Metro

  • Written by Jason Oliver Evans, Ph.D. Student in Religious Studies, University of Virginia

The high-stakes U.S. Senate race in Georgia[1] catapulted the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church back into the spotlight. For 135 years, the church played a vital role in the fight against racism and the civil rights movement. It was the spiritual home of the civil rights leader, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

It is now the home of the state’s first Black senator – the Rev. Raphael Warnock, the senior pastor at the church.

As a scholar[2] of African American religion and Christian theology, I believe it is important to understand how the Ebenezer Baptist Church has been a seat of Black power and organizing for generations in Atlanta.

‘Stone of help’

Ebenezer Baptist Church, a predominantly African American congregation, was founded in 1886, nearly 20 years after the end of the Civil War. The pastor, Rev. John Andrew Parker, served as Ebenezer’s first pastor from 1886 to 1894. Little is known about Parker and Ebenezer’s early years. But according to historian Benjamin C. Ridgeway, Parker organized the church in a small building[3] located on Airline Avenue in Atlanta.

The name Ebenezer, meaning “stone of help,” comes from the Hebrew Bible. In the First Book of Samuel[4], the Israelites are said to have gathered in the town of Mizpah to offer burnt offerings to God. When their enemies, the Philistines, received notice that the Israelites were in Mizpah, they sent forces to attack them.

With God’s help, the Philistines were eventually defeated. Prophet Samuel then named a large stone “Ebenezer” to remind the Israelites of God’s intervention in their battle against the Philistine army.

As historians Roswell F. Jackson and Rosalyn M. Patterson observed in their 1989 article, “The selection of the name Ebenezer, ‘Stone of help[5],’ was profoundly prophetic[6].” In their view, Ebenezer’s name proved fitting to describe the role the church would come to have in the subsequent civil rights movement.

Growth of the church

The Rev. Adam Daniel Williams[7], the maternal grandfather of King, served as second pastor from 1894 to 1931. Williams led the Ebenezer Church into the 20th century as a religious community mobilized to fight the segregationist policies plaguing the African American community in the state of Georgia.

By 1913, the church had grown from 13 to nearly 750 members. Williams developed a distinct form of the social gospel[8], which emphasized the importance of African Americans owning businesses and taking social action against racial and economic injustice in their local communities.

Known for his powerful preaching, impressive organizing and leadership skills, Williams led several initiatives, including boycotts against a local Atlanta newspaper[9], “The Georgian,” which was known for using racist language against African Americans.

In 1906, Williams led a fight to end the white primary system which prohibited African Americans from voting in the Georgia primaries. In 1917, Williams helped establish the Atlanta chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the NAACP.

A year later, he was elected as branch president of the Atlanta chapter of the NAACP, and, within five months of his tenure, the chapter’s membership grew to 1,400.

As religious historian Lewis Baldwin remarks in his book “The Voice of Conscience[10],” “Clearly, Williams used the [Ebenezer] church as a power base and rallying point for such activities, an approach that would also be used by [Martin Luther] King, Sr. and King, Jr.”

Working for social change

Following Williams’ death in 1931, the Rev. Martin Luther King Sr.[11], Ebenezer’s assistant pastor and Williams’ son-in-law, became the church’s third pastor. During his 40-year tenure as pastor, “Daddy” King, as he was affectionately known, led Ebenezer with a mixture of evangelical faith and progressive social action.

Finding warrant for social action in the Christian scriptures, King Sr. challenged other Black churches to embrace the social gospel[12] – a late 19th-century Protestant movement that emphasized the application of the Christian message to the social and moral concerns of society.

Moreover, King Sr.[13] led marches and rallies to protest discriminatory and segregationist policies in the city of Atlanta, including the desegregation of the Atlanta Police Department and the Atlanta Board of Education. In the first 15 years of King Sr.‘s pastorate at Ebenezer, church membership grew to 3,700[14].

