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Black Baptist heroes John Chilembwe and Martin Luther King, Jr. Both have national holidays celebrated today

As Americans observe the legacy of Father Martin Luther King Jr., many Africans will observe the legacy of their own Baptist warrior for racial justice, Father John Chilembwe.

King and Chilembwe both lead organizations influenced by National Baptist Convention, a network of 19th-century African-American churches with missionary zeal.

The profound history of MLK’s Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta has been told: in 1886, John A. Parker, a former slave, convinced a small group of friends to gather for fellowship at a marker. stone called “Ebenezer”. In 1894, he was succeeded by pastor Adam Daniel “AD” Williams, a slave child who espoused a program of self-determination inspired by the social gospels and the bootstrap ideals of Booker T. Washington. He urged the members to “find a piece of the field”.

Williams was followed by Father Martin Luther King Sr. in 1931. He married Williams’ daughter, Alberta Christine, and led the Ebenezer until 1975 – eventually sharing pastoral duties with his son, MLK Jr., until the latter was possessed 1968. (Last January, Ebenezer Baptist made history by helping to put his pastor, Rev. Raphael Warnock, into the United States Senate in a special election. Warnock became a Senator. GA’s first black and will run for re-election for a full term in November..)

The story of John Chilembwe begins at the same time as the founding of Ebenezer. He was born around 1871 in a region of southern Africa famous for the slave trade of African Muslim tribal groups, Arabs and Portuguese captains. His father was part of the Muslim group; His mother was related to natives from the hinterland of mountains and lakes.

The slave trade attracted English missionaries in the mid-19th century. They urged military campaigns to cease operations and introduce the “civilization” effect of Christianity – but the British did used these campaigns to gain control of natural resources and black labor in the area known as the “British Central African Protectorate.”

Britain appropriated the common lands of Africa, instituted a labor system that reduced the locals to the ground, and relied on missionaries to teach a Christianity based on acceptance of domination. of white people. Southeast Africa was occupied by settlers from Britain, Portugal, and Germany during the 1890s “Scramble for Africa.” African Muslim leaders cooperated with British authorities as plantation custodians, policemen and soldiers.

As a young man, Chilembwe worked as a servant to Joseph Booth, a missionary with suspicions about European colonialism. Booth promoted the ideal of equality while criticizing the settlers for their lavish lifestyles and brutal treatment of Africans. In 1897, during a trip to the United States, he announced his opposition in a manifesto titled “Africa for Africans”, which would become a rallying cry for Union activists. Africa 20th century.

Chilembwe accompanied Booth on that trip to America and broke up after befriending African-American Christians like Lewis Jordan, head of the National Baptist Convention. Chilembwe enrolled in Virginia Seminary, a historically black Christian private school in Lynchburg.

The Baptists undertook his education out of a desire to have messengers in Africa. For example, in the 1890s, Black church leaders helped found the “Church of African Independence” to counter European influence. In South Africa, independents look to the ancient Ethiopian Orthodox Church for Christian inspiration rather than centers like Rome, Constantinople, Germany or England. Needless to say, the white missionaries were alarmed by the rise of “Ethiopianism.”

At Virginia seminary, Chilembwe learned about the role of Christianity in the abolition of slavery, including the uprisings of Nat Turner, John Brown, and the Haitian Revolution. The school also exposes children to Booker T. Washington’s “industrial” educational program. The president of the Tuskegee Institute (now a university) near Montgomery, Alabama, was a popular speaker at Baptist Convention events.

In 1900, Chilembwe returned to the Protectorate Government with a new purpose, as detailed in Let us die for Africa by Desmond Phiri. Now an ordained minister, Chilembwe has held outdoor baptisms and preached the social gospels of racial equality. He established the “Providence Industry Mission” on 93 acres with funding and guidance from the Baptist Convention. The PIM includes the independent “New Jerusalem Church” drawing congregations from the Church of Scotland in Blantyre, a nearby city.

PIM has a school with a curriculum inspired by the Washington program: Christian instruction, mechanical crafts, general education, hygiene, ideals of self-sufficiency, farming methods, and fashion The West. The school attracted hundreds of recruits from a series of farms and towns in Africa which England renamed “Nyasaland” in 1907.

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Malawi stamp with Chilembwe

By 1912, Chilembwe had expanded to seven schools across Nyasaland and Portuguese East Africa with 900 students and model farms growing cotton, pepper, coffee, rubber and tea for consumers. Influenced by Washington’s National Federation of Black Businesses, Chilembwe established the “Indigenous Industry Alliance,” a chamber of commerce for planters and small business owners in Africa.

Chilembwe’s work fueled the proliferation of educated and struggling people in the world known as the “New Africans”. They started churches, farms, and businesses to compete with white settlers. Chilembwe also became a prominent critic of the poor working conditions on British plantations. Follow Independent Africa by George Shepperson and Thomas Price.

By 1914, colonial opponents were engaged in campaigns to sabotage the movement. They destroyed some of Chilembwe’s churches and schools and the businesses of Negro competitors. Land was denied to African planters, settlers attacked blacks in westerns, and managers forced laborers hired by African farmers to work on their plantations. White skin. In the end, the colonists hatched a plan to expel Priest Chilembwe.

As injustice grew, Chilembwe realized that the British would never accept African equality. With his understanding of America’s abolitionist history, he began to consider the feasibility of leading an armed insurgency like Nat Turner’s. Perhaps the ultimate cause was abuses by the Nyasalanders during World War I attacks against German colonies in East Africa; thousands died from disease, starvation, and overwork — or fighting on behalf of the colonial rulers.

On January 23, 1915, Chilembwe and hundreds of supporters organized an uprising against British domination. Nyasaland erupted into a multi-day convulsion when Africans armed with spears, knives, machetes, batons and rifles overran the settlers’ lands and resulted in deaths and atrocities. violent. It brought the British, German, and Portuguese colonies to a standstill long enough to organize a counter-offensive with genocidal effectiveness.

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Malawi banknotes depicting Chilembwe

Over a period of weeks, British soldiers, vigilante settlers and African Muslim gunmen interrogated, captured, tortured and executed hundreds — perhaps thousands — of Christians. Fly. Their churches, schools, farms and businesses were destroyed and the suspects deported. Chilembwe was captured while hiding in the mountains, shot and buried in an unmarked grave.

But while the colonial forces suppressed the uprising, they were unable to crush the spirit of the New African Christians; in 1926, The Chilembwe Quest was restored and the uprising is considered a prelude to modern African liberation movements. In 1964, the year MLK was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his nonviolent campaigns, Nyasaland became independent Malawi.

Malawi will commemorate John Chilembwe Day on Sunday, January 15, with a public holiday on Monday, January 17, the same day that Americans honor the legacy of MLK Jr. Finally, African Americans can be proud of the role the Black Baptist church plays. contributed to advocating freedom and equality at home and abroad.

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