African American Leaders Series in 2023 | Presbyterian Historical Society

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African American Leaders Series in 2023

December 18, 2023

This year, PHS kicked off its African American Leaders series, a blog series that celebrates the lives and work of Black Presbyterians. Each month in 2023, we've published biographies of African American ministers, educators, organizers, theologians, and human rights activists. And, included in each blog post is a free bulletin insert that churches can download and share with their congregation. Continue reading to learn more about these trailblazers and stay-tuned as we’ll continue the series in 2024.


William Lloyd Imes 

Human rights advocate, organizer, and pastor of St. James Presbyterian Church in Harlem.

James H. Costen

Presbyterian minister and educator. Costen served as the moderator of the 194th General Assembly of the United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. (UPCUSA) in 1982 and as the moderator of the UPCUSA's 195th General Assembly (Atlanta, Georgia) in 1983, when the UPCUSA and the Presbyterian Church in the U.S. reunited to form the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

Yenwith and Muriel Whitney

Educators, community leaders, and missionaries to Cameroon. Yenwith served as a pilot with the Tuskegee Airmen during World War II.

Rev. Daniel Jackson Sanders 

Educator and President of Biddle University (now Johnson C. Smith University).

Clinton McClurkin Marsh

Minister, educator, activist, and moderator of the 185th General Assembly of the United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A.

Val Murphy

Educator, church worker, community organizer, and advocate for Christian education.

Warren Julius Nelson, Sr.

Minister, educator, and community leader. One hundred and thirty-two years after Nelson was born in the Reconstruction-era South, his grandson, the Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II was elected the first African American Stated Clerk of the General Assembly in 2016.  

Mary McLeod Bethune

Educator, philanthropist, humanitarian, and civil rights activist. Bethune served as an advisor to President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Irvin Windfield Underhill, Jr.

Missionary, minister, and civic leader. Underhill advocated for equal and safe housing for low-income groups in Philadelphia. 

Calvin Houston

Minister of Hillsdale Presbyterian Church in Mobile, Alabama during the 1960s and Rice Memorial Presbyterian Church in Atlanta from 1966 to 1983. Houston also led the Urban Training Organization of Atlanta (UTOA), an interreligious social justice network.

Katie Geneva Cannon

Womanist theologian and the first African American woman to be ordained in the United Presbyterian Church of the U.S.A. (UPCUSA).

Emily Vera Gibbes

Educator, administrator, and missionary to Cameroon. Gibbes joined the PCUSA’s Board of Christian Education in 1947 where she was quickly promoted to Director of Religious Education.