The Role of the Negro Church and the Negro Minister
in Racial Progress
Speech given in honor of the Reverend Bezalel R. Riley, Salem Baptist Church, Dallas TX
1st, what was the first acknowledged leadership among Negroes following emancipation?
2nd, What organization among Negroes was the first to engage in adult education, furnish our first political leadership, encourage Negro business introduce the Negro professional, and offer its physical equipment as a meeting place and clearing house for all worthwhile enterprises effecting the well being of the entire race?
In answer to the first question: The very first granted leadership which Negroes knew anything about as freed men was the leadership of the Negro preacher. This leadership was in some places permitted before the abolition of slavery. Slave owners liked the Negro preacher, granted him unusual liberties, such as passage from plantation to plantation. But the late James Weldon Johnson in “God’s Trombone” charged the Negro preacher with indoctrinating the race with the opiate of indifference to their economic well being through the philosophy, You may have all this world, but give me JESUS, he was guilty of underestimation to say the least. Instead the Negro preacher was an inspiration to hoe purchase and the establishment of Negro business. They encouraged the freed men to purchase the same land on which they had lived as slaves. It was the Negro preacher, whose leadership helped steer him aright when no other leadership had as yet appeared on the horizon.
In answer to the second question: The Negro church is the greatest asset of the race. It is the clearing house for all other useful activities. Booker Washington said: The Negro church was the first institution to develop the life of the Negro masses, and it still retains the strongest hold upon him. The Negro church is his very own, Ninty per cent of all Negro churches are self supporting. It is the product of the Negro’s hand and brain. It gave him his first opportunity to be recognized as somebody.
The Negro Church taught the race its first lessons in manners, public conduct civil requirements, civic pride. Thhe need and the use of the ballot. It must ever remain to the credit of the Negro Church that although its ministry has been undertrained, it had the vision of the need of a trained leadership. Out of that vision sprang schools like Wilberforce, Morris Brown, Virginia Seminary Bishop College and others. The Negro would be helpless without the church. In spite of the public schools and their resources, the church schools have continued, and in poverty have produced the outstanding men and women of the race.
The Negro church took the professional man such as the lawyer, dentist, physician social worker, banker and public school teacher, introduced them to the skilled and unskilled tradesman, the maid, the cook, the hotel men, the butler, the chauffer, the common laborer. The church in introducing the professional to its group said WE BELIEVE IN HIM. ACCEPT HIM. If the Negro professional fully realized what he owes the Negro church, he would not neglect it as so many of them do, nor give so meagerly to its support, nor absent himself so largely from its worship as is the case with so many.
The Negro slave was always restless under the white man’s religion which confined him to the balconies of white churches and to special jim-crow services. The Negro still has nothing but contempt for the hypocraisy [sic] and spinelessness of much of the white mans’ religion to-day.
To day the Dallas branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored joins the Salem Baptist church in paying homage to its pastor, Rev. B. R Riley. Rev Riley, is a Negro preacher who is definitely interested in Racial Progress. Therefore this Negro preacher is now serving as president of the local chapter of the NAACP. Of the 1159 adult branches of the NAACP, 234 have minister serving as presidents, nearly 400 ministers are members of the board, 28 our of 150 branches are serving as secretaries, 101 of the same 150 hold meetings in the churches of their respective comunities. [sic] The Negro preacher and the Negro church play an important part in this fight for freedom. Certainly you are to be commended for your far-signedness in calling to this church a man like Rev Riley as your Pastor.
On this Tenth Anniversary of the pastorate of Rev B. R. Riley I shall attempt to describe him to you:
T —— He is TALL, TIDY, and THANKFUL, TALKATIVE, but not a TALE bearer. He is THOROUGH, THRIFTY and TRUSTWORTHY, A TEACHER, TOLERANT, and TEMPERATE. He is a TELLER TEASER, TASKMASTER, TESTIFYING always to the GLORY and HONOR to GOD
E — He is an ELOCUTIONIST, not ENVIOUS but believes in EQUALITY. He is an EFFICIENT, ELABORATOR, an EFFECTIVE, ECCLESIASTIC, who seeks to ELEVATE those about him. He is an ERECE, EMPHATIC, EVANGELIST whose Exactness is noticeable to all. He is an EMINENT, EMISSARY who expects your prayers and co-operation. He is an ELEGANT, ENTHUSIASTIC, ECONOMIST He is an EXAMPLE for his family.
N — He is NATURAL, NEAT, NEGRO who believes in the LOWLY NAZARENE. He is a Notable, NARRATOR, NEW TESTAMENT teacher. He is NICE, NERVY, NEIGHBOR NIMBLE, NOBLE IN CHARACTER, yet NORMAL.
T — He is a TUTOR, TRAVELER, Doesn’t like TRICKSTERS or TRIFLING people. He is true HEARTED, TRUSTY, TRUTHFUL, TENACIOUS, He is a TARGET because he hates TRASH. He is a TITHER and a TRANSMITTER of GOD’S WORD
H — He is a HANDSOME, HANDY, HAPPY, HARMLESS, HUMOROUS, HUSBAND. HE is a Healthy Humble, Historian with a HEART as big as can be. One who believes in the guidance of the HOLY SPIRIT. A believer in HOSPITALITY and HOME. He is a man who tries daily to be more HOLY, Hard in his faith in Jesus Christ.
Rev and Mrs Riley May God Bless you and Keep you are the prayers of those whom you serve, the community in which you live, the Dallas branch of the NAACP.
Source: Dallas Public Library, Juanita Craft Collection. Published by permission of the library.