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Ralph Abernathy Photograph by Warren K. Leffler, 1968. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (U.S. News and World Report Collection: LC-U9-19265).

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Abernathy, Ralph David (11 March 1926–17 April 1990), civil rights leader and minister, was born David Abernathy in Linden, Alabama, the son of William L. Abernathy and Louivery Valentine Bell, farmers. A sister’s favorite professor was the inspiration for the nickname “Ralph David,” and although Abernathy never made a legal change, the name remained with him from age twelve....

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Andrews, Elisha Benjamin (10 January 1844–30 October 1917), clergyman and college president, was born in Hinsdale, New Hampshire, the son of Erastus Andrews, a Baptist minister and politician, and Almira Bartlett, a schoolteacher. When Benjamin (as he was always known) was six months old, his father accepted a new pastorate in Sanderland, Massachusetts, and relocated the family to Montague, Massachusetts, where Andrews attended local schools and was occasionally tutored by his mother before the family moved yet again in 1858 to Suffield, Connecticut. In Suffield his father presided over the First Baptist Church and took advantage of the nearby Connecticut Literary Institute, also a Baptist institution, for the education of his children. Shortly after their move to Suffield, Andrews seriously injured his left foot; after a slow and painful recovery that prevented his attendance at school until 1860, he resumed his education at the Literary Institute....

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Ayer, William Ward (07 November 1892–18 November 1985), Baptist pastor and religious broadcaster, was born in Shediac, New Brunswick, Canada, the son of George Walter Ayer, an employee of a marine construction business, and his cousin Sarah Jane Ayer. The youngest of the Ayers’ ten children, William suffered the loss of his mother at age five. After enduring seven years of his father’s mistreatment and neglect, he was taken to live in Brooklyn, New York, with one of his older brothers. After about a year there, in 1906 he went to the Boston area to live with other siblings. Ayer quit school in the ninth grade and began to learn the printing trade, leading the life of a roustabout printer’s devil for some ten years. In 1916, after attending ...

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Backus, Isaac (09 January 1724–20 November 1806), Baptist clergyman, was born in Norwich, Connecticut, the son of Samuel Backus and Elizabeth Tracy, prosperous farmers. Unlike some members of his extended family, he never attended college and received only seven years of elementary instruction. His father died of measles when Isaac was sixteen years old, leaving a talented youth to begin life as a yeoman farmer. Raised in a household with ten siblings, Backus credited his mother with providing a strong religious influence. He also inherited a tradition of religious dissent from his grandfather Joseph Backus, who was expelled from the Connecticut legislature for opposing the Saybrook Platform, which reorganized Connecticut’s churches along Presbyterian lines, and from his mother, who separated from the Backus’s home congregation over the same issue. During the Great Awakening, Backus followed his mother’s lead, experienced a conversion in 1741, and became a church member the following year. Though he did not hear evangelist ...

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Banvard, Joseph (09 May 1810–28 September 1887), Baptist clergyman and author, was born in New York City, the son of Daniel Banvard, a businessman. His mother’s name is unknown. When Banvard was in his early twenties, his father lost his savings in a failed business venture and died shortly after, leaving the family in financial difficulties. His younger brother, the painter ...

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Barbour, Clarence Augustus (21 April 1867–16 January 1937), clergyman and educator, was born in Hartford, Connecticut, the son of Heman Humphrey Barbour, a probate judge, and Myra Barker. Barbour received his A.B. from Brown University in 1888. At Brown he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa, chosen Senior Class Day orator, and received many other honors. He also taught in the evening public school program of Providence and, during his senior year, served as principal of the Richmond Street Evening School, supervising sixteen teachers who taught 400 pupils. In 1891 he completed his B.D. at Rochester Theological Seminary, was ordained to the Baptist ministry, and accepted a call as the pastor of the Lake Avenue Baptist Church in Rochester, New York. His decision to enter this field was perhaps influenced by his father’s efforts to improve the welfare of convicts and reform drunkards. The same year he married Florence Isabelle Newell; they had four children....

