The Progressive National Baptist Convention: The Progressive National Baptist Convention (PNBC) Was Founded in 1961, in the Aftermath of Several Years of Conflict within the National Baptist Convention, U.S.A., Inc. (NBC). the Conflict Centered on Two Issues: (1) the Tenure of President Joseph H. Jackson, and (2) the Civil Rights Activism of Martin Luther King, Jr. (1)

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The Joseph H. Jackson presidency and controversy

Upon the retirement of David V. Jemison as NBC president in 1952, Joseph H. Jackson ran for president of the convention on a reform platform, calling for a constitutional amendment that would limit the service of the president to four consecutive terms. With the help of Martin Luther King, Sr., and Martin Luther King, Jr., Jackson was swept into office. Yet, by 1956, Jackson and his supporters overturned the tenure amendment that he had supported earlier, and the following year, he was reelected to a fifth term as president. (2)

An oppositional group, led by Gardner C. Taylor of Brooklyn, New York, included Martin Luther King, Sr.; Martin Luther King, Jr.; Ralph Abernathy, King's fellow Southern Christian Leadership Conference leader; Benjamin Mays, president of Morehouse College; and L. Venchael Booth, a Cincinnati pastor. This group filed suit against Jackson, (3) accusing him of violating the amended constitution. In its decision, the court sided with Jackson, and at the convention meeting in Philadelphia in 1960, Jackson was installed once again as president of the NBC, after the nominating committee presented him as the only candidate.

In response to Jackson's reelection, the Taylor group demanded a roll call, but the Jackson camp instead adjourned the meeting. While this political maneuvering was occurring, the convention delegates who remained in the hall elected Taylor as NBC president, by a margin of 1,864 to 536. The Jackson camp opposed the actions of these delegates, and when the dispute within the NBC was once again taken to court, the court decided in Jackson's favor. (4) He remained as president of the convention.

Controversy had already erupted earlier at the NBC meeting in Louisville in 1957, during which an embarrassing chair-throwing event occurred. As a result of that controversy, Jackson dismissed ten ministers from the NBC for questioning his tenure. (5) According to the article "Progressive National Baptist Convention: The Roots of the Black Church" by Wallace C. Smith, a large number of delegates sincerely appreciated Jackson's leadership. Jackson, a Mississippi native, was an outstanding preacher and scholar, spoke several languages, and held two graduate degrees. Because of his abilities, the majority of delegates at the meeting "desired" his "dynamic leadership" and were willing to accept the new tenure requirement. (6)

Martin Luther King, Jr., and Civil Rights Activism

In 1956, a year before the Louisville meeting, an NBC symposium was held on the civil rights theme of "National Baptists Facing Integration-Shall Gradualism be Applied?" Speakers included Charles K. Steele, a Tallahassee bus boycott leader, and Thomas J. Jemison, a Baton Rouge bus boycott leader. Jemison's father had earlier been president of the NBC, and the younger Jemison was one of the founders of Southern Christian Leadership Conference and would follow Jackson as president of the NBC. Following the symposium, Martin Luther King, Jr., gave a rousing sermon at the convention entitled "Paul's Letter to American Christians," and convention delegates were "crying and shouting for joy." In response to the passionate sermon, President Jackson asserted, "We must not crown our heroes too quickly." (7) For Smith, the response marked a struggle in "conscience" for black Baptists, with two choices emerging: the conservatism of Jackson and the "progressive liberalism" of King. (8)

Within the NBC, some leaders began calling for King to run for president against Jackson. Yet, according to Smith, while the King family's Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta was a strong church, it was not strong enough to produce an NBC president, and thus, King and his father chose to back Taylor as president. Taylor's church, the Concord Avenue Baptist Church in Brooklyn, had 11,000 members. (9)

Sociologist E. Franklin Frazier has written of political power and the importance of mainline black denominations during the period of national segregation. …