Sowing Seeds of Hope
History of the Baptists in Perry County
Fresh from frontier revival of the Second Great Awakening, many white Baptists and their black slaves caught the "Alabama
Fever" at the end of the Creek Indian War, when lands the natives were forced to cede to the American Government were
made available to new Settlers. One of the six original counties created by the Alabama legislature in 1819, Perry County was
named for Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry, naval hero of the War of 1812. By 1817 settlers were growing cotton in the area,
and the bumper crop of 1818 brought a rush of squatters, speculators, and more settlers.
Baptist settlers and their slaves chartered two churches in 1822: Siloam and Hopewell, and both congregations are active
today. As more migrants from across the U.S. populated Perry County, the Baptists experimented with educational enterprises,
as did the other denominations; and in 1838 members of Siloam Baptist Church, founded a Baptist college for females named
in honor of Anne Hasseltine Judson, America's first female Baptist missionary. The first president of Judson College, Milo P.
Jewett, a graduate of Dartmouth and Andover Theological Seminary, later returned to the north where he founded Vassar in
the 1860s. In the past 160 years Judson has affirmed and prepared thousands of young women for leadership in Alabama, the
United States, and all around the world. Today, Judson College remains committed to the education of the "total woman" to be
all that Christ calls her to be.
In the 1840s the Baptists had the largest church rolls of the various Christian denominations represented in Perry County. In
1843 Milo P. Jewett and Judson trustee Edwin King started The Alabama Baptist newspaper. In 1845 leaders of the new
Southern Baptist Convention met a Siloam Baptist Church and formed the Domestic Mission Board, which later became the
Home Mission Board and eventually the North America Mission Board. Their meeting table still resides at Siloam Baptist Church.
In 1842 Alabama Baptists opened classes for men at Howard College, which later became Samford University. In 1854 a fire
swept through the campus. On of the president's slaves, a twenty-three year old man named Harry, lost his life after telling
others, "I must awaken the boys." The students erected a monument to Harry, who was a faithful member of Siloam Baptist
Church. Some of the galleries in which Baptist slaves worshipped may be seen in Siloam's sanctuary today.
By 1860 sixty-six percent of Perry County's population were slaves. Many white Perry County leaders favored Alabama
secession from the United States, just as Alabama Baptists fifteen years earlier had seceded from the Tiennial Convention of
Baptists. Alabama's "Secession Governor," Andrew Barry Moore, hailed from Perry County, and the "Stars and Bars' flag of the
Confederacy was designed and sewn in Marion. But Judson College's former president, Milo P. Jewett, published his opposition
to secession, and the Civil Ward divided Perry Count as it divided the country.
During the Civil Ward Howard College served as a Confederate Army hospital, and Nathan Bedford Forrest and his troops
occupied Marion against attack from Union forces. According to oral history, at the end of the war, a wounded Union soldier
taught former slaves to read and write while he recuperated in Perry County. In 1866-67 the newly freed people of Perry
County --approximately sixty-six percent of the population-drew up a petition for the incorporation of Lincoln School in Marion,
Alabama, in honor of recently assassinated President Abraham Lincoln. Pooling their resources, the former slaves erected
buildings fro the school on land donated by a white man and appealed to the American Missionary Association for teachers
from the North.
The AMA (Congregationalist) had formed from the support of the mutineers of the Amistad slave ship and provided missionary
teachers to African-Americans, native Americans, and poor whites in the South who were not being assisted by white Baptists.
Most of the Baptist churches in the area had been hard-hit by destruction, destitution, disorganization, and demoralization. The
six rural congregations had not pastor were slowly dying. White Baptists often did not understand black Baptists' desire for
their own churches without galleries, but black Baptists met a Siloam until they laid the cornerstone for Berean Baptist Church
in 1873 with the assistance of the Siloam congregation. The two churches are located two-blocks apart. Similarly, the
congregation of Hopewell and almost all other Baptist, Methodist, and Presbyterian churches divided into separate black and
white congregations, as was the trend across the South. Today, the two Hopewell congregations continue to meet in separate
buildings side-by-side in front of the old cemetery that contains their shared heritage.
Black Baptists worried that northern Congregationalist teachers might try to proselytize but welcomed them anyway. White
Baptists gave the northern teachers the cold shoulder at best. The "outsiders" were subjected to rocks and epithets from local
whites in downtown Marion. Due to the commitment and perseverance of AMA teachers in Perry County, many
African-Americans in the area did join the new Congregational church. Alumni named Phillips Auditorium, used today by the
community, in honor of Mary Elizabeth Phillips, the popular white principal who lived and worked at Lincoln for thirty-five years.