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Boardman, George Dana (18 August 1828–28 April 1903), Baptist preacher, was born in Tavoy, Burma, the son of George D. Boardman, Sr., and Sarah Hall, Baptist missionaries. When Boardman was six, his father died and his mother married. Adoniram Judson, a missionary in Burma. In 1834 Boardman was sent to the United States for his education. The nine-month sea voyage from India to Boston, Massachusetts, aboard the ...

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Boyd, Richard Henry (15 March 1843–23 August 1922), Baptist clergyman, was born in Noxubee County, Mississippi, the son of Indiana, a slave woman. He was born with the name Dick Gray, having been given the surname of his mother’s owner. At the death of his mother’s owner, he accompanied members of the Gray family who relocated to Washington County in western Texas, where he lived on a plantation until the outbreak of the Civil War. During the war he served his master in the Confederate camps. Having survived his master, he returned to Texas, where he was given responsibility for managing the Gray plantation. After the war he left the plantation and took on several occupations in Texas, including that of a cattleman. Having had no formal education in his early years, it was not until the mid-1860s that he learned to read and write....

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Brawley, Edward McKnight (18 March 1851–13 January 1923), Baptist minister, educator, and editor, was born in Charleston, South Carolina, the son of free African-American parents, Ann L. (maiden name unknown) and James M. Brawley. Brawley’s parents took a keen interest in the education and professional development of their son, providing him private schooling in Charleston, sending him at the age of ten to Philadelphia to attend grammar school and the Institute for Colored Youth, and having him apprenticed to a shoemaker in Charleston from 1866 to 1869. He enrolled as the first theological student at Howard University for a few months in 1870; he transferred to Bucknell University in Pennsylvania in January 1871. The first African-American student at Bucknell, Brawley completed his education with the encouragement and financial support of a white couple named Griffith and his own work teaching vocal music and preaching during school vacations. The white Baptist church in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, with which he had affiliated, ordained him to the ministry the day after his graduation, 1 July 1875; he was examined by a board composed largely of professors and other learned individuals. In 1878 he received the A.M. from Bucknell and, in 1885, an honorary doctor of divinity degree from the State University in Louisville, Kentucky....

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Broaddus, Andrew (04 November 1770–01 December 1848), Baptist minister, was born in Caroline County, Virginia, the son of John Broaddus, a teacher and farmer, and Frances Pryor. Andrew received only a few months of formal schooling, but his studious inclinations convinced his father that he should seek ordination in the Episcopal church. Against his father’s admonition, however, he frequented sermons by the Baptist revivalist Theodoric Noel, who baptized him in 1789 as a member of the Upper King and Queen Baptist Church. In 1791 he was ordained as a Baptist minister....

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Broadus, John Albert (24 January 1827–16 March 1895), Baptist clergyman and professor, was born in Culpeper County, Virginia, the son of Edmund Broadus, a state legislator, and Nancy Sims. Broadus stood in a long line of preachers, politicians, and revolutionary heroes, which included his father, who served for twenty years in the state legislature of Virginia. After a brief period of teaching, in 1846 he entered the University of Virginia, graduating in 1850 with an M.A. in the humanities and ancient languages (in later years he was offered two different chairs at the university, those in Greek and moral philosophy, which he declined). During college he was converted to Christianity and joined the Baptist denomination. With his vocation as yet undecided, he accepted the pastorate of the Charlottesville Baptist Church but also kept his hand in education by serving as chaplain to the university and teaching classical languages. Thus began his lifelong attempt to synthesize faith and reason, piety and learning. His efforts resulted in the university’s becoming an unofficial educational center for Baptists in Virginia at a time when the denomination sponsored few institutions of higher learning. He served both the church and the university between 1851 and 1859....

