The First Baptist Church - 100th Anniversary Celebration Praise Our Church History

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"A Century of Faith"

A History of First Baptist Church

in 1895, when some thirty-five men and women regularly held prayer meetings in the home of Mr. Mack Jones who resided on West South Orange Avenue. Little did they realize that they were marking the beginning of what was to become one of the outstanding baptist churches in Northern Jersey. Among this first group of thirty0five worshipers were Gato Dishman, who was credited with organizing the littler prayer band, Hannibal Kenny, Munther Jackson, J. McJones, Henrietta Randolph, Dennis Ford, and Sarah Bynum.

As the prayer group increased in size, space in the Temperance Hall, then located on South Orange Avenue, was secured for meetings and in 1898 the congregation was formally organized. It was Mrs. Bynum who suggested the name "First Baptist Church". in 1899, the church was incorporated.

The first deacons of the new church were Manning Dishman, J. McJones and Dennis Ford. Will Ford was the first Sunday School Superintendent. In time additional worshipers swelled the ranks and the need was felt other quarters. The congregation, therefore, purchased a house on First Street knocking out the walls of the entire first floor rooms to make a chapel. There they worshiped until the erection of the present building in 1913.

On July 13, 1908, Mr. and Mrs. Jordan Morgan, Afro-American citizens of South Orange, deeded to First Baptist Church for the sum of one dollar ($1.00) the property at the sit of valley and second streets expressly to build a church edifice.

Mr. and Mrs. Jordan owned a prosperous business and several properties in South Orange.

The building of the church, however, was not a simple matter and other village churches and private citizens joined them in helping to raise finds for the building's completion. First Baptist Church was dedicated on November 24, 1913.

The names of many of the ministers who served the First Baptist Church, have, unfortunately, faded from memory and records. The first pastor, however, of the group which first organized, was the reverend Albert Edwards. Among others who followed were reverends, Sidney Smith, G.W. Long, E. Spurrels, J.D. Bolden, J. James, Daniel Crosby, and John Askew.

Research by staff of the South Orange Public Library for this 100 year history disclosed interesting information, dated 1895, regarding Reverend Syndey Smith and Reverend G.W. Long. Information was documented by issues of The South Orange Bulletin in its columns devoted to church news. The Reverend Syndey Smith gave diligent leadership to the congregation in ti's fund raising efforts for the erection of a church. The Reverend G.W. Long was called to first baptist at age 26. He entered Hampton College at age 14. After two years he transferred to Howard University where after five years he graduated with A M.A. Degree. Rev. Long was well received in the community where he was a member of the South Orange Board of Education. The South Orange Bulletin printed the text on an address, entitled "Education", that Rev. Long delivered to high school students at Columbia School.

In the year 1931, the Rev. John Ellison, who was a student at Drew University Theological Seminary, was called. He resigned from First Baptist in 1934 for a pastorate in Washington D.C.. subsequently, Rev. Ellison was named President of Virginia University in Richmond, Virginia. From 1934 to 1943, Rev. George Gunther, a local resident was pastor. He was widely known as respected for his high intellect and in addition to his pastoral duties Rev. Gunther tutored PH.D. candidates. Upon his leaving to accept a teaching post at The Lynchburg Seminary and College in Lynchburg, Virginia, the Rev. John Wesley Nance began the project to secure a parsonage and the site at 152 Academy Street was purchased, he departed in 1945 when the church called the Rev. Leon H. Sullivan.

Reverend Dr. Leon Sullivan


Rev. Sullivan, born October 16, 1922 came to minister First Baptist Church in September 1945, at age 23. Prior to this time, Rev. Sullivan was influenced to re-locate from West Virginia to New York City by Rev. Adam Clayton Powe4ll, Jr., Pastor of the Abyssinia Baptist Church of New York City and later served as his assistant, at the age of 21, Rev. Sullivan was elected President of the National "March on Washington" movement (1940s) and was involved in speeches and marches for civil rights all over Harlem, New York. For a period of time, he served as a supply minister of the Randall Presbyterian Church working with delinquent youths in street gangs.

Mayor Fiorella La Guardia recognized the important work that Rev. Sullivan was doing and asked him to recruit a hundred black men to aid the police force. He left New York City to Pastor the First Baptist Church in South Orange, New Jersey. He was a dynamic, fearless, inspirational church and community leader. During his pastorate the mortgage on the parsonage was lifted. His interest and participation in civil affairs gave new meaning and importance to the pulpit. He worked with the community for a solution to the many problems in the area. Rev. Sullivan brought awareness of the housing problem for black citizens, the deed for black youth employment opportunities, and he sough scholarships to give impetus to many young church members efforts to pursue higher education. He was the first black president of the South Orange Council of Churches. In 1950, Rev. Sullivan accepted a call to Zion Baptist Church in Philadelphia from whence his church and community endeavors have become nationally and internationally known.

