A people of great conviction and faith

Responding to the Civil War’s devastation, The American Baptist Home Mission Society—understanding that true emancipation for recently freed people meant education—founded and supported industrial institutes, academies, colleges and seminaries.

In 1862, the same year that Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, the Home Mission Society’s board decided “to take immediate steps to supply with Christian instruction, by means of missionaries and teachers, the emancipated slaves … and also to inaugurate a system of operation for carrying the Gospel alike to bond and free throughout the whole Southern section of our country, so fast and so far as the progress of our arms and the restoration of order and law shall open the way.”

So great was the conviction to fight illiteracy and poverty through education that the Home Mission Society solicited for a special “Freedmen’s Fund”; its proceeds supported dozens of institutions.

Records show that by 1865-1866, 32 missionaries and 62 assistant missionaries were at work among former slaves, ministering to a total of 4,000 students. At first ABHMS focused on the education of men for the ministry, but black churches pledged money for women’s education and urged that the doors of Baptist schools be opened to their daughters as well as their sons.

With the Home Mission Society’s support, the number of American Baptist schools for freed people gradually increased. By the turn of the century, more than 25 educational institutions had been established, and 69 Baptist women worked in African-American schools and colleges from Alabama and Arkansas to Texas and Tennessee. In 1900 the aggregate enrollment in institutions aided by the Home Mission Society totaled close to 9,000.

The 20-minute video “The Promise of Freedom,” produced by today’s ABHMS (then known as National Ministries ), tells the story of several institutions founded and fostered by American Baptists during this time of focused educational ministry, so driven by faith that incarnated God’s love through passion for justice.

A limited number of “The Promise of Freedom” DVDs are available free of charge by contacting Sue Peterman with an email request.