To the best of my knowledge the first Baptist church to be composed mostly of black members was the First African Baptist church of Savannah, organized by Abraham Marshall and Jesse Peter in 1788. Its first pastor was the former slave, George Lisle. Soon thereafter, and before the war, there were large, flourishing black churches in most major American cities from Boston, New York, Philadelphia and into the South.
On this day (May 7th) in 1855, Elias Camp Morris was born into a slave family in Murray County Georgia. After the war his family moved to Tennessee and then again into Alabama. At the age of nineteen Elias was baptized upon his profession of faith in Christ, and shortly after that he moved to Helena, Arkansas where he was called to pastor the Centennial Baptist Church. He was a man of godly character and wisdom.
Historian Leroy Fitts, described Morris – “His ability to organize was fully recognized among Baptists of Arkansas. In 1884, he organized the Arkansas Baptist College, and for sixteen years he served as chairman of its board of trustees…. He inspired the black Baptists to begin publishing interests of their own. It was his active mind that conceived the idea of the National Baptist Young People’s Union Board…. And the American Baptist National Convention.”
Baptist distinctives were strongly evident among the churches with which Morris had fellowship. The scriptures were considered supreme and were preached with clarity and conviction. Those churches demanded personal faith in Christ, and only open believers were baptized and received into their churches. Each church was considered independent and only answerable to Christ. They were in the early years true Baptist churches.
Elias Morris, who was born on this day in 1855 was used of the Lord to help keep those churches true. He died in 1922 in Little Rock, Arkansas.