MLK’s spiritual home

Martin Luther King, Jr., Ebenezer Baptist Church Martin Luther King Jr. Annual Commemorative Service at Ebenezer Baptist Church on Jan. 21, 2019 in Atlanta, Ga. Paras Griffin/Getty Images[15]

Ebenezer came into the global spotlight when Martin Luther King Jr. accepted the call to join his father as co-pastor in 1960. Before then, King had pastored Dexter Avenue Baptist Church[16] in Montgomery, Alabama from 1954 to 1959.

During his tenure at Dexter Avenue, King served as president of the Montgomery Improvement Association, the organization which successfully led the Montgomery Bus Boycott from Dec. 5, 1955 to Dec. 20, 1956. In 1959, King resigned from his position as pastor at Dexter Avenue to serve alongside his father as well as serve as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference[17], which is also based in Atlanta.

From the pulpit of Ebenezer, King preached some of his more memorable sermons. In one of his sermons published in a collection titled “The Strength to Love[18],” King describes racial prejudice as indicative of “softmindedness,” a person’s tendency to uncritically adhere to unsupportable beliefs.

In the same sermon, titled “A Tough Mind and a Tender Heart[19],” King argued, “Race prejudice is based on groundless fears, suspicions, and misunderstandings.” To overcome this, King argued that human beings must cultivate both a tough mind and a tender heart, a joining of a critical mind with a concern for fellow human beings.

This message reverberates in contemporary movements for racial equity and justice, including the Black Lives Matter[20] movement. While many BLM members are not affiliated[21] with any organized religion, the movement[22] emphasizes the importance of spiritual wellness for African Americans as they fight for Black liberation.

Since its inception, Ebenezer Baptist Church has been an institution in which evangelical fervor and progressive social activism joined to foster societal change.

This year, the COVID-19 pandemic has prevented the spiritual home of King from hosting the annual commemorative service in honor of the slain civil rights leader, which usually draws 1,700 attendees. But attention to the church has been renewed following the election of Pastor Warnock to the U.S. Senate[23].

One cannot appreciate the importance of MLK Day without understanding the tradition which formed one of America’s most influential civil rights leaders.

[Deep knowledge, daily. Sign up for The Conversation’s newsletter[24].]

References

  1. ^ U.S. Senate race in Georgia (apnews.com)
  2. ^ scholar (virginia.academia.edu)
  3. ^ organized the church in a small building (www.arcadiapublishing.com)
  4. ^ First Book of Samuel (www.biblegateway.com)
  5. ^ Stone of help (www.biblegateway.com)
  6. ^ was profoundly prophetic (www.jstor.org)
  7. ^ Rev. Adam Daniel Williams (kinginstitute.stanford.edu)
  8. ^ the social gospel (kinginstitute.stanford.edu)
  9. ^ local Atlanta newspaper (search.ebscohost.com)
  10. ^ The Voice of Conscience (global.oup.com)
  11. ^ the Rev. Martin Luther King Sr. (www.beacon.org)
  12. ^ social gospel (www.wjkbooks.com)
  13. ^ King Sr. (kinginstitute.stanford.edu)
  14. ^ church membership grew to 3,700 (www.arcadiapublishing.com)
  15. ^ Paras Griffin/Getty Images (www.gettyimages.com)
  16. ^ Dexter Avenue Baptist Church (kinginstitute.stanford.edu)
  17. ^ Southern Christian Leadership Conference (kinginstitute.stanford.edu)
  18. ^ The Strength to Love (www.harpercollins.com)
  19. ^ A Tough Mind and a Tender Heart (www.penguinrandomhouse.com)
  20. ^ Black Lives Matter (www.ucpress.edu)
  21. ^ BLM members are not affiliated (theconversation.com)
  22. ^ the movement (nyupress.org)
  23. ^ the election of Pastor Warnock to the U.S. Senate (theconversation.com)
  24. ^ Sign up for The Conversation’s newsletter (theconversation.com)

Authors: Jason Oliver Evans, Ph.D. Student in Religious Studies, University of Virginia

Read more https://theconversation.com/how-the-ebenezer-baptist-church-has-been-a-seat-of-black-power-for-generations-in-atlanta-152804

Metropolitan republishes selected articles from The Conversation USA with permission

Visit The Conversation to see more

Entertainment News

Danny Winn-An Acting Master Class A-Z, Hollywood Hysteria !

