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       The Southern Baptist Convention conducted a program of domestic mission work from its establishment in 1845. Between 1845 and 1882 domestic mission work was carried out under the auspices of a series of domestic boards. The Convention's domestic mission fields included Southern whites, slaves, free blacks, Indians, and Chinese immigrants in California.

       While the work of the Convention continued on a limited basis during the Civil War and Reconstruction, Southern Baptist churches and state conventions also accepted the assistance of the American Baptist Home Mission Society of New York, the Northern counterpart to the Convention's Domestic Mission Board. During and after the Civil War the American Baptist Home Mission Society considered the war-torn South a mission field, and it sent missionaries and resources into the South to assist freed blacks and to help Southern Baptists rebuild or reinstate their churches.

       Given the fact that many of these churches and state conventions had not been significantly allied with the voluntary Southern Baptist Convention even before the war (as America was still a society of "island communitites"), it was not particularly unusual that these churches and conventions would cooperate with Northern Baptist societies.1 But from the perspective of those among the Convention's leadership who wanted to see the Convention become a strong South-wide denomination, the presence of Northern Baptists in Southern Baptist territory was perceived to be a threat.

       The Convention's leadership decided in 1882 to step up its efforts to "reclaim" the South from Northern Baptist influence by strengthening the Convention's languishing domestic mission board. A new Home Mission Board was assigned new headquarters in Atlanta, and a new Corresponding Secretary, Isaac Taylor Tichenor, was hired.

       Tichenor was born in Kentucky in 1825, received some schooling, and by the end of his teens his preaching had won him the title "boy orator of Kentucky." His career in the ministry included church work in several Southern states, and during the Civil War he joined the Confederate Army as a chaplain and sharpshooter. After the war Tichenor left the ministry for a career in industry. His Montevallo Coal Mining Company, located in Alabama, utilized new scientific technologies for coal mining, and Tichenor drew upon his oratorical skills to promote his ideas about Alabama's industrial potential. In 1872 he became the first president of Alabama's State Agricultural and Mechanical College, remaining in that position until he resigned to take over the work of the Southern Baptist Convention's new Home Mission Board.2

       A Baptist minister turned progressive industrialist, Tichenor resembled historian Paul Gaston's characterization of the "New South Prophets": educated Southern journalists and businessmen who called for progress and industry in the interests of restoring a defeated South.3 The New South prophets did not desire to see their region integrated and homogenized into a replica of the Northeast; instead they believed that Southern Progress would enable the region to direct its own affairs (or in the words of Wilbur J. Cash, to be "forever impregnable" to further conquest).4

       While the ostensible purpose of the Home Mission Board would continue to be evangelism, the fact that the Convention chose Tichenor to overhaul the Home Mission Board indicated more pressing purposes for domestic missions in the 1880s and 1890s: to reclaim churches and conventions under Northern Baptist influence, to establish new relationships where there had been none, and to set Southern Baptists upon a new course of Progress and prosperity.

       Tichenor and the Home Mission Board would work to accomplish these goals in two major ways: evangelism and benevolent work among people not affiliated with the Convention; and institutional efforts to create a more efficient, hierarchical Convention.

       While the evangelism and benevolent work conducted by the new Home Mission Board was domestic missions in a traditional sense, the rhetoric surrounding this work often expressed calculations not of how many souls the Board was winning for Christ but of how the Board's success among certain groups would strengthen the Convention's influence in the South. The rhetoric did seem to vary, however, depending upon the group in question. The Home Mission Board, in its reports to the Convention in the 1890s, clearly viewed the white Baptists of the mountain region, as well as city dwellers and certain immigrant groups, to embody the greatest potential for Convention growth. Less certain was the rhetoric surrounding Indians and Negroes, who should clearly be evangelized but who did not rank with Southern whites as a potential power base for the denomination.

       The following are excerpts from the 1890s and early 1900s from Home Mission Board reports and from articles in the Board's official publication, Our Home Field. These excerpts typify the rhetoric attached to each distinct "people" or region considered to be a mission field of the Board. The racial attitudes and confident belief in "uplift" expressed in these passages characterized the thinking and rhetoric not only of Southern Baptist leaders but of most progressive, middle-class Americans during this era.


