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African American Leaders and Congregations Collecting Initiative

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 longtime church workers, 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.”

First, PHS is digitizing African American congregations’ earliest records. African American congregations can have their session minutes and registers imaged at PHS, up to 1200 pages of text, at no cost. We can then either secure the original records in the archives, or return them to the church. For information about deposit and free digitization, please email Records Archivist David Staniunas.

We are also bringing into the archives the personal records of prominent church workers. In 2020, we processed the personal records of Gayraud Wilmore, putting people in touch with the chief Presbyterian theoretician of Black Liberation theology.

Listen to a clip from a 1987 oral history with Katie here: (Cassette 1900)

In 2021, we began a partnership with the Center for Womanist Leadership at Union Presbyterian Seminary (Richmond, Va.), and the archives of Union Theological Seminary (New York, N.Y.) to unite the personal papers of Katie Geneva Cannon in one digital archive.

Documentation of Black Presbyterian lives and ministries in any form -- correspondence, diaries, sermons, essays, and photographs, slides, audio and video recordings – is welcome and well-served here. We’re proud to hold the records of Black missionaries, theologians, activists, professors, poets, and one hospital chaplain. For more information about preparing personal records for the archives, please email Records Archivist David Staniunas.

Finally, we look forward to complementing physical documents with verbal testimony. We are actively seeking oral histories which might flesh out the accumulated record. Prominent servants of the church are encouraged to sit down with us on the record. For more information please email Records Archivist David Staniunas.