Thursday, May 12, 2016

Gems from the Black Press: Remembering Western Baptist College

Today's Focus
Advertisement for Western Baptist College in Missouri
from The Missouri Messenger January 26, 1900

Source: U.S., African American Newspapers, 1829-1947 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2013.
This collection was indexed by Ancestry World Archives Project contributors.
Original data: Negro Newspapers for the American Council of Learned Studies. Washington, D.C.: The Library of Congress.

One of the pleasures that I enjoy when conducting research is to explore the amazing articles and ads that I find in old publications. I am particularly attracted by the articles from the African American press that reflect many aspects of the African American Community over a century ago. I have noticed that a good way to learn about one's local community is to examine the classified section of early black newspapers for they reveal businesses, churches and schools in their early years. Some of the ads reflect activities of institutions long forgotten, while others reflect schools that have morphed into larger entities.

I decided to take a look at "The Missouri Messenger" a publication that was said to be "the organ of 35,000 Baptists". In that particular edition, I learned about an institution with which I was unfamiliar. The classifieds of a 1900 edition of the paper brought to my attention an ad reflecting Western Baptist College, a small Baptist college located in Macon, Missouri.

(Source: Same as above)

The college offered Christian education, and elementary and a normal school, with training for the ministry as well. Western Baptist was a boarding school as well as as a day school. Upon researching the history of the school, it was amazing to find out that the school still exists to this day. It is the first and only religious affiliated institution west of the Mississippi founded exclusively by African Americans.

The history of the school goes back to 1889 when a special meeting of  Baptists took place in Sedalia Missouri, and from the series of meetings in that state, it was decided to lease an old church building for 5 years for the purposes of establishing a school. After arrangements were made, the school opened in January of 1890 enrolling 14 students. Within a year's time an offer for a permanent location of the school was accepted from parties in Macon Missouri. There was immediate interest in the school and its legacy was established. Petitions for funding for the college were met and granted from multiple parties including endorsements from local white Baptist churches in the local area, as well as the Baptist Home Mission Society based in New York that donated $1200 to the school. (Source of historical information.)

The school was strongly supported by the Baptist church and it was common that members of the Church's hierarchy often visited the school. The same edition of the Missouri Messenger reflected the visit of pastors from St. Louis to the campus.

(Source: Same as link from above image)

Like many Historically Black Institutions, Western Baptist offered a preparatory school in addition to the normal college programs. The school began offering programs to both males and females, and eagerly sought assistance for the erection of a dormitory for girls on the school's grounds.

(Source: Same as above.)

For over 30 years the school thrived in Macon, and in 1920, the school moved to Kansas City Missouri. It was located at first on Woodland Avenue of the city and later Tracy Avenue in the city. Over time the focus became centered on higher education and that became the focus and continues to this day.

Today the school still operates as Western Baptist Bible College as a four year institution devoted to Christian education. The school has also expanded now to operate on several campuses throughout the states of Missouri and Kansas. In Missouri campus are located in Kansas City, and St. Louis. In Kansas campuses are now located in Topkea, Wichita, Olathe, and Junction City. College Commencement will take place this year on May 12, 2016 on the at 8th Street Baptist Church in Kansas City Missouri.

The Missouri Messenger is a unique paper reflecting not only the Baptist community that it served, but also a unique school with an interesting legacy and history. It can be viewed on Ancestry in the collection of African American newspapers.