On Indian Missions

"It is not proper for the Board in this report to speculate upon the fate of the Indian tribes, but we cannot shut our eyes to the fact they are dying nationalities, and that sooner or later the hour of dissolution will overtake them. The beautiful names they have given to our mountains and rivers will live for long centuries after their homes shall have mouldered into dust and their graves have been desecrated by the white man's plow. While we lament their impending fate, let us do what we can to make them citizens of that better city whose maker and builder is God." 5

"The work of evangelization has been largely accomplished, and the demand for Christian development and education is upon us, and is increasing as the years go by. The days of the Indian are numbered. Ere long their tribal organizations will be dissolved, and they will become merged into the white race or will disappear forever." 6



On Missions in Cuba

"The whole island is open to the gospel and in the name of our Lord we should go up and possess the land."7

"Should the present struggle result in the freedom of Cuba, there will be presented such an opportunity for the extension of our Baptist faith as never has been furnished by any nation. One result of it will be the disestablishment of the Catholic Church and the enthronement of religious freedom over the island. Then with no restriction upon us, with our present mission organization reinforced to equal the demands of the new condition, our Baptist people, the only people of the Protestant fait having church organizations upon the island, might with the blessings of God sweep over it and win it for the Master." 8



On Immigrant Missions

"The fact that [foreign immigrants] are coming throws upon us the mighty responsibilities to meet them with the gospel. Self-interest for our country, as well as obedience to Christ's command, demands this of us. Our civilization is to be tested by our ability to assimilate and Christianize these foreigners." 9


Recently baptized Italian immigrants, Texas, 1912


On Missions among Southern Blacks

"There is not a white man of the front rank in the South, what ever his culture and refinement, can be a true Southerner and neglect the fact of ten million Negroes." 10

North Carolinian J.C. Scarboro made the following argument in favor of Southern Baptist support for the Home Mission Board's program of establishing local institutes to educate Black ministers:

      "Out of this Institute work are to come results long prayed for by our white pastors and people. The lifting of colored Baptists to a higher and better home life, church life, intellectual life, better living, and to self-development as men and women. To quicken desire for better home surroundings and better homes, for higher Christian education and consequent better citizenship. It will result in practical and more effective missionary work to be done by them among themselves at home, and enlarge their notions as to their mission to the world. . . .
      Then, too, the benefits will be large and many in number which will come to our white Baptists in the South from this work. . . . It will enlarge our views of the capacity of the Negro. It will enlarge and broaden our sympathies for him, and enable us to do, unselfishly, Christian work for him, with stronger and better hope for him as a man and a brother in Christ. . . . It will help us to see clearly the necessity of lifting him up, for if he is not lifted upon he will pull us down. It will show us more clearly the necessity of Christian citizenship in order to realize somewhat the ideal of the American system of government. It will revivify and renew afresh our kindly feelings for the race which in our time of sorest trial and greatest hardship and bitter anxiety stood in its place, stormy though it was, and waited patiently for deliverance to come as the result of the conflict then being waged. It will place them and us in a better position to find the good in each other, and to cultivate that, rather than to magnify the faults of each other. It will do all this, and more, for the white and the black men of the South. Then, too, it will help you men of the North to know more about the white men of the South in our better qualities, especially more about the white Baptist church members, and our willingness and desire to help the colored people to better living and to a higher plane of church life and work." 11



On Missions in Southern Cities

"While our denomination is the most numerous one in the Southern States our strength lies largely in the rural districts. A glance at the religious condition of our chief cities will show how weak we are relatively in many of these centers of population." 12

"[S]ee in how few of [these cities] our Baptist churches are equal in numbers, intelligence and wealth and social position to those of other denominations. These are the centers of greatest influence. They are the depositories of the wealth of our country. They are the seats of industrial activity and enterprise. From them in proportion to membership come larger contributions to support our Missions Boards, endow our colleges and help forward all our denominational interest. In many of them is found a wide field for our Board." 13



On Mountain Missions (among rural whites)

"Our Board has no where a broader or more inviting field than this, none whose needs for culture are more urgent. Its present population is largely Baptists. The work of evangelization among them has been chiefly done by men, who though thoroughly devoted to the Master's work, and deserving of all praise for what they have accomplished under so many disadvantages, have not sought to lead their converts to the higher realms of truth or the broader fields of christian activity. Their churches have been content to be centers of local influence, seeking for nothing beyond the conversion of the children of their membership and of those immediately about them. They cherish no broad ideas of Christian obligation, have never entered into sympathy with the design of our Redeemer to give the gospel to all the world, and are for the most part living upon the lowest plane of christian life." 14

