In 1942 George Philip Bowser published Directory of the Churches of Christ Colored. A stapled pamphlet of 40 pages, it contains the names of 307 congregations (comprising 17,349 members) and 342 preachers from California to New York and from Michigan to Florida. For each congregation Bowser sought an accurate membership count, the number added during 1942, the value of church property and a contact name. He noted that since some information was lacking, an “approximate record” was given.
Preston Gray, Jr. says this in his Forewords, “We are happy to look out over the vast harvest field of the Lord’s and behold the rapid progress; that is being made among us; although the reapers are few the pace that you have gained thus far is indeed encouraging. Let us, therefore, press on with a greater determination. “FORWARD,” is our motto. Phil 3:13-14.”
As a snapshot of the African-American Churches of Christ at mid-century, it discloses information unavailable elsewhere. There is no indication in this document that it updates or supplements earlier publications. While Leslie Grier Thomas’ New Directory of the Churches of Christ in the United States (Cincinnati: F. L. Rowe, 1939) notes “colored” congregations, it omits many of the congregations on Bowser’s list. Thomas does not list preachers. However Thomas, with George Henry Pryor Showalter, shortly thereafter issued Church Directory and List of Preachers of Churches of Christ (Austin: Firm Foundation Publishing House, 1943). Here appear white preachers and song leaders, “Colored” preachers and song leaders, “Mexican” preachers and “Foreign” preachers and song leaders. In order to identify African-American congregations in this 1943 booklet, it will be necessary to check each entry, something I have not attempted. A similar situation obtains for John P. Fogarty and Olan L. Hicks, 1946-47 Yearbook Churches of Christ (Abilene: Hicks Printing Company, 1947).
Not until Annie C. Tuggle, Our Ministers and Song Leaders of the Church of Christ (Detroit: Annie C. Tuggle, 1945), do some of the names in Bowser’s list find faces and stories through biographical sketches with accompanying photographs. Acknowledging that some did not send in photographs, and thus were omitted, she anticipated their inclusion in a projected second volume. Tuggle lists 134 preachers, 13 song leaders, plus 12 “under age preachers” (among whom is Fred D. Gray) and 3 “under age song leaders.” One will need to search page by page through the various volumes of Preachers of Today and New Testament Churches of Today to locate, where possible…perhaps, additional information beyond what Bowser provides.
Bowser’s list, therefore, appears to be the earliest and most complete of its kind for its time. I spent three evenings working through the lists of congregations and preachers. I do not claim to be a statistician; however, I trust the various data arrangements and charts below will be helpful. Whatever I have done, it is no substitute for reading the actual document. I realize this is no easy task as it is held in only two libraries, Abilene Christian University and Freed-Hardeman University. Should anyone have a copy of this in a personal collection, please consider making it more widely available if only by mailing a photocopy of it to your nearest university or research library.
I welcome additional information, clarification or correction. I should note that I have worked from a copy held in Abilene Christian University’s Center for Restoration Studies, which lacks pages 26-27.
Summary of congregations by state:
15 states (AZ, CO, NY, NM, NJ, NC, PA, KS, LA, CA, OH, IN, MI, MO and GA) have 1-9 congregations each
5 states (IL, KY, TX, OK and FL) have 10-19 congregations each
2 states (AR and MS) have 20-29 congregations each
No state has between 30-39 congregations
2 states (AL and TN) have above 40 congregations each
Number of congregations by state:
1 each: Arizona, Colorado and New York
2 each: New Mexico, New Jersey and North Carolina
4 each: Kansas and Louisiana
7 each: Indiana and Michigan
27: Arkansas and Mississippi
Number of congregations by city:
4 each: Detroit MI and Memphis TN
3 each: Los Angeles CA and Houston TX
2 each: Chicago IL, Indianapolis and Terre Haute IN, Louisville KY, Senatobia MS, Kilgore TX
All other cities have one congregation each
The Nashville congregations are:
Jefferson Street, 500 members, value of church property $4000, R. E. Campbell, 1404 Jefferson
South Hill, 57 members, value of church property $500, Joe Dewee, 90 Wharf Ave.
