John A. Quitman, April 11, 1828, in Jesse L. Boyd, Good Reasons for a History of Mississippi College, 6-7. These materials are in the archives, Mississippi Baptist Historical Commission, Leland Speed Library, Mississippi College, Clinton, Mississippi.

2 Aubrey Keith Lucas, “Education in Mississippi from Statehood to the Civil War,” in A History of Mississippi, vol. 1, Richard Aubrey McLemore, ed. (Hattiesburg: University and College Press of Mississippi, 1973), 360-361; “Mississippi College Timeline,” accessed on the Internet 30 April 2022 at http://www.mc.edu/about/history/timeline; W. H. Weathersby, “A History of Mississippi College,” Publications of Mississippi Historical Society, Centenary Series, V, 184-219. Also see Minute Book I, 51, 56.

3 U.S. Census, “Population of the United States in 1850: Mississippi,” accessed on the Internet 30 April 2022 at https://www2.census.gov/library/publications/decennial/1850/1850a/1850a-34.pdf. The population of Clinton is not even listed in 1850. In 1860, Clinton is listed as having 289 citizens.  U.S. Census, “Population of the United States in 1860: Mississippi,” accessed on the Internet 30 April 2022 at https://www2.census.gov/library/publications/decennial/1860/population/1860a-22.pdf; Board of Trustees of Mississippi College, Minute Book I, 88-90; Clinton News, Dec. 1967; Minutes, Mississippi Baptist Convention, 1850, 27.

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

How to pray for corrupt politicians

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Article Copyright by Bob Rogers

Fiddler on the Roof is a film about changing culture and faith among Russian Jewish families in 1905. In one scene, the village Rabbi was asked if there was a blessing for the czar, who had persecuted the Jews. He replied, “The Lord bless and keep the czar– far away from us!”
We may chuckle at the story, but we still wonder how do we actually pray for bad leaders. We feel a tension between the Biblical command to pray for all those in authority (1 Timothy 2:1-4), and the fact that some of those in authority live ungodly lives and support unrighteous policies.

Cry out to God
Ezekiel cried out to the Lord in distress on behalf of the righteous remnant. “I fell facedown and cried out, ‘Oh, Lord GOD! Are You going to destroy the entire remnant of Israel when You pour out Your wrath on Jerusalem?” (Ezekiel 9:8;  see also 11:13). There is nothing wrong with crying out to God about your heart-felt concern. Ezekiel did. But don’t stop there.

Pray for God to work through bad leaders
Habakkuk cried out to the Lord about evil rulers.  In Habakkuk 1:2, the prophet described life under the wicked King Jehoiakim this way: “This is why the law is ineffective and justice never emerges. For the wicked restrict the righteous; therefore justice comes out perverted.” Sounds like a modern news report, doesn’t it? God’s first answer to this dilemma comes in the next verses, saying, “Look at the nations and observe– be utterly astounded! For something is taking place in your days that you will not believe when you hear about it” (Habakkuk 1:5). He goes on to describe how God would bring judgment on Jerusalem through the Babylonians.
God often uses nations and rulers for His purpose, even evil rulers. God can hit straight with a crooked stick anytime He wishes. He used King Cyrus of Persia (Isaiah 44:28-45:1) to bring the Jews home from captivity. Daniel 2:21 says, “He removes kings and establishes kings. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding.” Acts 2:23 shows how God even used evil leaders in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ: “Though He was delivered up according to God’s determined plan and foreknowledge, you used lawless people to nail Him to a cross and kill Him.”
Therefore, we can pray for God to work through bad leaders. John F. Kennedy had many extramarital affairs, but God used his courage to stand against communist Russia in Cuba. Richard Nixon was corrupted by the Watergate scandal, yet God used him to open doors with China. We may pray for bad leaders by praying for good to overcome evil, despite their failures and sins.

Watch and pray
Returning to Habakkuk, we find two principles of prayer: expectancy, and faith. First is the principle of expectancy: the prophet finally resolved to be a “watchman” in prayer: “I will stand at my guard post and station myself on the lookout tower. I will watch to see what He will say to me and what I should reply about my complaint” (Habakkuk 2:1).  Likewise, we are to watch what happens with rulers, and continually pray, expecting that God will do something. The second principle is faith. The Lord encouraged the prophet to keep watching, and waiting, and then God revealed one of the greatest doctrines of the Bible: “But the righteous one will live by his faith” (Habakkuk 2:4). This verse is quoted repeatedly in the New Testament, reminding us that our salvation comes by faith and trust in the Lord, and Him alone (Romans 1:17, Galatians 2:11 and Hebrews 10:38). As Jesus said, “Watch and pray” (Matthew 26:41; Luke 22:46).

Ask God what you can do
Contemporary Christian singer Matthew West sings about how he saw all kinds of suffering and injustice in the world which disgusted him. Then the singer cried out, “‘God, why don’t you do something?’ He said, ‘I did, I created you!'” (“Do Something” by Matthew West, from the album, Into the Light).
Isaiah gives a similar response to our prayers complaining about bad government.  Isaiah prophesied that the Lord would answer their cries when He saw social injustice in the land (Isaiah 58:3-10). The people were fasting and praying for justice. In this passage, God responded to the prayer by calling on His people to put feet to their own prayers. “Isn’t the fast I choose: To break the chains of wickedness… Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, to bring the poor and homeless into your house, to clothe the naked when you see him, and not to ignore your own flesh and blood? Then your light will appear like the dawn… and the LORD’s glory will be your rear guard” (Isaiah 48:6-8). God hears our prayers for justice to overcome evil, and He nudges us to get personally involved in fighting injustice. Pray for bad leaders by deciding to do something good yourself! You can vote for pro-life candidates, but don’t stop there; volunteer at a crisis pregnancy center. You can vote for candidates who support the police and who fight for racial justice, but don’t stop there; show your kindness and speak up against mistreatment of the police and mistreatment of those of other races.

Conclusion
So what does all of this mean to us today? It means that no matter who occupies the White House, the State House or the courthouse, God is on His throne, and He is in control. It means that while we pray for and support godly leaders, we also pray for God to work His will through ungodly leaders. It means that we put our trust in the Lord, not in earthly leaders. It means that instead of just complaining about evil, we need to ask God what good we can do ourselves. Then we need to get up from our prayers, and do something good in the name of Jesus.

Prayer for Bad Politicians

O God, I cry out to You for my nation. You told us to pray for kings and all those in authority, but how do I pray for bad politicians? The wicked restrict the righteous, and justice comes out perverted. God, do something new! Lord, You remove kings and establish kings; You even used an unbelieving King, Cyrus of Persia, to rescue Your people from exile. Knowing this, Lord, I ask that you either remove bad leaders from their positions, or work through bad leaders to do good. Lord, I will watch and pray for You to work through our nation. I will keep my eye on our leaders to pray for them, but I will keep my faith in You, for my hope is in You, not in politicians. Lord, I ask that You to give me wisdom to vote my values, that You give me courage to volunteer my time and that You give me generosity to donate my money to those who are overcoming evil with good. In the Name of the Righteous Judge. Amen.