By: Rev. Elijah Zehyoue
This Women’s history month, we here at the New Baptist Covenant have been highlighting and celebrating the various efforts of Baptist women in the fight for equality. Often, when we tell both the stories of our Baptist past and our fight for racial justice, we tell them as events in which men alone thought great ideas, preached great sermons, got amazing revelations from God, marched against injustice, and sacrificed for others. With this view, men are the actors and the agents, the activists, preachers, and scholars. Women, on the other hand are seen as passive. They are bystanders. They are the workers, always in the back and always occupying the supporting roles. They represent the masses, but rarely the leaders. The oppressed, but rarely the liberators themselves.
We want to challenge that view and assert a different one—one more consistent with our biblical ethic and our Baptist principles. We want to see the lives, contributions, and ministries of women in Baptist history and the fight for equality for what they really are—pioneers.
We call special attention to Great Baptist Women—women like Libbie Cilley Griffin, the first woman on record by American Baptist Home Mission Society in 1898 in New York State. Women like Nannie Helen Burroughs who dedicated her life to education, womanism, and Civil Rights Activism. In 1909, she opened up a school for women and girls. Today, the Progressive National Baptist Convention headquarters sit on the original land of her school. Women like Addie Davis who was the first woman ordained in the Southern Baptist tradition at Watts Street Baptist Church in 1964 despite strong opposition. Women like Ella Baker, a pioneer in the Civil Rights Movement whose activism started in the 1930’s and spanned most of the 20th century until her death in 1986. Her deep investment in the liberation of oppressed people meant that she was outspoken against Italy’s invasion of Ethiopia and involved with ALL of the major Civil Rights organizations of the movement.
These Baptist women were liberators, pioneers in the struggle for justice and equality. As we seek to create a more just world, we must do justice by them and all of the women who continue to lead in our Baptist family. We must listen as they tell their stories, and we must tell their stories if they are no longer with us. Most importantly, however, we must write a better story—a more inclusive and just story that values the lives, ministries, courage, and hope of women as liberators in the struggle for a just world.
Rev. Elijah Zehyoue is the Director of Programs and Communications at the New Baptist Covenant