RIFT AMONG CLERGY MLK’s Failed Coup

Following the Korean War, a growing class of young, scholarly and progressive ministers began to debut. Among them were the children of some of most influential clergy in the National Baptist Convention, who after graduating from college, became convention delegates

When the U.S. Supreme Court found favor for the plaintiff in the Brown vs. Board of Education, these ministers would lead the call for integration. Unlike Jackson cohorts, who felt that teaching of the Christian religion would be the greatest advent of change, the progressives stood in sharp contrast calling for civil disobedience and demanding an end to segregation by non-violent protest.

Eventually there were delegates within the National Baptist Convention seeking a civil rights agenda. They wanted major policy changes in the organization and demanded an endorsement for the non-violent protest and sit-ins occurring in the United States at the time. Jackson responded with an affirmative denial of such tactics and pledged to support the government at all cost. “Anyone who opposes the government should be jailed and if there is no more room, more jails should be built.” Before long there were rumbles among the younger ministers. The NBC was too conservative, and they sought after fresh leadership. In their eyes Jackson was “petty, tyrannical, and self centered.” Said one critic, “Jackson’s narcissism was divisive for the church and the NBC”.

The rift among traditional and progressive clergy initially set in motion on ideology became personal and hostile. The activists felt social responsibility alone was far too passive. More so, any tactic depending solely on patience and hard work was far too outdated. Jackson, on the other hand, denounced their confrontational style and cast doubt on the motives of the young dissidents. He held distrust as to whether they were less concerned for their congregations than their personal political ambitions.

Up until then, the traditional clergy devoted all their time to their parishioners, worked on moral issues local to their congregations, and maintained a united NBC policy. It took many years to achieve national authority and recognition at the convention. The mass media was about to change the clergy in the same manner that mass communications would change the music industry. Preaching in front of small local congregations seemed far less significant. A minister’s rise in position depended more on national exposure. He could be promoted through the ranks in far less time by being seen on the evening news, or appearing in newspapers across the country.

The Birmingham Boycott is the best example. This boycott in particular gave Martin Luther King Jr. a position of leadership in a national movement and the Nobel Peace Prize. In comparison to a recording artist, he had a hit record and a Grammy. However, there was only one boycott. Jackson suspected that an endorsement of further civil rights protest would leave the congregations in the lurch, swinging a wave of self-promoting clergy with a venue, and expose the churches to political exploitation. The influence King held with the media ended at the conventions’ door.

Indeed, Jackson’s background and grand manner allowed little debate and less discussion. He communicated well with the new migrants in the north and black farmers in the south. However, the younger, educated and affluent Black American community reacted far different, and more defiantly. They were not conformists, but rather protesters. A visionary? On the contrary. The whole lot held a firm belief of Jackson as an authoritative, self-important and backward man of little intellect.

There were strong resentments and angry differences of opinion. A long and festering outgrowth of dissatisfaction had developed between the two groups. Violent chair throwing sessions broke out during conventions resulting in the death of one man who fell from a balcony. By 1960 the handwriting was on the wall. The Reverend L. V. Booth of Zion Baptist Church, Cincinnati, Ohio, called a meeting to organize support for Dr. Gardner C. Taylor, a distinguished pastor from Brooklyn, NY, as President of the NBC

Jackson could not have foreseen the misfortune that awaited him in 1961. Little did he know, the NBC would become splintered into confederates. The name J. H. Jackson, a man many considered only second in power to Presidents’ Dwight Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, would be all but expunged from America’s history.

 

 

 

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