Library receives Emmanuel McCall papers

Baptist Press
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Posted: Feb 11, 2011 5:45 PM
Library receives Emmanuel McCall papers
EDITOR'S NOTE: The following story is part of the Feb. 13 observance of Race Relations Sunday in the Southern Baptist Convention.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--An extensive collection of personal records from one of the Southern Baptist Convention's most influential black leaders is now open to researchers at the Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives in Nashville, Tenn.

Emmanuel McCall, a member of the Home Mission Board (now North American Mission Board) staff from 1968 to 1991 and developer of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary's black studies program, has donated his personal papers to SBHLA, including more than 30 boxes of correspondence, audio-visual resources, sermons and other items.

The collection helps document the SBC's transition in the 20th century from harboring notorious racial prejudice to becoming one of the most ethnically diverse denominations in America.

McCall, author of five books, told Baptist Press he hopes his papers will provide researchers with "materials that will help them to understand how the Lord worked" in the SBC. "And the Lord did do a mighty work in what happened across the years," McCall added.

Though three institutions asked for McCall's papers, he said he decided on the Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives because his files hold more value for Southern Baptists than any other group.

SBHLA director Bill Sumners noted, "Dr. McCall and others of his generation, both black and white, encouraged and pushed Southern Baptists to do the right thing as it related to inclusiveness for all races into the Southern Baptist family. In today's setting we take this for granted, but in 1968 or 1970 that wasn't the case. His papers document much of that struggle. It is a story that should not be allowed to be forgotten."

The collection lacks McCall's official Home Mission Board records, which may have been lost or destroyed. But Sumners said he has not given up on finding them.

Within the existing files are records of McCall's encounters with some of the SBC's key leaders in the advance of racial justice -- men like Mississippi layman and former SBC President Owen Cooper.

"The first SBC meeting that I attended was the Houston meeting in '68," McCall said. "There were about 30 editors and various denominational persons who were trying to push the Statement Concerning the Crisis in our Nation , and Cooper led a four-hour fight against passing that statement. And I had a rather negative attitude towards him without realizing that his attitude would change that next December."

The change came when Cooper's daughter brought home a black friend from college and challenged her father's prejudice, McCall said. So he let the friend stay in their house and later called the Home Mission Board to request a meeting with McCall and a colleague.

"He just opened up," McCall said. "He had had sort of a revelation and change. And later that next year he initiated an interracial laymen's retreat and then became a leader among the laypeople in the Southern Baptist movement toward reconciliation."

Another influential leader to interact with McCall was Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary professor and civil rights advocate T.B. Maston. On one occasion he wrote McCall to ask advice on interracial dating among students at the seminary.

"There were a lot of times when that interracial question was asked by pastors, by seminary professors, by those who were trying to do something and knew that interracial dating would rock what they were trying to do," McCall said.

In addition to watching others stand for racial equality, McCall battled prejudice firsthand the University of Louisville and later at Southern Seminary. At U of L in the mid-1950s, the local Baptist association sent a committee to investigate when he began attending the predominantly white Baptist Student Union. He was allowed to keep attending only when other students said they would leave if he were not allowed to stay.

"During the four years that I was a student at U of L, we broke a lot of racial barriers," McCall said.

By the time he began attending Southern Seminary, black students had long been allowed to enroll. But he discovered that blacks from foreign countries received very different treatment from African Americans.

"During the first couple of years, there was only myself and one other African American black student," McCall said. "There were a number of Nigerian and Caribbean students, but they were given special status. If you were from another country, you were given preferred status. So they had privileges that I didn't."

As more African Americans enrolled, however, the prejudice began to change, he said.

Among the other personalities referenced in McCall's files are Jimmy Carter, Billy Graham, Martin Luther King Jr. and longtime National Baptist leader Joseph H. Jackson.

Sumners expressed thanks for McCall's donation and said it contains a wealth of material for students of history.

"This collection does tell the story of an individual's life and how God used him in a special way to influence an entire denomination and agency ," Sumners said.

More information on the Emmanuel McCall Papers is available at www.sbhla.org.

David Roach is a pastor and writer in Shelbyville, Ky.

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