"Of the various departments of our work, among the Indians, the foreign population, along the frontiers in Arkansas and Texas, in New Orleans or the unevangelized masses of Southern Louisiana, in Cuba, or even among the millions of Negroes that in common with us inhabit this wide land we call our home, there are no people whose wants are more pressing, whose condition demands more of thought to devise plans to meet their necessities, or more of wisdom in their application. There are no people whose future, when they shall be properly developed, promise so much of usefulness to the world. They are bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh. They have the intelligence and that high born spirit of enterprise common to our Ango Saxon blood. . . . The blood of heroes is in their veins. . . . What shall this Convention do for them? Or rather, what shall the Convention do for itself and for the world when it calls these men out of their narrow ideas of what God designs for them to do, and with their hearts newly elate with the joy of conquest, ranges them in under the banner of our King for the conquest of the world." 15



On White Southerners in General

"Today [white people] hold one-sixth of the soil of the globe. They highways of the nations, the gateways of the continents, the pasts of commerce are in their hands. They have a vast empire in North America, in South Africa, in India, in Australia. Already 120 millions speak their language, and they are rapidly filling up their vast domain with a population whose industry and skill and enterprise and courage and intelligence and moral power is unexampled among the nations past or present. Such a people has God raised up in these last days." 16

"No portion of this race has been dowered with more magnificent advantages than that one which inhabits this Southern land. With a million of square miles rich with the most munificent gifts the All-wise could create, or the Omnipotent bestow -- a land out of which you might carve a hundred Palestines more generous in its rewards of human toil than that one which God gave to his ancient people -- a land which the Almighty has concentrated every element that ministers to the development of power, physical, intellectual, spiritual, to make its people leaders in the enlightenment of the nations. Who can doubt that he means to give [the South] the post of honor as the light-bearer of the world?" 17

       White Southerners, both rural and urban, were considered the source of future strength for the Southern Baptist Convention. And the "uplift" of their rural brethren (many of whom would refuse to join the Convention) was represented in the Home Mission Board's rhetoric as a step toward Southern progress as much as it was an evangelization or enlistment effort. For Tichenor and his fellow progressives in the Southern Baptist Convention, doing work for the South was inextricable from doing work for the Kingdom.

       Tichenor and the revitalized Home Mission Board would eventually succeed in unifying Southern Baptist churches and state bodies under the Convention's control and creating a denominational institution that encompassed virtually all aspects of Southern Baptist life. The Home Mission Board's greatest contribution to this development would be its leadership in establishing two new organizations of the Convention: The Woman's Missionary Union and the Sunday School Board. While many Southern Baptists opposed the creation of the Sunday School Board in part because they feared it might detract from the Convention's traditional emphasis on missions, home mission leader I.T. Tichenor campaigned for this very shift in emphasis. For Tichenor, establishing both the Woman's Missionary Union and the Sunday School Board would be huge strides in the effort to create a New South and a New Southern Baptist Convention.

       As the twentieth century dawned, the Convention would increasingly focus upon institutionalizing and expanding its work within the South at least as much as it directed its energies outward toward evangelizing the "heathen." Even evangelism itself would shift somewhat in emphasis from straight prosthelytizing to an increased focus upon meeting people's material and social needs. Thus the Home Mission Board, as it worked to strengthen this particularly regional Convention, also took part in larger American trends toward incorporation and the social gospel.

  
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1 Robert Weibe, The Search for Order (New York: Hill and Wang, 1967) xiii.

2 "Isaac Taylor Tichenor," Encyclopedia of Southern Baptists, 1958 ed.

3 Paul M. Gaston, The New South Creed: A Study in Southern Mythmaking (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1976).

4 Wilbur J. Cash, The Mind of the South (1941; New York: Vintage Books, 1991) 183-184

5 "Home Mission Board Report," Proceedings of the Southern Baptist Convention, 1896.

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6 "Home Mission Board Report," Proceedings of the Southern Baptist Convention, 1892.

7 "Home Mission Board Report," Proceedings of the Southern Baptist Convention, 1892.

8 "Home Mission Board Report," Proceedings of the Southern Baptist Convention, 1896.

9 "The Stranger too, Comes on Apace," Our Home Field, August 1909: 7.

10 Dr. John E. White, "The Backward People of the South," Our Home Field, May 1909.

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11 "Home Mission Board Report," Proceedings of the Southern Baptist Convention, 1896.

12 "Home Mission Board Report," Proceedings of the Southern Baptist Convention, 1892.

13 "Home Mission Board Report," Proceedings of the Southern Baptist Convention, 1892.

14 "Home Mission Board Report," Proceedings of the Southern Baptist Convention, 1892.

15 "Home Mission Board Report," Proceedings of the Southern Baptist Convention, 1892.

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16 "Home Mission Board Report," Proceedings of the Southern Baptist Convention, 1896.

17 "Home Mission Board Report," Proceedings of the Southern Baptist Convention, 1896.