The Progressive National Baptist Convention, established in 1961, was the result of a division within the African American Baptist movement in the United States. The roots of the division date from 1957. At this time, the National Baptist Convention, U.S.A., Inc. (NBC), the largest African American Baptist organization, was led by and dominated by the Reverend Joseph H. Jackson, who was both conservative and aristocratic. The Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. was also a member of NBC, but his vision of the convention was much different from Jackson’s.The division that spawned the...
The Progressive National Baptist Convention, established in 1961, was the result of a division within the African American Baptist movement in the United States. The roots of the division date from 1957. At this time, the National Baptist Convention, U.S.A., Inc. (NBC), the largest African American Baptist organization, was led by and dominated by the Reverend Joseph H. Jackson, who was both conservative and aristocratic. The Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. was also a member of NBC, but his vision of the convention was much different from Jackson’s.The division that spawned the Progressive National Baptist Convention (PNBC) developed over two issues. First, the issue of the tenure of the president of NBC, that is, how long a president could serve, had been a point of some discord. It appeared to be resolved under the Reverend D. V. Jemison, Jackson's predecessor. The convention adopted an amendment to the constitution that limited the president to four consecutive terms of office. In 1957 Jackson and his supporters voided this provision of the constitution, which caused significant disagreement among the membership. Jackson expelled ten pastors who opposed him, thereby sowing the seeds for division. Second, this was the early period of the civil rights movement. King had led in the establishment of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), but its numbers were dwarfed by the thousands of African American ministers who constituted the NBC. King's goal was to bring the NBC into the civil rights movement, but Jackson was opposed to any church involvement in the civil rights conflict.In 1960 and 1961 King and other civil rights leaders opposed Jackson's reelection and supported the Reverend Gardner Taylor of New York City. In 1960 the results of the election were disputed, but Jackson maintained control of the NBC; in 1961 Jackson's forces controlled the election, thus securing Jackson's reelection. In disgust, over two thousand ministers, including Taylor, Benjamin E. Mays, Ralph David Abernathy, and King, resigned from the NBC.Into this controversy stepped the Reverend L. Venchael Booth, who had been a supporter of Taylor and also shared King's vision of a progressive African American church that would advance and protect the moral as well as the social needs of African Americans. In the fall of 1961 Booth sent invitations to many African American ministers who were dissatisfied with the NBC to meet to discuss the formation of a new African American Baptist convention. The call for a meeting was also made in a press release dated 11 September 1961 by the “Volunteer Committee for the Formation of a New National Baptist Convention.”Pursuant to Booth's call for a meeting, on 14–15 November 1961, thirty-three African American ministers from fourteen states met at the Zion Baptist Church in Cincinnati, Ohio, which was Booth's church. The meeting culminated in the establishment of the Progressive National Baptist Convention. The Reverend Thomas M. Chambers of Los Angeles was elected the first president of the nascent convention in 1961. In 1967 he was succeeded by Taylor, and the PNBC also adopted a constitutional provision that limited any president to two successive terms. The limitation was later increased to three terms. The day-to-day operations of the convention were vested in the general secretary, which was a full-time position. Booth served as the general secretary of the convention from 1963 to 1970.The PNBC adopted the motto “Unity, Service, Fellowship, Peace.” In furtherance of this motto, during the 1960s and early 1970s, the convention was actively involved in the civil rights movement and opposed the Vietnam War. The convention also advocated on behalf of African American families, as it supported and campaigned for education and job training, and was vocal in its attacks on apartheid in South Africa. The convention established its own Civil Rights Commission, whose members have included the major leaders in the civil rights movement, including King, Abernathy, the Reverend Benjamin Hooks, and the Reverend Jesse Jackson.The PNBC grew steadily; most of its members are located in the major metropolitan areas of the country, such as New York, Detroit, Cincinnati, Chicago, Oklahoma City, and Los Angeles. The thirty-three ministers who formed the convention in 1961 grew to over one thousand by 1989. By 2008, the full membership of the convention stood at approximately 2 million, who resided in thirty-five states and overseas. In the early 1970s, a number of Caucasian Baptist congregations joined the PNBC. Many of the congregations that hold membership in PNBC also hold membership in other conventions. In 2008, PNBC was the third-largest African American Baptist convention in the world.
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