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Visages of African-American heroes —Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass, and Martin Luther King, Jr.—are taped to the front of the Victory Temple Baptist Church sanctuary where about 30 are gathered on a misty Wednesday night for worship. Stacked on a shelf in the church's foyer are Lottie Moon Christmas-offering envelopes.

The curious observer might wonder what link Moon, a white, nineteenth-century missionary heroine of the Southern Baptist Convention, has to a black Baptist church.

The answer lies in Victory Temple's unique background: In many ways the church is purely Southern black; in others, it is purely Southern Baptist.

Victory Temple is one of about 20 black Southern Baptist churches in Mississippi. Given Baptist history, combining black and Southern Baptist would typically be an oxymoron. Churches like Victory Temple, near the Mississippi River in the Delta town of Greenville, are reversing that.

A PAST STILL PRESENT

The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) has shown as much desire as any American evangelical institution to rid itself of its racist past.

The SBC was organized 150 years ago this month, when Baptists in the South split from the national Triennial Convention and its extension, the American Baptist Home Mission Society, in a dispute over whether slave owners should become missionaries. Northern abolitionists objected to the idea, while Southern Baptists argued that it was their right.

Although many blacks were initially members of SBC congregations—the churches of their slave masters—following the Emancipation Proclamation and the finish of the Civil War, blacks left the denomination in droves. By 1890, out of more than one million SBC members, there were no African Americans. Black ...

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In the Magazine

May 15, 1995

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