Horton Street, 35 members, value of church property $1000, Ollie Anderson, 1300 15th Avenue
Jackson Street, 142 members, value of church property $5000, Robt. Cato, 1912 Morene Street
Green Street, 98 members, value of church property $2500, P. H. Black, 1039 21st Avenue
East Nashville, 6th Street, 84 members, value of church property $2000, Jas. Reese, 618 N. Ninth Street
To present the data in a different form, I color coded two US maps, one according to number of congregations, the other by number of preachers.
Summary of preachers by state:
14 states (NC, NM, WV, VA, AZ, LA, KS, MO, PA, OH, IN, MI, KY and CA) have 1-9 preachers each
3 states (IL, GA and OK) have 10-19 preachers each
2 states (MS and AR) have 20-29 preachers each
2 states (AL and FL) have 30-39 preachers each
2 states (TN and TX) have above 40 preachers each
Number of preachers by state:
1 each: North Carolina, New Mexico and West Virginia
2 each: Virginia and Arizona
4 each: Louisiana and Kansas
7 each: Ohio and Indiana
8: Michigan (it may be that Fred Cowan refers to Fred D. Cowin, a white preacher)
9 each: Kentucky and California
Two are unaccounted for inasmuch their address did not list a state. Ten names were duplicated.
The top 12 congregations, of 200 or more members each, number 4588 total members:
Valdosta, Georgia: 740
Bradenton, Florida: 586
Atlanta, Georgia: 535
Jefferson Street, Nashville, Tennessee: 500
Muskogee, Oklahoma: 425
Montgomery, Alabama: 400
Oklahoma City: 299
Quitman, Georgia: 287
Cameron, Detroit, Michigan: 213
Chattanooga, Tennessee: 203
Lawton, Oklahoma: 200
Ensley, Alabama: 200
These 17 congregations, from 84 to 178 members each, number 2229 total members:
Tampa, Florida: 178
Thyatira, Mississippi: 176
Lebanon, Tennessee: 175
Okmulgee, Oklahoma: 160
McMinnville, Tennessee: 160
Huntsville, Alabama: 149
Center Point, Arkansas: 147 (listed as Enter Point, which I take to be a typographical error)
Jackson Street, Nashville, Tennessee: 142
Conway, Arkansas: 130
Halls Chapel, Alabama: 120
Statesville, North Carolina: 109
Kileton, Mississippi: 107
Compton, California: 102
Mobile, Alabama, 100
Oak Grove, Tennessee: 98 (in West Tennessee?)
Murfreesboro, Tennessee: 92
East Nashville, Tennessee: 84
Number of congregations, members and preachers alphabetically by state:
I’m also blogging for ACU; I posted this to that blog just a few moments ago….check it out!
Postcard, ca. 1930’s.
This building was constructed in 1928 and replaced in 1973. For a PowerPoint presentation of 180 years of congregational history, click here.
This notice appears in the 20 November 1889 Gospel Advocate at page 739:
I have been having a protracted meeting in North-east Edgefield. I have established a congregation with nine members. I administer the loaf with them every Lord’s day. I am also teaching in South Nashville, had one addition last night, Bro. Calvin Hardison, by confession and reclamation. Please note that we will start a protracted meeting Wednesday night, the 13th of this month. I preach three times every Lord’s day, twice in South Nashville, and at 3 P. M. in Edgefield.
W. M. SLAY.
Nashville, Nov. 11, ’89.
There have been four baptisms at Gay Street church recently under the preaching of Bro. Howell.
