Academic journal article Baptist History and Heritage

African American Baptist Women: A Study of Missions in African American Churches in Atlanta, Georgia: The Missionary Service of African American Women Has Long Mirrored Their Role in the Family. over the Years, They Have Played a Major Role in Keeping the Family Unit Together in Spite of Great Challenges, Including Slavery and Subsequent Prejudices

Academic journal article Baptist History and Heritage

African American Baptist Women: A Study of Missions in African American Churches in Atlanta, Georgia: The Missionary Service of African American Women Has Long Mirrored Their Role in the Family. over the Years, They Have Played a Major Role in Keeping the Family Unit Together in Spite of Great Challenges, Including Slavery and Subsequent Prejudices

Article excerpt

African American women have been the mainstay of their churches, especially Baptist churches. The purpose of this paper is to provide historical insights into the roles of Baptist women in missions in the growth of the African American churches in Atlanta, Georgia.

Evolution of Missions in African American Baptist Churches

In the early nineteenth century, many African Americans deeply felt that it was the "will of God" for them to return home to Africa and evangelize that continent. African American Christians often operated under the conviction that "God was acting in history to effect spiritual and material salvation of all peoples of African descent and that the divine One would use them to present true Christianity and civilization to a world of injustice." (1)

As a result of this deep-rooted belief in their God-given directive, African American Baptists established mission work in West Africa, specifically Liberia and Nigeria. The missionaries sent to those countries endured many obstacles, including the fact they often were given less support than the white missionaries serving in Africa. In spite of this and other obstacles, African American Baptist churches continued to pursue missionary service in Africa.

In addition to support for missions from the limited funds of African American Baptist churches, the American Colonization Society (ACS) and white Baptist churches provided funds for this mission endeavor. (2) Yet, the African American churches did not totally trust the ACS or its leaders because the central goal of the society was send freed slaves back to Africa. Many African Americans believed that the ACS linked missionary work with their goal to get support from the churches. Another cause for concern was that the ACS had the support of white supremacists, slaveholders, and abolitionists, who believed they were improving the plight of the African Americans.

White Baptist churches intentionally chose not to focus their presence in Africa. They instead chose missionary fields in Burma, China, and other Asian fields. White missionaries were afraid of the negative stereotypes they had heard about Africa and the African people. Many missionaries died while serving in West Africa, causing whites to fear going there. They believed that the deaths were due to the climate, which was best suited for African Americans. Later, researchers discovered that these deaths were due to malaria. (3)

The Baptist Foreign Mission Convention

In 1880, William W. Colley led in founding an African American national organization, Baptist Foreign Mission Convention (BFMC). The leadership of the convention was dominated by male ministers, and yet African American Baptist women played a major role in the growth of those conventions. In 1889, only 9 of the 149 delegates to the BFMC were women, and of that nine, three were from Georgia. (4) These three women played active, public roles in the business of the convention by serving on various committees and delivering public addresses on the work of African missions. Records show that women contributed substantial sums to the mission work of the BFMC by making pledges, paying for membership in the convention, and being involved in foreign mission service.

The women who traveled to Africa as missionaries were involved in efforts to transform the lives of African women and children. These women missionaries taught in the day schools, Sunday Schools, and industrial schools; maintained orphanages and boarding schools; did evangelistic work and home visitations; led Bible classes; and provided medical care.

Unfortunately, the convention's minutes were generally androcentric, (5) which means that the participation of the woman is reported in relation to her husband. For example, many couples served as missionary teams, but it is often difficult or impossible to locate in historical records the first names of wives. …

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