1959Led 400 ministers and their congregations in a three year boycott against 30 Philadelphia companies which resulted in more employment opportunities for blacks.
1964Founded the Opportunities Industrialization Center (OIC) in Philadelphia to provide training and placement for minority groups. This program expanded to national and international proportions. The Philadelphia Center was visited by President Lyndon Johnson.
1965Founded the Zion Investment Associates.
1971Elected the first black member of the Board of Directors of General Motors Corporation.
1977Organized a campaign to help end discrimination against blacks in South Africa and implemented "The Sullivan Principles" geared to 100+ American companies operating in South Africa.

Reverend Sullivan - research material was taken from: A Theological commentary on the on the Sullivan Principals, by J. de Otis Roberts.

Note: Rev. Sullivan was faithfully and fondly assisted by Rev. John Miles, father of sisters Maggie Coy and Omega Vaughan, from his arrival in September 1945 until Rev. Miles demise, October 23, 1948.

Reverend Edgar Garfield Thomas


In 1951 a call was extended to the Rev. Edgar G. Thomas, from Philadelphia. Leadership, a part of his training included an active participation int eh St. Paul Baptist Church under the leadership of Rev. Dr. Luther Cunningham. During this period he became aware of the social aspect of the gospel and the role of the church in improving the life of the community. This insight was the guiding force in the life of Rev. Thomas. Under the pastorage of Rev. Thomas a church constitution was written, a financial reporting system was introduced, a trustee board established, an a unified treasury instituted. He encourage members to donate the stained glass windows to beautify the sanctuary. Rev. Thomas was a vital board member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. A personal friend of the late Rev. Dr. Marin Luther King, Jr.. It was through his activities with the southern christian leadership conference that the church became involved. Rev. Thomas was active in many organization. He served as president of the Orange and Maplewood branch of the NAACP, a member of the state board of The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), a board member of the Essex County Urban League, Vice President of the Citizen Party League of South Orange, and a member of the South Orange Council of Churches. He was a supporter and officer of many denominational organizations. Throughout the years, Reverend Thomas received many awards for his outstanding services and dedication. Among them were a 1981 village proclamation proclaiming Reverend Edgar Garfield Thomas Week; a 1984 Village of the Month Award; and a spiritual leader community service award also in 1984. On March 27, 1984 Rev. Thomas expired, the church and community lost a brilliant leader. On March 29, 1987, a library was dedicate in the lower auditorium of our church in his memory.

Interim Leadership

Board of Deacons; Neville Kidd, Chairman

Though mourning the loss of Reverend Thomas the church continued to move forward between 1984-1986 with God's faithfulness to us, the sterling leadership of Deacon Neville Kidd, chairman, and the Board of Deacons, fine cooperation of the church governing body and membership, and encouragement from sister churches.

Reverend Dwight Crist Northington

Rev. Northington was called to the pulpit on June 1, 1986. During his tenure there were many accomplishments which enhanced worship and increased physical comfort. In regard to the latter installations of an air-conditioning system and a state of the art sound system are note-worthy. In 1991 Rev. Northington accepted a church in Red Bank, New Jersey.

Interim Leadership

During this period, the church was fortunate to acquire the fine services of two interim pastors, each services one year, first, Rev. Ercel Webb followed by Rev. Early Thurmond.

Reverend Earl Middleton

Rev. Middleton was called February 15, 1994. He resigned in February 1995 due to personal reasons.

Interim Leadership

Currently, able and energetic leadership, is being give to First Baptist Church by Rev. James Motley, Interim Pastor.

A Special Note:

Special tribute is made to Mrs. Sarah Bynum, a founder of First Baptist Church, who had a "way" with all children, her tough love, christian character and organized habits made a life-long contribution to each of us who is blessed to have had her touch our life. Mrs. Bynum expired in (1949) many rugged experiences have been met since that day, one hundred years ago, when the First Baptist Church of South Orange was formally organized. God only knows of the many untiring and unselfish services that have been rendered for it's support. These services, however, have not been rendered in vain. For today the First Baptist Church stands as a thriving sector of the church universal, sending forth men, women and children with the good news of the gospel, encouraging others to come within it's hallowed walls that they, too, may known of God's love for them; and as a monument to all those who diligently labored but now are at rest.