Ah Hollywood, the land of the hopes and dreams for many an entertainer. As so many entertain the idea of relocating their life to the land of milk and honey, we must ask ourselves, is this the right career move or not? This is a question of so ma...

Danny Winn - avatar Danny Winn

ACTING 101 - Getting Noticed

We have all our tools ready to go:  resume, headshots, skills and training, typecasting, and branding.  Now we are ready to look for auditions.  Well sort of.  When we first start out, the pickens are very slim so you take what you can.  That inclu...

Paris Hepburn - avatar Paris Hepburn

SANDRA BOOKER RELEASES “UNTIL WE MEET AGAIN”

SANDRA BOOKER "Until We Meet Again" RELEASES WORLDWIDE MARCH 30TH There is something beautiful about artists whose insight into the human condition allows them to create works that meet our collective moment at a time we most need their...

News Co Media - avatar News Co Media

How Can Music Itself Survive Without Rock n Roll?

Just because you don’t hear much straightforward rock and roll on the Top 40 charts these days doesn’t mean it’s going anywhere. Its time in the mainstream limelight may not be as popular as it was when I was growing up in the 70s and what we now...

Michael Mesey, American Greed - avatar Michael Mesey, American Greed

Danny Winn-An Acting Master Class A-Z, G is for Guild

While I pondered ever so deeply to what the subject matter of G would be this week, a reader of the column came up with an important topic. To the credit of veteran stage and screen actor Rusty Meyers, we will probe into the subject of Guilds als...

Danny Winn - avatar Danny Winn

Is Rock Music a Dying Breed?

“Rock ‘n’ Roll [is here to stay, it...] can […will] never die” – David Ernest White, Neil Percival Young, etc. “Rock ‘n’ Roll is dead” – Leonard Albert Kravitz, Barrington DeVaughn Hendricks, etc. “And so on and so on and scooby dooby dooby…” – S...

Eli Soiefer/Emodulari - avatar Eli Soiefer/Emodulari

Metropolitan Business News

Perfecting Web Design For A Health-Based Website

These days, when it comes to understanding what we put into our bodies, we are more focused than ever. It seems that everywhere we look, there is another health benefit, product, or trend on the...

News Co Media - avatar News Co Media

3 Realistic Reasons Why Physical Offices Are (Almost) Dead

Nowadays, more and more businesses are trying to find alternatives to traditional offices. For many years, brick and mortar offices have been at the heart of a company’s life. But work environme...

News Co Media - avatar News Co Media

Advantages of no-code app development for businesses

A marketer may or may not have knowledge about coding. But even if you don't’ have knowledge in coding, it is easy to build an automation sequence between two apps by making use of a no code app bui...

News Co - avatar News Co

Do Directories Still Help SEO?

Directories were once one of the main staples of SEO and they were definitely in existence before search engines took over. Directories were once the main way that people navigated the world wide we...

News Co - avatar News Co

Shipping Container FAQs

If you are looking to rent or purchase a shipping container, you probably have a few questions. We have selected some of the most common questions and answered them here. We hope that you find this ...

News Co - avatar News Co

Is Duplicate Content an SEO Myth?

Any marketer you speak to about duplicate content is concerned about a “duplicate content penalty” but they are probably not very experienced with SEO. Google has specific guidelines on duplicate co...

News Co - avatar News Co

Writers Wanted


News Co Media

Content & Technology Connecting Global Audiences

More Information - Less Opinion