The school would produce more Ph.D.s among its alumni than any other school for African-Americans in America.
The Ku Klux Klan operated illegally in the area, harassing and intimidating black and white voters until white conservative
Democrats, calling themselves "Redeemers," recaptured the state government and reversed the effects of Republican
Reconstruction. To prevent black Alabamian's from leaving the state and taking their labor to the north or west, the Redeemers
passed trespassing and vagrancy laws that allowed white enforcers to place strong black men on the chain gangs that
provided cheap labor for the older planter elite's farms and businesses. Such practices were codified by the Alabama
Constitution of 1901, which was "ratified" by ballot fraud in the Black Belt and disenfranchised by poor whites and
African-Americans- -the majority of Perry County's population. Although amended, the constitution remains in place in Alabama
In the 1880s the Alabama Baptist State Convention Executive Secretary offices located near Judson College in Marion. Across
town at Howard College, fighting broke out between Howard boys and Lincoln boys. The Lincoln School now looked more like a
college campus than a day school, and Lincoln Normal University for teachers had been added. As tension escalated between
the two student bodies, black and white men in the town armed themselves. A few days later the Normal University
"mysteriously" burned to the ground. The perpetrators were never brought to justice. The next year, 1887, Howard College
located to Birmingham, where it eventually became Samford University. Lincoln Normal University relocated to Montgomery and
became Alabama State (its alma mater praises the blue skies of Marion).
With the departure of Howard, local residents purchased the campus at auction and deeded the property to the city of Marion
with the stipulation that Siloam Baptist Church membership always be represented on the board of trustees of the new
educational institution (the school later amended the charter). Marion Military Institute was established with the mythology of a
"noble Lost Cause" that white Southerners invented to try to justify their secession and defeat. The Lost Cause ideology
permeated white culture of Perry County for generations.
In the twentieth century, the Great Depression affected Perry County as it affected most rural areas across the country.
Sharecroppers and tenant farmers subsisted on whatever food they could grow for themselves. Although the crisis
democratized poverty in some ways, Roosevelt's New Deal generally assisted property-owners in the area. In such bleak time,
black and white churches provided as much relief and diversion as possible for members and non-members.
At the end of World War II, tired of their service being ignored while white veterans enjoyed social status and benefits, black
veterans marched silently in cadence, escorted by the white sheriff, from Lincoln School to the Perry County courthouse. The
march was the beginning of a new civil rights movement in Perry County.
For generations Perry Countians had known where blacks were welcome or unwelcome. Some white business people in Marion
made no distinctions among customers, while others refused to accommodate black patrons. During the war, the state of
Alabama had, against the wishes of students and teachers, expelled white teachers and administrators from the Lincoln
School, making it a completely segregated black school. White students at the time attended Perry County High School,
located at the former Female Seminary.
One of the graduates of Lincoln School, Coretta Scott, married Baptist minister Martin Luther King, Jr. and introduced her new
husband to her classmate Jean Childs, who married Marion's new congregational pastor, Andrew Young. The Scott homeplace
in Perry County has been designated a national historic site.
Inspired by the success of the Kings and other black Baptists with the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the March on Washington,
many Perry County African-Americans organized grass-roots boycotts of Marion establishments and institutions that served
"whites only." In 1965 an ill-fated "night march" from a mass meeting at Zion AME Church to sing outside the Perry County Jail,
where numerous demonstrators were being detained, resulted in a bloody confrontation with white state troopers and thugs
from neighboring counties. The fatal wounding of Lincoln graduate and U.S. Sailor Jimmy Lee Jackson led to plans for a march
from Selma to Montgomery for voting rights. The intervention and leadership of Andrew Young in Marion and Selma prevented
armed retaliation by blacks and further bloodshed.
The series of events surrounding "Bloody Sunday" at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma and the final march to the
statehouse in Montgomery, the "cradle of the confederacy," began in Marion and had significant repercussions on the future of
Perry County. Judson's all-white female student body, confined to campus while demonstrations occurred only blocks away,
remained largely oblivious to the civil rights movement at their doorstep. The college's administration, however, removed the
"whites only" ban in compliance with federal Law. Unfortunately, many local Southern Baptist churches protested Judson's
position. Siloam Baptist Church voted to bar blacks from its doors. Several Judson students and faculty withdrew their
membership from the church as a result. Residents who attended the Billy Graham Crusade in Selma at the end of 1965 heard
a plea from the famous Baptist evangelist fro love and unity of Christians across racial lines.
