this WSB clip from September 26, 1966, Sam Oni, a Mercer
University student originally from Nigeria,
and Thomas Holmes, pastor of Tattnall
Square Baptist Church, discuss a church policy that denies
membership to blacks, which Oni had decided to challenge. On
September 25, 1966, he had attempted to integrate the church, but
as he attempted to enter the building, two deacons physically blocked
him. In addition to preventing Oni from entering the building for
worship, the congregation of Tattnall Square Baptist Church voted
to fire Holmes.
While living in Nigeria, Oni had converted to the Baptist faith.
In 1963, he became the first black student admitted to Mercer University,
a Baptist school. Oni was first introduced to Pastor Holmes through
a newspaper article. In 1966, while spending the summer in California,
Oni came across a piece in the Oakland Tribune by Ralph
McGill, a syndicated columnist and the white editor
and publisher of the Atlanta
In the article McGill commented on the parishoners' anger when
Holmes had advocated for the desegregation of the church.
to McGill, the congregation
had voted 289 to 109, or almost three to one,
to close the doors of the church to blacks. As a result of reading
this article Oni was inspired to try to end segregation at
the church. His activism was part of a wider effort among Mercer
faculty and students, inspired by the Movement, to hold
the institution to its Christian ideals.
Square Baptist Church is located on the Mercer University campus,
in a neighborhood in Macon that
consists of historical antebellum homes. In the mid 1960s, the
neighborhood surrounding the church was considered by some as deteriorating,
but Pastor Holmes saw it as something more. He had a vision to
renew the area and in turn to create a multiracial and multicultural
ministry, and his goal was realized when Tattnall Square integrated. In
1994, Oni returned as a guest of Mercer for the school's thirtieth
anniversary of its integration.
Born and raised in Nigeria, Oni came from a country that had experienced
political revolution in the 1950s and 1960s as black Africans there
worked to overthrow British colonial rule. The movement among
African and Caribbean nations to secure independence from
European colonizers, along with India's successful break from British
control in the 1940s, helped to galvanize African Americans' hope
that they could end Jim Crow and the status of second-class
citizenship that it had imposed on them in the U.S.A.
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1. Read our essays on the August
28, 1863, protest march in Albany, Georgia, by a group of clergy and
on the attempts
to integrate Americus's First Methodist and First Baptist Chuches. In
what particular ways did faith play a role in motivating activists
in the Civil
Rights Movement to confront racism and to look for
creative solutions to social problems?
2. The independence movements that took place during the 1950s
and 1960s in African countries such as Nigeria, Ghana, and Uganda
helped encourage African Americans to continue pressing for
freedom from oppression and the full rights of citizenship in their
own nation. Andrew
Young and Charlayne
Hunter are two of many Georgians who have
followed up their civil rights activism in the United States with
human rights activism in Africa, Asia, and other non-Western regions
of the world. What common
issues or goals do Africans and African Americans currently share? What
would be beneficial and/or problematic by working
together to achieve progress in these mutual cconcerns?
3. Did Oni's background as a Nigerian, rather than an African
American, have an effect on the church's
resistance to its integration? Do you think they were more or less
resistant because of his nationality? When faith communities embrace
outsiders, what changes develop within the community, both good
Take it to the Streets!
Even with the clear class disparity between those
of European and African descent in the antebellum United States,
scholars believe that these two groups have largely influenced one
another's spiritual practices, such as the incorporation of slave
spirituals into the mainstream Protestant church. Make a list of
church practices today and examine the influence each of these groups
may have had on today's faith practices. Which side may have influenced
the other more?
Research the practices of antebellum slave owners
to ensure that their slaves were exposed to the Christian faith
and the ways that slaves created their own faith practices, sometimes
outside of their owner's perview. Next, study the distinct separation
of whites and blacks in faith practices during Reconstruction and
the early twentieth century. Why did freed people desire to worship
independently of their former owners during Reconstruction while
still struggling to integrate government and civic places?
Writer: Stacie Walker
Stacie Walker and Professor Barbara McCaskill
Christina L. Davis, Mary Boyce Hicks, Delila Wilburn and Professor
Site Designer: William Weems
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