February 18

On this day in 1880 Jeremiah Bell Jeter passed into the presence of his Saviour.

Having mentioned his death, now we could talk about many important aspects of his life. For example, he was intensely mission-minded. When Adoniram Judson visited the First Baptist Church of Richmond, Jeter gave him such a welcome that it is still quoted today, especially in the biographies of the missionary. He was an extraordinary preacher. He delivered his first message as a nineteen-year-old just as he returned to the banks of the stream in which he was baptized. And he was an evangelist. During fourteen years of ministry in Richmond he baptized more than a thousand converts. He was a writer. At the close of the Civil War, Bro. Jeter became editor of The Religious Herald, which he hoped would be a tool for reconciliation between the Baptists of the North and the South.

With February being Black History month, I’d like you to consider something else about J.B. Jeter.

Like the First Baptist Church in Charleston, S.C. and many of the larger Baptist congregations in the South, at the close of the War, there were far more black members than whites. For example in Charleston there were 862 members in 1827 of which only 165 were white.

The First Baptist in Richmond, when Jeter was called to pastor had 1,384 black members and many of them attended faithfully. Like most churches, the primary indication of any kind of segregation was in the seating arrangements – the blacks sat in one area, while the whites in another. It became immediately obvious to the new preacher that church auditorium could not be properly and comfortably arranged to accommodate everyone. So during his second year, he recommended that a new building be built and that the old facility be given to the church’s new mission, the First African Baptist Church.

So Richmond Virginia, became one of the first cities to have both a white church and a black Baptist church, but it was not so much problem of race as a necessary practical step under the circumstances of the day. Once the mission was established, Jeter besought Robert Ryland, a white man, and president of Richmond College to become the pastor of the black congregation. Ryland lead that church for 25 years, during which time he baptized more than 3,800 new believers, while the First church continued to prosper under the guidance of Bro. J.B. Jeter.