In the 1960's the state of Alabama closed both the Lincoln School and the white Perry County High in order to send students to
a newly constructed and racially integrated Marion High School. Under the auspices of state-sponsored desegregation, local
officials razed by bulldozer almost all of the Lincoln buildings.
In 1970, the state of Alabama established the Alabama Women's Hall of Fame at Judson College, the nation's sixth-oldest
women's college, which now accepted African-American students. The Hall of Fame has honored women of all classes and
ethnicities for their cultural leadership. In 1997 Judson president David Potts hired the college's first African American faculty
member. In 199 President Potts declared a "stop day" to allow Judson students, faculty, and staff to participate in Habitat for
Humanity's "Beyond the Bridge" blitz build of twenty-one homes in one week in Selma. Today Judson's outstanding student
leaders are preparing their mission projects in conjunction with Sowing Seeds of Hope. Judson student Mandy McMichael
earned an Alabama CBF Young Leaders Scholarship to attend the 2000 General Assembly.
Today both the Lincoln School and the former Female Seminary are laying the groundwork for museums and tourism. Historian
and curator Dr. Paul Rietzer, pastor of Newburn Baptist Church, serves on the Baptist World Alliance's Justice and
Many black and white Baptists work together in such community organizations as CrossTies (so named because we are tied
together by the Cross). We work, pray, and play together in a spirit of forgiveness, healing, and reconciliation.
In Perry County you'll find Cooperative Baptists, Southern Baptists, National Baptists, Progressive Baptists, and Independent
Baptists. At city hall and the county courthouse such Baptists as Mary Cosby Moore, Donald Cook, Twynette Yeager, and
Mayor Ed Daniels lead by example in cooperation and productivity. True to Baptists' history of cultural influence in this area, in
business, industry, healthcare, and service occupations, Baptists are working together to make a positive difference in Perry
County. Join us!
Written by Dr. Carol Ann Vaughn, former Professor of History at Judson College, former member of Siloam Baptist Church and
Alabama Representative on the National Coordinating Council of CBF. Dr. Vaughn is currently serving as the Director of
Christian Women's Leadership Center and Assistant Professor of History at Samford University.
The 25th chapter of the Gospel of St. Matthew contains a powerful teaching about the judgement of God. The basis for that
final examination we are told, will not be what we believe, but how what we believe determines our ethics. Did we see the
hungry and refuse them something to eat, the thirsty and deny them drink, the stranger and offer no welcome, the naked and
provide no clothing, the sick and offer no care, the prisoner and neglect to visit? If we have refused these ministries, the we
have also rejected God.
The Sowing Seeds of Hope partnership between Alabama CBF and the people of Perry County was born in the 25th chapter of
Matthew. With a child poverty rate of more than fifty percent and an unemployment rate level of higher than ten percent, Perry
County is one of America's poorest counties. Yet, it is also the cradle of Baptist life in Alabama, the location of three significant
Baptist institutions (Judson College, Siloam, and Berean Baptist churches), and the site of origin of Howard College (now
Samford University), The Alabama Baptist, and the Home Mission Board (now North American Mission Board) of the Southern
What better place for the Alabama Baptists to demonstrate two central elements of our common faith: ecumenical ministries
with black and white Christian brothers and sisters and a commitment to social justice. We envision no quick fix and no
paternalistic relationship. We contemplate an engagement of at least a quarter-century, not of a new months. We proclaim a
vision longer than the span of our own lives. And we act only as enablers, responding to what the people of Perry County
themselves decide are the best ways to provide health care, better education, job skills, economic development, and adequate
housing. All our efforts will be collaborative. We will work with the people of Perry County, not at them or for them or toward
There have been many efforts during the past century to reduce or eradicate poverty. But the effect has been marginal. So
what we propose is a faith-based initiative that begins with the spiritual questions that energize our Christianity. Who are the
poor and what is our responsibility toward them? How can we transcend the materialism of our age for a fresh vision of God's
creation? How can people be empowered to take care of their own physical needs? Can Christianity surmount barriers of race
and class on behalf of a higher human ideal? Can we change the political and economic structures that enslave the poor as
effectively as we seek to introduce them to new life in Christ? Can we listen to and learn from the poor as patiently as we talk to
and teach them?
We invite all who share our vision to walk with us on this often frustrating but always exhilarating pilgrimage.
Written by Dr. Wayne Flynt, Distinguished University Professor at Auburn University, member of the Auburn First Baptist
Church and progenitor of the Perry County concept for missions and ministry.