African American perspectives and experiences remain under-represented in the annals of Presbyterian history. This collecting initiative redoubles PHS's efforts to document Black lives, work, and witness in an increasingly multicultural Church—from the organization of the First African Presbyterian Church in 1807 to the election of the first African American stated clerk of the PC(USA) in 2016.
We are bringing human and capital resources to bear on collecting records of the Black Presbyterian experience--both the personal records of servants of the church, and the original records of Black congregations. PHS seeks to represent in the archives the Black throughline: the integral presence of African Americans in what the authors of the historical volume Periscope called a “historically racist ecclesiastical body.”
If you or your congregation would like to join us in this work, please email David Staniunas.
Financial support provided by the PHS African American Leaders & Congregations Fund.
Some African American Collection Highlights:
First African Presbyterian Church (Philadelphia, Pa.) is the oldest Black Presbyterian congregation in the United States, organized in 1807 by John Gloucester, a man born into slavery in Tennessee in 1776. Extensive records of the session, and of the John Gloucester Memorial Society, are held in Record Group 314.
Church of the Covenant (Wilkes-Barre, Pa.) was the first pastorate of William Drew Robeson, human rights champion, later pastor of Witherspoon Street Presbyterian Church (Princeton, N.J.), and father of activist Paul Robeson. The church dissolved in 1895; its only volume of session minutes is held here. (V MI46 W652cs)
Katie Geneva Cannon was one of the founding thinkers of Womanist theology, and the first African American woman ordained in the PC(USA). In this 1987 interview, Katie talks about growing up Black and Presbyterian, and tells us that our ordinary business has to bend for human reasons: “There’s something about losing a brother or sister, from this life, that stops everything.” (Cassette 1900)
Thelma C. Davidson Adair was the first African American woman moderator of the Presbyterian Church, elected by the 188th General Assembly in Baltimore in 1976. In a 2008 interview, Adair reflects on the work of Church Women United to create "causeways," uniting women across continents.
Gayraud Wilmore is a church worker, activist, and historian. In a 1982 interview conducted at Newark Airport and in Rochester, N.Y., Wilmore reflects on "taking my own theology to the streets" as director of the UPCUSA Board of National Missions Division on Church and Race. "I am convinced that one cannot do theology from a library carrel or from a study desk."(Cassette 857-858)