It is difficult to compile a short list of lacunae in Nashville Stone-Campbell history. A thorough-going narrative of the rise of black Churches of Christ, vis-a-vis Gay Street Christian Church would make such a list, and high on it, too. Back of that, though, is the rise of Second Christian Church (the name by which is known Gay Street in earlier days) vis-a-vis the white Church Street Christian Church, of which Philip Slater Fall was long-time pastor. Its deep origins lie in the ‘colored’ Sunday Schools of the 1830’s and there is some connection to the slaves owned by William Giles Harding, horse-breeder extraordinaire and owner Belle Meade mansion. They worshiped as Grapevine Christian Church, very likely in the plantation’s vineyard.
If we are to meet these lacunae head-on, notices such as this in Gospel Advocate will be exceedingly helpful. I am confident others, perhaps many more, are out there in Gospel Advocate alone. Similar items exist in Christian Standard. If we ever find old issues of Christian Echo…ever…what a gold mine that would be!
I post it to raise awareness: there is a significant gap in our understanding of the local congregational context from which emerged the Womack-Bowser-Keeble orbit of black acapella Churches of Christ. Such published reports are one kind of light. Another source are congregational records. Then there are personal familial archives containing photos, letters, mementos. Any of these are immensely helpful, but I want to raise awareness that the congregational records, if there be any…if any were even kept…if anyone originated a list of members or kept tally of income and expenses…will break new ground and lift our eyes to new horizons of understanding. I also post it as an appeal: who has anything to contribute to this story? As always, I welcome input, suggestions and corrections.
Postal card, 3.5 x 5 inches, advertising Tennessee Governor Thomas Clarke Rye‘s, “Go-To-Sunday-School-Day.”
This item is witness to a day past when Hendersonville’s three churches (known now, respectively, as First Presbyterian Church, Hendersonville Church of Christ, and First United Methodist Church; First Baptist Church was established in 1944) cooperated in a drive to motivate the villagers to “join, or attend the Sunday School of [their] choice.” That very likely wouldn’t happen today; another thing that wouldn’t happen is a Tennessee governor launching a ‘Go-To-Sunday-School-Day’ drive for Easter Sunday. Be that as it may, it happened, as this little card evinces.
The Christian Church in Hendersonville, Tennessee in 1917 was a congregation of several dozen members (Hendersonville was not then much more than a village…maybe 300 residents or so). Sara Elizabeth Roberts had not been born, but her parents and siblings were members at the Christian Church. James Alexander Harding drove his buggy from Nashville on April 3, 1893 to hold a tent meeting in Hendersonville. His was not the first Restorationist preaching in Hendersonville, but the results proved to be the longest lasting. It was Easter Sunday and about a dozen memebrs covenanted to establish a congregation which yet meets not a half-mile from where Harding pitched his tent. The worship on Easter Sunday 1893 was acapella, as it was on April 8, 1917, and remains so to this very day. At some point in the 1920s the congregation began to consistently use ‘Church of Christ’ to distinguish itself from those Christian Churches using instruments and supporting missionary societies. The nearest such, so-called digressive, congregation was along Gallatin Road across the county line nearer Nashville. Further in, at East Nashville, were Seveneenth Street and Woodland Street Christian Churches. Vine Street Christian Church was still downtown in 1917. But in 1917 this acapella congregationally autonomous and independnet congregation threw in with Presbyterians and Methodists to get folk in Sunday School. Of course they did, they were basically family in the village then, and all the children rotated among the various special church events. The adults did, too, particularly at revivals or gospel meetings as the case may have been. At some in that same general time frame the Christian Church at Hendersonville discontinued Christmas programs for the children.
By the time of Sara Roberts’ childhood in the late 1920’s and early 30’s young men from David Lipscomb College, students and some faculty, held forth from the Hendersonville pulpit. She did not attend DLC though she did complete the tenth grade at the little grammar school in Hendersonville. They did not award diplomae for completing the tenth grade; no matter, she eventually completed her GED–after retirement–under the tutelage of her daughter, my mother, who did go to DLC. My youngest daughter, Sara, is named for her great-grandmother.