To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. —1 Corinthians 12:7
February is African American History Month. Should Presbyterians spend time reading and learning about the roles that African Americans have played in the foundation of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)? In other words, Does African American Presbyterian history matter? The African American Congregational Support office in Racial Ethnic & Women’s Ministries offers a resounding yes—of course African American Presbyterian history matters!
Like the ministry of John Gloucester, for example. In 1807, Gloucester arrived in Philadelphia and began preaching. Rising from slavery and oppression, he formed the first African American Presbyterian congregation in 1811 and led African American Presbyterians to see the light of Christ within each of them. He was the first ordained African American minister in the Presbyterian Church.
African American women have played a major role in shaping education throughout the years. Lucy Craft Laney, who organized a school in the basement of Christ Presbyterian Church in Augusta, Ga., was a recipient of the General Assembly Women of Faith Award. Mary McLeod Bethune received her early training at a Presbyterian mission school and went on to establish what became Bethune-Cookman College, a private, historically black college in Daytona Beach, Fla. In 1923, McLeod became one of only a few women in the world to serve as a college president.
At the end of the Civil War, education was one of the primary needs of the emerging people, and African American women and men assisted in laying a firm foundation for knowledge. For the first time, many attended institutions and received degrees before going on to work in schools that were established by the Board of Freedmen, and later the Board of National Missions, of the Presbyterian Church.
African Americans have served as pastors, Christian educators, musicians, mid council executives and moderators of the General Assembly and in various leadership roles with Presbyterian Women and other ministries of the church. African American women and men continue to utilize their gifts and talents to serve God and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
Our faith as Presbyterians calls us to walk alongside those who are oppressed and to create opportunities and change environments so that all who have gifts for ministry can fully live out their call.
This month is a time that the church and the nation have set aside to honor African Americans, who have contributed so much to society and the church. We celebrate the history and contributions of African Americans in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) this African American History Month and throughout the year. And we continue to be inspired by those who have ensured that equal opportunities were offered to all people, regardless of the color of their skin.