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Brooks, Walter Henderson (30 August 1851–06 July 1945), clergyman, temperance leader, and poet, was born in Richmond, Virginia, the son of Albert Royal Brooks and Lucy Goode, slaves. Brooks’s father was an enterprising slave who owned his own “snack house” and a livery business that brought him into contact with some of Virginia’s wealthiest citizens, including his wife’s owner, German consul Daniel Von Groning. Albert Brooks purchased his wife’s freedom in 1862 for $800. Still a slave, Walter Brooks at age seven was sold to the Turpin & Yarborough tobacco firm. He woefully recalled his time there, writing: “It was all I could do to perform the task assigned to my little hands. What I do remember is that I stood in mortal fear of ‘the consequences’ of failing to do what was required of me.” When the Richmond manufacturer fell victim to wartime economic decline, Brooks was allowed to reside with his mother and began working in hotels, boardinghouses, and restaurants. In his youth he acquired the doctrines that served as the foundation for his life’s work. He learned temperance from his pastor, the Reverend ...

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Bryan, Andrew (1737–06 October 1812), clergyman, was born at Goose Creek, South Carolina, about sixteen miles from Charleston. His slave parents’ names are unknown. George Liele, the itinerant African-American Baptist minister from Savannah, Georgia, baptized Bryan in 1782. Bryan married Hannah (maiden name unknown) about nine years after his conversion. Jonathan Bryan, Andrew’s master and a New Light Presbyterian sympathetic to the evangelical movement in the South, allowed him to exhort both blacks and whites. About 1790 a white landowner allowed Bryan to build a wooden shed on the outskirts of Savannah at Yamacraw. Here Bryan held religious meetings for African Americans, both slave and free, between sunrise and sunset. When white opposition arose, Bryan and his hearers retreated to the nearby swamp to conduct their religious activities....

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Anthony Burns. Engraving, 1855. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-90750).

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Burns, Anthony (31 May 1829?–27 July 1862), fugitive slave and pastor, was born in Stafford County, Virginia; his parents (names unknown) were slaves of the Suttle family. Burns’s father had died during his infancy. Influenced by his devout mother, he converted to the Baptist faith and later became an unofficial preacher to other slaves. Burns’s owner, Charles F. Suttle, farmed in Stafford until 1852, when he moved to Alexandria to become a commission merchant. Suttle prospered and sufficiently distinguished himself that both communities elected him to various offices....

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Buttrick, Wallace (23 October 1853–27 May 1926), Baptist minister and philanthropy executive, was born in Potsdam, New York, the son of Charles Henry Buttrick and Polly Dodge Warren. Young Buttrick studied at the Ogdensburg Academy and Potsdam Normal School between 1868 and 1872. He married Isabella Allen of Saginaw, Michigan, in 1875; the couple had three children. Buttrick worked as a railway mail clerk for five years. He then entered Rochester Theological Seminary in Rochester, New York, and graduated in 1883. Ordained in the Baptist ministry, Buttrick initially served at First Baptist Church in New Haven, Connecticut, where he was the pastor for six years. From 1889 to 1892 he was the pastor of First Baptist Church in St. Paul, Minnesota, and from 1892 to 1902 he was the pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Albany, New York. There Buttrick met with other Baptist ministers such as Samuel Zane Batten, ...

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Callender, John (1706–26 January 1748), Baptist clergyman and historian, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of John Callender, a shopkeeper, and Priscilla Man. His grandfather, Ellis Callender, was lay preacher at the First Baptist Church from 1708 to 1726. At the age of thirteen, Callender entered Harvard College. As a scholarship student, he was supported with the income from the benefactions of Thomas Hollis and later with funds supplied by ...

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Cary, Lott (1780–10 November 1828), Baptist preacher and missionary to Africa, was born on a plantation in Charles City County, Virginia, thirty miles from Richmond, the son of slave parents, names unknown. His grandmother Mihala had a strong influence on Lott’s early religious development. He married around 1800 and with his first wife (name unknown) had two children. Lott’s master sent him to Richmond in 1804 as a hired slave laborer. He worked in the Shockoe Tobacco Warehouse first as a laborer, then as a shipping clerk....

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Clarke, John (08 October 1609–20 April 1676), Baptist preacher and colonial agent, was born in Westhorpe, Suffolk, the son of Thomas Clarke, a man of unknown occupation and middling rank, and Rose Keridge. John Clarke had some college education (possibly at Cambridge) and some medical training (possibly at Leyden). He studied Hebrew. While still in England he married Elizabeth Harges, daughter of John Harges, lord of the manor of Wreslingworth, Bedfordshire. They had no children....