In observance of the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Progressive National Baptist Convention (PNBC), this article provides a historical perspective on that event. In particular, the following pages seek to provide a brief biographical examination of the Reverend Dr. Gardner Taylor, a significant leader in the formation and growth of the group; to outline the historical context of the formation of the PNBC by briefly surveying formations and divisions within the United States' Baptist black and white families; and to examine the two salient issues of tenure and civil rights activism that led to the founding of the PNBC. Hopefully, after an exploration of the PNBC origins in this historical context, we will have an even greater appreciation of its relevance as an African American convention, as an indication of developments in the Baptist American community, and how Baptists, black and non-black, have like other Christians and religious groups dealt with both internal theological and "ecclesiastical" issues as well as societal concerns.
A Biographical Sketch of Gardner Calvin Taylor
In 1961 L. Venchael Booth hosted a dissident group of National Baptist Convention members in Cincinnati, Ohio, for the purpose of organizing a more internally just and politically activist group. A significant leader in the formation and growth of the new PNBC was a Louisiana-born
Baptist who had been a pastor in Brooklyn, New York, for thirteen years. (1) The Reverend Dr. Gardner C. Taylor has been very influential in the life of Baptists in the United States. In his long and impressive career he has been a pastor, renowned preacher, author, seminary lecturer, civil rights leader, Baptist convention president, active leader in ecumenical affairs, and public office holder, and continues to make vital contributions in his retirement. Taylor exemplifies the quality of leadership in the PNBC, both during its establishment and in later years. One might say he is a Baptist's Baptist.
Taylor was born June 18, 1918, the son of a mother, Selina Gesell Taylor, who became a school teacher later in life after the death of her husband, and a prominent pastor, Washington Monroe Taylor. The younger Taylor grew up in a church environment with great emphasis on the potentials and power of education. A bright child with a passion for reading, Taylor, while an elementary school student, displayed the highest I.Q. in the entire history of Louisiana.
After graduating from Leland College, a historically black Baptist institution in Louisiana, Taylor declined an invitation to attend the University of Michigan Law School following a car accident that steered him away from law to the ministry. Completing his seminary training at Oberlin School of Theology, Taylor in 1941 married Laura Bell Scott, a union that remained strong until her death in February 1995. Taylor pastored Bethany Baptist Church in Oberlin, Ohio (1938-1941), Beulah Baptist Church (1941-1943) in New Orleans, and his father's former pastorate, Mount Zion Baptist Church (1943-1947) in Baton Rouge. Taylor's reputation and influence as a pastor and church leader grew over the years. Under...