The Presbyterian Historical Society (PHS) continues to make progress on its effort to document the Black Presbyterian experience through the African American Leaders and Congregations Collecting Initiative (AALC).

The AALC brings resources to bear on collecting church and leader records — both the personal records of longtime church workers and the original records of Black congregations. Recently, a new group of churches participated in the program, including Salt and Light and New River Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, and three churches in Queens, New York: the Presbyterian Church of St. Albans, Hollis Presbyterian Church and First Presbyterian Church in Jamaica.

Edler Hawkins and commonplace book, image courtesy of PHS.

Edler Hawkins and commonplace book, image courtesy of PHS.

Along with paper records, PHS collects a wide variety of digital formats and records oral and video histories. Through AALC, PHS recorded interviews at the National Black Presbyterian Caucus conference and preserved the memorial service of Melva Costen.

In 2023, PHS added 29 new African American collections amounting to more than 25 cubic feet and 26 gigabytes of data. These included the commonplace books of Edler Hawkins and the personal papers of minister, mission worker and theologian Marsha Snulligan Haney; the elder and social worker Gladys Turner Finney; and the minister and Black Caucus organizer Maxine Jenkins.

The PHS digitization team imaged more than 10,000 pages of records for nine Black Presbyterian churches, among them Christ Presbyterian Church in Milwaukee, Davie Street Presbyterian Church in Raleigh, North Carolina, and Edisto Presbyterian Church in Edisto Island, South Carolina.

The AALC supports the free digitization of African American congregations’ earliest records. African American congregations can have their session minutes and registers imaged at PHS (up to 1200 pages of text) at no cost. PHS can then secure the original records in the archives or return them to the church.

Because it’s impossible to understand the PC(USA) without listening to Black voices, PHS is highlighting two oral histories that bookend last year’s work: a January interview with then-Stated Clerk of the General Assembly J. Herbert Nelson, II and a December interview with Cedric Portis of Third Presbyterian Church in St. Louis.

Learn more about the African American Leaders and Congregations Collecting Initiative.

This article first appeared as a PHS blog: