African American Leaders and Congregations Collecting Initiative | Presbyterian Historical Society

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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.”

Free digitization for African American congregations

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. 

Personal papers

We are bringing into the archives the personal records of prominent church workers. 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. 

Oral histories

We look forward to complementing physical documents with verbal testimony. We are actively seeking oral histories which might flesh out the accumulated record. Prominent church workers are encouraged to sit down with us on the record. 

For more information about free deposit and digitization, personal papers donations, or oral histories, email Records Archivist David Staniunas.

To contribute to this ongoing work, make a donation here.


Explore Pearl online archives materials, oral history interviews, PHS Living History videos, and blog stories. Also clickable: links to collection finding aids, related papers, and outside resources.

Katie Geneva Cannon Digital Collection

The Katie Geneva Cannon Digital Collection began in 2021 with the goal of having a single online repository for the personal records of Dr. Katie Geneva Cannon, the first Black woman ordained in the Presbyterian Church and a founding voice in womanist theology. Click here to learn more and to explore the collection

African American History in the PC(USA)

Click on the image below to view a timeline of African American Presbyterian history: 


Here are collections brought into our holdings or processed under the auspices of AALC:

RG 523, J. Oscar McCloud papers, 1954-2010.

RG 526, Gayraud Wilmore papers, 1848-2019.

RG 538, James and Melva Costen Papers, 1934-2019.

18-1108, Elenora Giddings Ivory papers, 1971-2018.

19-0112, John Morton Ellis papers, 1960-1999.

19-0539, Arlene Gordon papers, 1970s-2014.

19-1204. Geddes Hanson oral history and documentation, 2019.

20-0608, Black Lives Matter video collection, 2014-2021.

20-0817, Katie Geneva Cannon papers, 1972-2018.

20-0907, Franklin D. Colclough papers, 1969-2020.

20-0926, Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church (Philadelphia, Pa.) records, 1848-1982.

20-1008; 21-0407, Eugene Turner papers, 1975-1999.

20-1023, Robert Lee Maffett family papers, 1940-2010.

20-1106, Thelma Adair video, 2020.

20-1207, Margaret Jerrido oral history, 2016.

21-0310; 21-1004; 22-0822, David L. Wallace papers, 1986-2021.

21-1203, Delrio A. Ligons-Berry oral history, 2021.

22-0201, J. Herbert Nelson II papers, 1975-2009.

22-0307, Capital Presbyterian Church (Harrisburg, Pa.) minutes, 1858-1901.

22-0320, Grace Presbyterian Church (Toledo, Ohio) records, 1919-2019.

22-0428. Siloam-Hope Presbyterian Church (Elizabeth, N.J.) records, 1888-2017.

22-0432, St. John's Presbyterian Church (Detroit, Mich.) session minutes and registers, 

22-0607, Jim and Neola Reese interview, 2021.

22-0701, Magalene McClarrin oral history, 2021.

22-0805; 22-1103, Rhashell D. Hunter papers, 1991-2022.

22-0821, Maria Fearing Fund for African and African American Partnership in Mission records, 2004-2012.

22-0926, Kermit Overton papers, 1945-1996.

22-0927, Oak Grove Presbyterian Church (Amelia, Va.) records, 2002-2022.

22-1029. Joe Scrivner oral history, 2022. 

23-0206. Edler Hawkins papers, 1940s-1986. 


Clark, Douglas H. Brown. 2020. A Solid Black Hyphen: Race, Religion, Identity, and the Black Power Activism of Gayraud S. Wilmore. Doctoral thesis, Vanderbilt University. DOI:

Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II on collecting African American Presbyterian records