Progressive National Baptist Convention Celebrates 50 years

Barrington M. Salmon | 8/3/2011, 10:28 a.m.
More than 5,000 members of the Progressive National Baptist Convention (PNBC) descended on Washington, D.C....
Rev. Morris I Shearin, Jr. PNBC, 50th Anniversary Host Committee, Chair, greets member Myrtle Neal, after services, Sun. July 17, at Israel Baptist Church. / Photo by Roy Lewis

More than 5,000 members of the Progressive National Baptist Convention (PNBC) descended on Washington, D.C. for five days beginning August 2 to celebrate the organization's 50th anniversary.

The Rev. Morris L. Sherin reflected on the upcoming unveiling of the Rev. Martin Luther King Memorial on August 28, 2011 and the unusually close ties between the PNBC and the slain civil rights leader.

"The PNBC is Martin Luther King. It is no coincidence that we have the convention's 50th anniversary and the unveiling of this statue on the National Mall," said Sherin, 70, pastor of Israel Baptist Church and chairman and host of this year's convention. "I am humbled by the fact that I was allowed to be alive to see this."

The Progressive National Baptist Convention grew out of a desire by founding members to confront the social and political upheaval that roiled the United States in the 1960s. Members, who were a part of the traditional African American National Baptist Convention, chafed under the direction of leaders who were unwilling or unable to challenge the status quo.

PNBC members were intimately involved in the Civil Rights struggle and opposed conservative policies and practices in churches and the wider society that produced a social tradition of racism and discrimination against African Americans. Religious leaders, theologians and students began to openly question the religious and other constructs that perpetuated the idea of two societies. PNBC was instrumental in ushering in the radical and widespread social change across the country.

"Historically, we have had a deep commitment to civic and social justice, human rights and the lifting up of oppressed people," said Walter L. Parrish, Ph.D, PNBC's general secretary. "We were the organization that gave Dr. King a home. His home church was one of the founding churches and remains active today."

"It is providential that the same year we celebrate our 50th anniversary, we also witness the unveiling of the King Memorial. I think it is a statement that the struggle he lived and gave his life for continues. We are witnessing the dawn of new levels of struggle. We believe that praise and protest cannot be disconnected. They are essential parts of what we do. We are challenged by the redirection of resources to the wealthy unlike anything that happened when Dr. King was alive. There are more challenges and more signs of inequity and inequality. We are seeing a new brand of racism parading itself as political interests," Parrish said.

While convention delegates will take time to deepen their religious knowledge through Christian Education courses and workshops, they will also be working on a social agenda that concentrates on concerns and issues that are buffeting African-American communities nationally.

Convention leaders have invited President Barack Obama, who they all say is a primary beneficiary of the King legacy, to address the group. It is unclear yet if he will attend.

As a child and beneficiary of the Civil Rights struggle, Michelle Freeman said she is glad that King "is getting his due for what he's done."